CANBERRA -- Running through the spectacular first day of Federal Parliament for 2017 with someone who does not work inside politics, the first question to me -- after "how was your day?" -- was "who is Cory Bernardi?"
I was not taken aback. Bernardi's defection from the broad church of the Liberal Party may have overtaken the day inside Canberra, but outside?
"It really is time for a better way. For a conservative way." https://t.co/WvrDIIO4Wz— Karen Barlow (@KJBar) February 7, 2017
Now this was not a person without a political clue. But she really did not know anything about the man who'd like to "Make Australia Great Again". She had no absolutely no idea about the man who wants to give the growing ranks of disillusioned voters a "viable, credible and principled alternative."
And therein lies the major problem for the now independent senator vying for our attention.
Bernardi is not the major conservative figure his backers would have him, and us, believe. He does not have the currency of Pauline Hanson, and he is not Australia's answer to Donald Trump.
His move away from his Liberal Senate seat puts him among a very crowded and fairly needy Senate crossbench. He wants to be the leader of the "Australian Conservatives," but Bernardi will be a voice among others, expected to side with the government on most occasions.
Yes, he has made it just that bit harder for Malcolm Turnbull to get his government's legislative agenda through, but he is one of 12 crossbenchers -- and the government needs 10.
Bernardi had advice for the government -- on values, not ignoring the Liberal base and not following Labor in ditching a first-term Prime Minister -- but felt "ignored". That is on his party. And there are valid questions being thrown around as to what the Turnbull and the rest of the Liberal Party could have done to keep him inside the tent.
But he really had to leave his much sought after position of government (yes, government) senator to have his conservative voice heard?
Rightly or wrongly, the current, quite moderate Prime Minister is seen as being beholden to the conservative right elements of his party.
And as he sees the growing ranks of disillusioned voters peeling off from the major parties to seek the likes of One Nation and the Nick Xenophon Team (NXT), there is more than a touch of "if you can't beat them, join them".
While the senator's move is seen as a fracturing of Australia's right wing politics, in Bernardi's case, he clearly wants to lead, not follow.
And he's sick of compromising his values. On Muslim immigration. On opposing same sex marriage. On rejecting the science of climate change. "The body politic is failing the people of Australia," Bernardi declared. "We need to find a better way."
Leaving to set up the "Australian Conservatives" offends the Liberal Party's much vaunted description of a broad church. It is telling that no other government conservatives are following him.
Nick Xenophon's message to Cory Bernardi: Australia is not Trump's doormat pic.twitter.com/mAtcFncWfM— Karen Barlow (@KJBar) February 6, 2017
Bernardi had a voice within the Liberal Party and he has chosen to let that go. And he has disappointed Liberal voters and betrayed his colleagues. A "dog act" is how the usually restrained Education Minister Simon Birmingham called it on the ABC.
If he was concerned about the loss of conservative voices within the Coalition Government, then why did he take one away?
At the very least, next time there is a leadership spill, and one this parliamentary term is not completely out of the question, that's one less vote for someone who may oppose Turnbull.
Is that what Bernardi really wants?
ALSO ON HUFFPOST AUSTRALIA