Flat White

Conservatively speaking: an exclusive interview with Cory Bernardi

14 February 2018

1:00 PM

14 February 2018

1:00 PM

Reminding Canberrans and visitors alike that Parliament House is not actually part of Australia but a strange sort of parallel universe, the skies above are gunmetal grey and a cold wind forces the elderly woman protesting something – her sign declares ‘Truth, Justice, Ignorance’ – to pack up her folding chair and retreat to the bus shelter.

In Cory Bernardi’s office, there’s light and warmth and vigorous fighting words because the Senator is, once more, focusing on the decline of traditional Liberal Party values and the growing strength of his Australian Conservatives.

Bernardi split with the Liberals in 2016, unprepared to accept what he saw as the shift left, the erosion of party values and abandonment of what were previously core beliefs of the party of Menzies and Howard.

“I don’t know anymore what the Liberals stand for, [there is] shameless opportunism, a corrosive cancer and the complete abandonment of principles,” he says. “The Party is broken and they can’t put that together again. We are the Liberals as they used to be.”

He believes that a country that loses its identity as a nation, as Australia now, torn by political and ideological strife, seems to be in danger of doing, is no longer a country.

The Australian Conservatives, under Bernardi, supported by members of the defunct Family First (all except Senator Lucy Gichuhi who recently chose to join the Liberals) promise fiscally prudent, smaller government, sensible immigration and defence measures, ‘safe hands’ all the way, maintaining the conservative values Menzies espoused when he created the Party in 1945, the ‘broad church’ as John Howard called it.

Most recently, Lyle Shelton, former communications director of Australian Christian Lobby has joined up and will run as a candidate when the federal election is called.

And there is cool and calculated judgment in Bernardi’s strategy “Finding the right candidates, identifying those that will reflect well upon us” for the upcoming elections; Batman, South Australia and Tasmania.

The citizenship debacle that involved almost every Australian political party was a useful lesson that the Conservatives mean to take to heart. .

Robert Brokenshire, currently a sitting South Australia AC Legislative Councillor, is contesting the March election along with hopeful Nicolle Jachmann. Most of the AC candidates will stand for lower house seats: Bute farmer Rebecca Hewitt has just been announced as the Conservatives candidate for Narungga; farmer Richard Bateman is standing in the volatile South-Eastern seat of Mackillop and Trevor Scott for the sometimes-unpredictable Riverland electorate of Chaffey. More will be announced in the next week or so, according to Bernardi’s office.

And there’s an interesting dilemma in Batman; with the Liberals reportedly not contesting the inner-Melbourne seat, leaving Labor and the Greens to fight it out Bernardi thinks non-Left voters should also be able to have a choice in Batman. So where would he direct preferences?

“The Greens are very, very negative. Subject to negotiations, we would probably give our preferences to Labor.”

All very unsettling to Bernardi’s former Liberal colleagues, of course.

Terry Barnes, a onetime adviser to Tony Abbott, wrote in the Spectator, Liberals, particularly in his own state, Victoria, must contest seats the Coalition has no hope of winning, seats held by Labor that are being steadily taken by the Greens.

Barnes mourned the fact that ‘implementing cherished Liberal values of smaller government, responsibility and prudence is falling by the wayside. Liberal divisions not getting their own houses in order merely gives Labor another fertile line of attack and angry and disillusioned natural supporters less reason to vote Liberal. When the darkness of political night threatens the Liberal party as we know it, this is the last thing it can afford.’

The Australian Conservatives seem to be where most disaffected former Libs are headed.

And, as Bernardi says, echoing John Howard, the times will suit him.

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