POLITICS

Bernardi, Betrayal And Mirth As Malcolm Turnbull's Job Just Got Even Harder

And despite what he himself may think, Bernardi is no Donald Trump.

07/02/2017 10:54 AM AEDT | Updated 07/02/2017 4:57 PM AEDT

CANBERRA -- As far as worst kept secrets in politics, Cory Bernardi leaving the Liberal Party was the worst of the worst.

It was only a matter of when.

And for a previously self-described "lone wolf" Liberal who had well and truly made his decision to go, Bernardi timed his announcement for maximum damage.

Forget political resets, dump those policy rambles. The turncoat, Cory Bernardi was the name on the lips of all arriving for the start of parliament for 2017; Labor types with smiles, through gritted teeth for Liberals.

A day of last-minute pleading from his party was only for show. Long troubled by a personal view that the Liberal Party had moved away from his conservative values and, inspired by witnessing Donald Trump's ascendancy in the United States, of course he was leaving.

And there was no way he could sit amongst his former colleagues in the first Liberal Party room meeting of the year.

Labor is having a field day. Sam Dastyari, rehabilitated from his own donations controversy and emboldened by a government in turmoil, bounded out to meet the press gallery.

"Cory, Cory, Cory!! You don't quit a party you already run," Dastyari advised and in turn suggested Turnbull should quit instead after "being held hostage by (his) own party".

But what is really riling his now former colleagues is that Bernardi was only elected as a Liberal seven short months ago. He had been given the choice second spot on the Liberal senate ticket in South Australia and had the benefit of all the party's bells and whistles to get elected.

Dedicated volunteers handing out how to vote cards. People voting for the ticket, not the individual. He was elected under a Liberal platform under Malcolm Turnbull's leadership.

Now the Liberal knives are out. Steve Ciobo blasted Bernardi as doing more damage to the Coalition than to the Opposition during his entire career.

"Many Liberals feel this way," the Trade Minister told Sky News. "If you look back over Cory's career, with one or two exceptions, he's never laid a glove on the Labor Party."

Ouch.

There is also no love lost between Bernardi and Christopher Pyne. The leader of the Government in the House has urged his fellow South Australian to not just resign from the party, but also from the Senate, as the only "honourable course".

After the election Bernardi was also given the plum posting of United Nations observer in New York. It kept him out of Australia, but not out of trouble. Despite being an official government representative he was truly taken by Trump's presidential run and trumpeted a partisan view of making America and Australia "great again." He sees Trump as a catalyst for change in Australia.

But Bernardi is no Trump.

The senator insists he is a politician based on values. Family values. He's renowned for opposing same-sex marriage, going so far as to say it would lead to bestiality and polygamy. He is no supporter of Islam and wants to ban the burqa. Bernardi has even tried to do something in the Senate about too much swearing on television.

However, Cory Bernardi is no protectionist or isolationist. He's a free marketeer and he champions small government.

And while he is the politician du jour, he does not have the profile of Donald Trump -- or even One Nation's Pauline Hanson.

That could change, but probably not. It is no secret voters are turning from the major parties, but is he "The One?" He and his "Australian Conservatives" will be vying with the more established One Nation and Nick Xenophon Team (NXT). And, as far as we know, no other prominent pollie is following him out of the Liberals.

Bernardi's former colleagues are now insisting he honour his ties to the Liberal Party and vote with the government on legislation when it hits the Senate.

If he is truly an independent he'll view all legislation on its merits. Chances are he will vote with the government 99 percent of the time. It's all on Turnbull now, according to influential and veteran crossbench senator Nick Xenophon.

"What it means is the government now has to work even harder to get all the numbers on the cross bench," Xenophon told reporters in Canberra.

"What it means is it makes the sheer arithmetic of it much more difficult."

The Turnbull Government now has to get 10 out of 12 crossbenchers across the line to pass its legislative agenda. And the replacements for departed senators Rod Culleton and Bob Day are still to be worked out.

The conversation between Bernardi and Turnbull was reportedly courteous. The Prime Minister now needs him more than ever.

The question then becomes, what will the new independent get in return?


ALSO ON HUFFPOST AUSTRALIA

More On This Topic