Senator Cory Bernardi, an outspoken supporter of US President Trump, has left Prime Minister Turnbull's Liberal Party to start a new conservative party. The move signals the country's biggest party split in a generation.
South Australian Senator Cory Bernardi (pictured above) announced his party resignation on Tuesday, saying he would create a new political party to appeal to disenfranchised conservative voters.
The decision to leave Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's conservative Liberal Party comes as the governing coalition continues to lag behind the center-left Labor Party in opinion polls.
"We will be united by the desire to create stronger families, to foster free enterprise, to limit the size and scope and reach of government, while seeking to rebuild confidence in civil society," Bernardi told the Senate while launching his new party - the Australian Conservatives.
A doormat for Bernardi
His former government colleagues heavily criticized the move, saying Bernardi was obliged to serve the party on whose platform he had been re-elected. The announcement came on the first day that Parliament assembled since Trump's inauguration in January.
Senator Nick Xenophon, leader of the minor party Nick Xenophon Team, marked the day by bringing a doormat with US President Donald Trump's face and with the message: "Australia: not your doormat."
Xenophon criticized the terse phone call last month between Trump and Turnbull, saying the US leader's reported language was "completely uncalled" for in a conversation with allied Australia.
"This doormat might be a good gift for Cory Bernardi, given that as he's such a big fan of Donald Trump," Xenophon said.
Bernardi, who is indeed an outspoken supporter of Trump, has long been one of the Liberal Party's more conservative figures.
In 2012, he was demoted from a senior party position for saying legal recognition of gay marriage could lead to legalizing bestiality and polygamy - a move which upset marriage-equality advocates.
He also frequently wears a red baseball hat with the Trump-like slogan: "Make Australia Great Again." Recently Bernardi spent three months in New York City as a parliamentary observer in the United Nations, but met with Trump advisers during his stay.
Shift to the right
Along with highlighting internal party divisions, Bernardi's party abandonment also underlines a hard turn to the right in some parts of the Australian electorate.
Notably, support for populist Pauline Hanson's One Nation party has hit a national high of 8 percent, according to a poll published on Monday. One Nation first gained international notoriety in the late 1990s with its appeal to white nationalism.
The poll, published in "The Australian" newspaper, showed the ruling coalition with 46 percent support on a two-party preferred basis - eight points behind the Labor opposition.
rs/tj (AP, Reuters)