Writing in the Feb 24, 2018 issue of this magazine, father of the ‘del-cons’ James Allan asked a rather impertinent question: what is the point of Cory Bernardi? Certainly, Senator Bernardi – who twelve months earlier had quit the Liberals and was building up his own Australian Conservatives party – was not overly amused by Mr Allan’s musings. But with the news that the Senator might rejoin the Liberal party, Mr Allan’s question and accompanying article now appear not only pertinent but, as is so often the case with our columnists, prescient too. Mr Allan wrote:
Let me be honest. I don’t really see the point of Cory Bernardi’s Australian Conservatives party as presently configured. What does it hope to accomplish? What are its goals? After all, on the face of things it looks like not much more than a virtue-signalling outlet for disaffected right-of-centre voters. Want to indulge in a bit of bumper sticker moralising and show off your anger with Team Turnbull and the Black Hand gang that run today’s Liberal Party? (And let’s be clear, that anger is more than warranted.) … [But] in effect, you achieve absolutely nothing, or at least not much more than a bit of political posturing.
Harsh, but was he right?
Senator Bernardi left the Liberal party having decided that under the leadership of Malcolm Turnbull and ‘bedwetters’ such as Christopher Pyne, conservative Liberal values had been betrayed. At the time of his departure, Senator Bernardi was accused of ‘ratting’ on his colleagues, but as The Speccie pointed out, it was more a matter of the ship deserting the sinking rat.
Liberal party strategist Mark Textor had once told the Turnbull team that they didn’t have to worry about conservatives because they ‘had nowhere else to go’ – advice that was proved spectacularly wrong at the 2016 election when 14 seats were lost and voters deserted the Liberals in droves, many of them winding up with Pauline Hanson’s One Nation.
Indeed, in the last two years both Pauline Hanson and Cory Bernardi offered a critical right-wing ballast against the leftist Turnbull leanings, in the Senate as well as with regular appearances on shows like Sky’s Paul Murray Live and The Bolt Report. Both climate sceptics, both favouring cheap electricity over virtue-signalling on renewables, both suspicious of political Islam, neo-Marxism and so on. And indeed it was on energy policy that Malcolm Turnbull finally came unstuck, clumsily resigning and calling a spill when his signature policy collapsed, thus paving the way for Scott Morrison. Hilariously, with the Turnbull-luvvies in disarray and convinced that the Liberals were now destined for a lengthy spell in Opposition, several decided themselves to jump ship. Which was a blessing for the country.
One of those was Senator Bernardi’s old adversary, Mr Pyne, who, despite having had a lazy fifty billion dollars splashed out on submarines in a pointless effort to keep his seat, toddled off in a huff.
During the recent federal election, Cory Bernardi decided to concentrate on getting Australian Conservatives into the Senate, and indeed, he chose some superb candidates – notably Sophie York in NSW and Lyle Shelton in Queensland – who would both have been a boon to our federal parliament.
Alas, none succeeded, and now, as a lone Senator in a far more palatable (to conservatives) Morrison government, it appears Senator Bernardi has himself asked the James Allan question: what is the point? How can he be most effective?
As a Liberal Senator, Bernardi would likely be guaranteed re-election in three years time, for another six-year term. As an Australian Conservatives Senator, re-election looks far tougher.
But if he is to rejoin the Libs, he must ensure that the hopes and values of all those who worked so hard and have given so much to his fledgling party are cherished and advanced. He must continue to attack the Left (including within the Liberal party) in the culture wars, in the climate change debate and on religious freedoms. At his best, Cory Bernardi is one of the fiercest and most effective cultural warriors in our parliament. The Cory Bernardi with a bit of the mongrel in him is the Cory Bernardi the country needs now and into the future. There is a great deal of work to do, particularly with Tony Abbott now gone. As Mr Allan points out in his column this week, power within the government still resides far too heavily with the left of the Liberal party.
There is no doubt that Australian Conservatives helped rock the boat sufficiently to dislodge Mr Turnbull and the bedwetters from the helm of government. History may well judge that that was the point of Cory Bernardi all along.
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