Cory Bernardi calls the PM: He's going it alone
ROGUE senator Cory Bernardi this morning rang PM Malcolm Turnbull to confirm he is defecting from the Liberals to form his own conservative party.
Sources within the Liberals confirmed Bernardi informed the PM of his decision despite sitting and former government MPs making an 11th hour appeal to the senator to stay.
Rogue Senator Cory Bernardi has been accused of being disloyal over plans to break away from the Liberals.
Senior government figures accused Bernardi last night of disloyalty as the right-wing senator prepared to defect.
Assistant Minister to the Treasurer Michael Sukkar, a senior member of the party's Right faction and a friend of Mr Bernardi, said any defection would be "unscrupulous and disloyal".
"Cory was elected six months ago on the Liberal party ticket for the six-year term in Parliament," he said.
"I don't believe Cory could now be so unscrupulous and disloyal as to leave the party that has provided him with his seat in the Senate."
Treasurer Scott Morrison also pointed out that Liberal Party members had worked hard to help Mr Bernardi's election to the Senate.
"When he stood at the election Liberal Party voters voted to have a Liberal party senator in the Senate."
Havoc for Turnbull as Bernardi set to quit Liberal Party
OUTSPOKEN South Australian senator Cory Bernardi will on Tuesday quit the Liberal Party in a move that threatens to further divide the Turnbull Government.
The Advertiser understands that SA's electricity crisis is one of the issues that led to Senator Bernardi's decision to quit, which is expected to be announced in a statement to the Senate this morning.
It is believed he will start a new party, Australian Conservatives, in a move which will boost the crossbench numbers to 12.
Speculation of Senator Bernardi's impending resignation, revealed in The Advertiser by political commentator
Andrew Bolt, has further compounded Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's political woes as he begins the parliamentary year trailing badly in the polls.
Senior Turnbull Government sources said Senator Bernardi, who was re-elected to the Senate last year for a six-year term, had not informed Mr Turnbull or cabinet ministers of his pending decisions, however most of his colleagues believed his departure was certain.
At last year's federal election, Senator Bernardi was second on the Liberal ticket behind Senator Birmingham. The Liberal ticket attracted 329,516 first-preference votes, Senator Bernardi received 2043 votes.
It is understood Senator Bernardi's new party will focus on resisting a push towards from expensive renewable energy options and take a tougher stances on immigration - especially from predominantly Muslim nations.
Energy is set to be one of the hot topics of the year in the wake of SA's statewide blackout last year and ongoing and fierce debate about the role of coal and renewables.
It is understood that Senator Bernardi's close friend Gina Rinehart, who recently expanded her business empire to include the South Australia's S Kidman & Co cattle company, will offer financial backing.
But fellow conservatives and critics of the Prime Minister Eric Abetz, George Christensen and Tony Abbott have ruled out following their colleague.
While Senator Bernardi has mostly hit headlines for controversial topics - such as wanting to ban Islamic face coverings and comparing the move to legalise same-sex marriage to legalising bestiality - he is also outspoken about other core conservative issues.
He is likely to continue to emphasise family values, a free market, limited government intervention and focus on social issues including gay marriage.
On Monday the Senator's office window contained only the Australian Conservatives logo and a "manifesto" for
"Our Australia" as "a nation bound by virtues and sustained by faith". It talks about the importance of freedom and a moral foundation.
Education Minister and SA Senator Simon Birmingham earlier said he was "confident" Senator Bernardi would stand by earlier statements of solidarity.
Another famous SA Liberal defector, Martin Hamilton-Smith - whom Senator Bernardi blasted after he left to take up a Labor ministry - said the Liberals were "looking increasingly like the Greens".
Recently, Senator Bernardi called on the Government to pull out of the Paris climate change agreement, and called consideration of an emissions intensity scheme "one of the dumbest things" he has heard.
In December, he wrote about the "disconnect that is fuelling the crisis of confidence in the major political parties".
At the core of that was the "alarmism" of climate change, he wrote:
"In fact, if I were a struggling state or federal political leader, here's an election-winning platform: I want to make (South) Australian electricity prices the most competitive in the nation/world. To do that, we are going to remove bureaucratic impediments to the construction and operation of new power stations and remove subsidies for uneconomic schemes."
Treasurer Scott Morrison said SA voters had elected Senator Bernardi to support the Liberal Party in Parliament but it was ultimately up to him to decide whether he left the government benches.
Labor leader Bill Shorten said the Turnbull Government was hopelessly divided and had lost focus on the issues that matter.
"Whether or not Cory Bernardi stays or goes, whether or not Malcolm goes ... that isn't going to help people pay for their first house," Mr Shorten. It doesn't help people find a job or keep a job."
His web was already spun
OFFICIALLY, it was supposed to be a conservative version of the left-wing political activist group GetUp!
But observers suspected Cory Bernardi was unofficially using the Australian Conservatives group to lay the foundations for his own political party by creating a network of potential supporters and donors.
The Australian Conservatives burst on to the political scene after the federal election with a basic website. Tens of thousands of people reportedly signed up to receive the group's regular emails.
Founder Senator Bernardi said conservative-minded members of all political parties were welcome to join. The group would pursue issues such as free speech and reforming section 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act.
He believed the group was a counter to GetUp!, which backs progressive causes and uses its army of volunteers to campaign against the Liberals at election time.
The Australian Conservatives is an offshoot of the Bernardi-founded Conservative Leadership Foundation, which operates from offices in Kent Town.
Late last year, "The Australian Majority" became the newest addition to Senator Bernardi's organisations.
Like GetUp!, the Bernardi groups are not obliged to publicly reveal their sources of income or donors. Senator
Bernardi can turn to Australian Conservatives and Conservative Leadership Foundation supporters for financial support for his new venture.
- Peter Jean