The Ethics of Bernardi’s Defection

Cory Bernardi’s decision to defect from the Liberal Party and start a new party, the Australian Conservatives, was welcomed by many right-of-centre voters. However, his former parliamentary colleagues in the Liberal Party have been scathing, calling his defection a betrayal.

Their reasoning is that Cory Bernardi was elected to a six-year term in the Senate in the July 2016 election on a Liberal Party Senate ticket in South Australia. They believe voters did not vote for him because he was Cory Bernardi but because he had the Liberal name next to him. He was also pre-selected by Liberal Party members to sit in the Senate as a Liberal member.

Therefore, his defection is seen to both betray voters who voted for a Liberal Senator and the Liberal members who put him high up on the Senate ticket. In political slang this is called being a rat, betraying the people who got you so far in politics. The Daily Telegraph yesterday crudely drew him as a rat yesterday and former Labor Powerbroker Graham Richardson has labelled him as such.

Another criticism that has been levelled his way by commentators such as Miranda Devine and Michael Kroger is that all his defection does is help the Labor Party win the next election. His defection creates a sense of chaos within the Turnbull government and he appears to be spending more time criticising those on the right side of politics than attacking Labor and the left.

However, where this line of reasoning falls flat in the eyes of voters, and even Liberal Party members, is that the Turnbull government and the Liberal Party itself are worth defending. Many voters would have only voted for the Liberal Party because they thought they might get a reasonably conservative government or only for the simple reason they were better than Labor.

Malcolm Turnbull has not delivered a conservative government at all, there is no sign of any serious attempt at budget repair and cutting spending. The current open door immigration policy remains, meaning we are at even greater threat of Islamic terrorism and influence. Political correctness continues to threaten the freedom of ordinary Australians and the cultural elite still control our institutions.

The argument from many lifelong Liberal Party members is that it is better to stay in the tent and change the party from within. However, Cory Bernardi has tried this, as he has been a Liberal Party member for over 2o years including a period as its South Australia President. He has been a Liberal Senator for over 10 years yet during that time as unable to restore the conservative side within this so called broad-church party. Instead he has been kicked in the teeth for it, sacked twice from the frontbench by both Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott and rubbished by so called colleagues such as Ewan Jones and Sue Boyce. After his experiences in the Liberal Party he felt he had no choice but to start over and create a new party that promotes conservatism.

To refute the other criticism that he has betrayed Liberal Party members it would be fair to assume that many of them will come over to join Australian Conservatives and feel more betrayed by their own party drifting so far from their large conservative base. He was also preselected by Liberal Party members not to simply act as an agent of the party machine, but because of his own conservative beliefs and values.

He has a strong personal following, more than any career politician could ever dream of, and they certainly do not feel betrayed. Bernardi’s supporters have welcomed his announcement and many had been agitating for him to break away from the Liberal Party for some time. He did not make this decision on a whim but listened to feedback from the electorate. His voters knew who he was and what he stood for, and many expected him to leave the party anyway. The only people upset at this so-called betrayal or ‘ratting’ is those Liberal MPs and members who never liked him anyway.

Bernardi has not betrayed the people that elected him, he has listened to them and acted accordingly. You only had to look at a poll done last year which said 41% of Coalition voters would vote for a new conservative party and 23% of the general voting population would vote for them. Bernardi can overcome the supposed ethical violation of being elected as Liberal Senator and now sitting on the crossbench based on the reactions of his supporters.

He shouldn’t be forced to resign from the Senate and give his seat so some Liberal Party hack who will be a yes man. The Liberal Party attack machine will no doubt come after him as has already been reported, but he will be prepared for that, Australian Conservatives will attract a wide variety of disaffected voters including Liberal Party members. He has not betrayed the people that truly support him.

  • Möwe

    I think the party system is less about loyalty nowadays. It’s about the best means to stay in power, whether it’s with the help of the voters or not. So we have seen several changes of leader due to unsatisfactory newspaper polling. Did Turnbull feel any loyalty to the base when he took the prime ministership from Tony Abbott? For that matter, did Abbott show loyalty to the base when he continued to appease the Left while he was PM?

    I don’t see Bernardi’s move as wrong. He seized an opportunity which presented itself, for maximum benefit. Sun Tzu may well have approved. Besides, should Bernardi stay loyal to an organization which he no longer agrees with, spending years of his life on the back bench being ignored? Forget about loyalty, such a move might even seem like foolishness.

    Should he have quit before the last election, and run as an independent? Perhaps this would have been more loyal. He could have been up the back with Bob Day. But I think he would have regretted not taking full advantage of the opportunity, as he has done.

  • Neville Bennett

    It seems to me that everyone has forgotten that the Senate is a States House not for the pleasure of political parties. Members are elected to represent the best interests of their state not their political masters. Give it back to the states or close it down.