Flat White

Some senators have guts

7 February 2017

6:57 PM

7 February 2017

6:57 PM

Cory Bernardi is the worst sort of politician.

He is the sort of politician who makes it plain that he considers it more important to be judged by his words than his actions.

His decision to formally quit the Liberal Party without quitting the parliament gives his ideological enemies plenty of ammunition over what is left of his senate term and attendant hundred thousand dollar plus salary.

He talks about the need for Liberal politicians to stand up for conservative principles but makes it clear that those principles aren’t worth testing on their own merits at an election under his own party banner.

Bernardi is right, in a way.

It is clear that his former party has become a bit too preoccupied with Canberra intrigue and North Sydney fundraisers than the concerns of mums and dads in Australia’s suburbs. No one can possibly forget the sight of Malcolm Turnbull’s infamous “innovation” campaign TV spots spent wandering from glass office to glass office in a Sydney office tower. If connecting with the concerns of ordinary Australians was the goal, this was a failure of significant proportions.

Cory is at least interested in acquainting himself with the rising tide of what is often misunderstood as “right-wing populism” both here and around the world. It is eminently clear that if the Liberal Party wants to continue to have a future in mainstream politics, that future more likely lies with measured conservatives than free-market liberals with progressive opinions.

Cory is right to be concerned about what the course of politics might bring for the likes of Pauline Hanson and her insurgent, protectionist One Nation who continue to eat into the Liberal base at alarming rates across many suburban, regional and rural seats.

There is room here, perhaps, for considered, responsive conservatism. But Cory Bernardi is not considered or responsive.

He is the sort of capital ‘C’ Conservative who believes in the dignity of life, but tells single mothers they aren’t entitled to any assistance from the government, tells workers that they don’t deserve Sunday penalty rates and all but leaves Australians and their families on the scrap heap in tough times. He is pro-life, if you assume life ends at birth.

Cory’s preoccupation with fringe social extremism is a product of his comfort and luxury. He has this luxury because he doesn’t earn an award wage but is more than prepared to attack the industrial rights of ordinary Australians that do. Much worse than that, he is one of the libertarian lobby’s most vociferous cheerleaders. Whenever a wage needs cutting or a person needs firing, you can be sure that Cory is there with bells on.

Like Greens Party senators, he thinks about most things exclusively in theory. He no doubt thinks people struggling in lower paid work should just get a better job but will vote for policy that sells those jobs to foreigners. Like Greens Party senators, he belongs to the information economy. His work and the work of his ideological mates is wholly disconnected from the economics of real Australia. He gets paid to talk, and Cory is very good at talking.

Insofar as conservatism is a fight for the preservation of functional, mainstream Australian institutions this is about as antithetical as it gets. Trump has proven that our commitment to destructive market forces and betrayal of our own people is what has, in large part, fuelled the rebellion against establishment politics.

Cory Bernardi not only fails to see this part of the equation but argues for policy that makes it worse. You need only look to the fawning congratulations he frequently gets from the Institute of Public Affairs to confirm this fact.

When former Labor senator Joe Bullock resigned from parliament, he did so because he felt he was put in a position where he could not earnestly prosecute Labor’s cause in the Australian Parliament. He did it without the self-congratulation. He did it without fuss. He did it because his commitment to his principles was genuine.

Cory Bernardi has been a political hack for two decades. He styles himself as Australia’s answer to Donald Trump. But Trump was an outsider. He represented people’s growing disaffection with politics. He stuck his neck out and he was prepared to do it on his own terms.

It may just be possible that Cory Bernardi, by contrast, enjoys running in that circle of Canberra elites more than he wants to represent Australian Conservatives on their own merits, under his own banner and with his own resources.

Illustration: YouTube.

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