POLITICS

Cory Bernardi Officially Announces Resignation From Liberals

Maverick senator is now an independent.

07/02/2017 12:34 PM AEDT | Updated 07/02/2017 1:55 PM AEDT

After months of speculation, South Australian senator Cory Bernardi is officially no longer a Liberal, resigning from the government to strike out on his own.

Bernardi addressed the Senate chamber on Tuesday after news broke that he had phoned Malcolm Turnbull to inform him of his plans to defect from the Coalition. He will lead his own party, named Australian Conservatives.

"I rise to inform the Senate that this morning I resigned as a member of the Liberal Party," he said.

"I stand here today, both reluctant and relieved. Reluctant because this decision has weighed heavy on my heart, but relieved because whilst it is difficult, I believe it is the right thing to do."

Bernardi said "respect for the values and principles that have served us well seem to have been set aside for expedient, self-serving, short-term ends."

"That approach has not served our nation well," he said.

Bernardi said he was leaving the Liberals to build "a political movement of Australian conservatives", saying modern politics is "failing the people of Australia".

"It really is time for a better way. For a conservative way. The enduring beauty of the conservative tradition is it looks to the past, to all that is good and great, to inform the future," he said.

"So today I begin something new, built on enduring values and principles that have served our nation so well for so long."

At a press conference following his address, he said he wanted to offer "a credible principled alternative for those people who don't wish to vote for one of the major parties."

"There is a growing disconnect between what happens in the Canberra bubble and what happens in the everyday lives of so many Australians. It is incumbent upon us all to reconnect with those citizens, to restore faith in the body politic and to restore faith in politicians."

He cited "stronger families", limiting the "growth and reach and scope of government", and fostering free enterprise as his key priorities. He cited his anguish over the Coalition toying with the idea of an emissions trading scheme as one of his key reasons for leaving.

"I thought, why do I need to continually fight within my own party? I can't struggle within the tent all by myself. It is much better if you want to support the broad tent that is the party to stake your tent in the bed rock and make sure the tent doesn't move. That is what I am seeking to do."

Liberal senator George Brandis spoke in the chamber after Bernardi's statement, saying he was disappointed at Bernardi's resignation.

"We believe that he has done the wrong thing. Because only seven months ago Senator Bernardi was elected by the people of SA to serve in the Senate as a Liberal senator," Brandis said.

"In view of that, we find it perplexing that when there is no difference between the policy and platform on which he sought re-election and the policy and platform of the government today, he would feel the need to take this course.

"What Senator Bernardi has done today is not a conservative thing to do because breaking faith with the electorate, breaking faith with the people who voted for you, breaking faith with the people who have supported you through thick and thin for years and, indeed, decades is not a conservative thing to do."

Word that Bernardi was finally going to make good on his veiled threats to abandon the government broke on Sunday night, and by Monday, it was all but confirmed by several media reports.

It was reported that he informed the Prime Minister on Tuesday morning, but Bernardi himself kept quiet and did not speak publicly until hitting the floor of the Senate just minutes after it resumed sitting for the year.

Rumours that Bernardi would leave the Coalition have swirled for around a year, as the maverick senator loudly and often voiced his displeasure at the direction the Malcolm Turnbull government was taking on issues from marriage equality to renewable energy.

His trip to the U.S. last year, where he saw firsthand the rise of Donald Trump and even met senior members of the president's team, is said to have finally swayed him to break free of the Coalition.

Bernardi's departure makes things even trickier for the government in the Senate. They previously needed support of nine of the 11 crossbenchers to get their legislation through the upper house, but with Bernardi switching to that diverse crossbench -- which includes One Nation, Derryn Hinch, Jacqui Lambie and David Leyonhjelm -- the magic number is now 10 of the 12.

The fact that Rod Culleton has been rubbed out as a senator and his replacement still unknown, and Bob Day currently also in the court system over whether he is eligible to remain a senator, just makes the mathematics more complex.

Former PM Tony Abbott said he felt "regret" at Bernardi leaving the party, and also seemingly took a swipe at the government's leadership by saying he was "disappointed that more effort has not been made to keep our party united".

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