CANBERRA -- Cory Bernardi's nascent Australian Conservatives party is taking over Family First to strengthen its position and fill out its membership ranks, but the new grouping is already been dismissed as being unlikely to "trouble the scoreboard" and won't change the current make up of the Senate.
But in a likely invitation to fellow conservative politicians George Christensen and Eric Abetz, the Liberal defector wants to more mergers and is encouraging other like-minded politicians to jump ship.
"I hope it is not the last amalgamation," Bernardi told reporters in Adelaide.
"I welcome minor parties, I welcome former colleagues, existing colleagues who want to be part of a team that really genuinely wants to make politics different."
The merger is being viewed as "realignment" or "consolidation" of the political right in Australia, but newly confirmed Senator Lucy Gichuhi, who was elected on the Family First ticket after former senator Bob Day was disqualified by the High Court, will not be joining the merger and will sit as an independent crossbencher.
"I have not been able to determine if joining this new entity is the best way for me to serve the people of South Australia," Gichuhi said in a statement.
"It is on that basis that I have decided to serve as an independent Senator for the time being."
Bernardi revealed that the merger has been in the works before Gichuhi's elevation and the surprise politician-elect has not been able to quickly get her "head around" it.
"For those of us who have been around politics for a long time, we can understand the consequences and implications of significant decisions like this," the Senator explained. "We got our head around it quickly but it is much more difficult for those who are new to the political environment.
"We wish Lucy well on her career."
Pauline Hanson's One Nation remains the main voter attraction in conservative politics, but it is the new grouping's failure to get Gichuhi across the line that has lead to mirth and dismissal by senior politicians from the major parties.
"Well it is a pretty remarkable effort when you have Family First with one Senator, Cory Bernardi pretending he has a party but with one senator and they amalgamate, so one plus one equals one!" Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese told Adelaide radio 5AA.
"It is not a bad effort (laughs) and it goes to Cory Bernardi's remarkable political skills."
KENYAN lawyer Lucy Gichuhi to be sworn in as an Australian Senator after country's High Court confirmed her citizenship. pic.twitter.com/6KKES38cc4— Breaking News KE! (@BreakingNewsKE) April 19, 2017
The Australian Conservatives will gain thousands of members in the move and the first electoral test is likely to be the South Australian election in March 2018.
Two sitting South Australian Family First members, Dennis Hood and a former Liberal minister Robert Brokenshire, will be part of the merger.
The Government Leader in the House Christopher Pyne does not think the merger "will trouble the scoreboard" very dramatically.
"Neither party have had the support they they need to be able to continue on their own," Pyne told 5AA.
He said it was a "pretty inauspicious start" to have Gichuhi "jump ship already".
Nick Xenophon says it's going to be "very tough" for Lucy Gichuhi without a party to support her, flags support on process and transition.— Henry Belot (@Henry_Belot) April 25, 2017
"I think what it shows is the Family First brand has been badly damaged because of the last few months with the Senator Day vacancy," Pyne said.
"And Senator Bernardi's party has never got off the ground. It has had to merge before it has even started, basically."
But, Bernardi insists it is a growing movement.
"This is an important step in uniting the Australian Conservatives Moment. Together our movement will be stronger than if we go it alone," he said.
"We will invite anybody into the tent who wants to come in.
"Our door will be ajar if they subscribe to our principles and are prepared to work and legislate according to those principles."
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton is not talking down the merger, telling Sky News the grouping was a "natural fit" and "inevitable" after the loss of Bob Day.
"When Bob Day exited the parliament he was really the father of Family First and obviously (he) had strongly financially backed Family First and when he exited it really was the case that the writing was on the wall for Family First," he said.
"It will be a natural fit with Cory and with his party that he set up."
Day's election was ruled invalid last month after it was found be breached the Constitution by leasing a property he owned to the Commonwealth.
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