I reckon the battered Nick Xenophon could file last Saturday away in one of three files: What the Hell Happened; Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time; or Don’t Believe Your Own Publicity.

I still have no idea why Xenophon walked away from a position of real power and influence in Canberra to try (again) to be a big frog in small puddle. I remember the feeling of genuine puzzlement in the Senate when he made the shock move. After the Greens (nine seats) and One Nation (four seats), he held the largest voting bloc on the cross-bench.

When Malcolm Roberts vanished over dual citizenship and Fraser Anning quit PHON to sit as an independent, before he was even sworn in, the X Factor’s trio of votes became even more influential. After I lined up to vote with Xenophon on several issues (like Carly’s Law) the Adelaide media started calling us “The Four Amigos”.  

One of the worst things to happen to Xenophon in the election campaign was early in the piece when a poll came out showing the SA Best leader as preferred premier over Weatherill and Marshall. That put the P.T. Barnum of Australian politics under his closest scrutiny ever and the South Australian voters got a sudden dose of Xenophobia. The SA Best lead went soggier than an Adelaide pie floater. Nick couldn’t even win his own Lower House seat, let alone pull any others in on his coat-tails.

***

Will Xenophon return? At a state or federal level? He has said he won’t try to shoulder aside any SA Best representative in either the state Upper House or the Senate in Canberra. So the answer is no in the short term. And, surely the redoubtable Skye Kakoschke-Moore (knee-capped by dual citizenship) has the right to head the Xenophon Senate ticket at next year’s federal election.

In the long-term, though, there’s probably a clue in one of Nick X’s political heroes: California governor Jerry Brown. Like Nick, he’s a genuine populist. He was governor from 1975 to 1983 and a one-time presidential candidate. Brown made a spectacular comeback, has now been governor again since 2011 — the longest serving governor in that state’s history.

***

The other big loser in South Australia on Saturday was Cory Bernardi. A paltry 3% of the vote. In his home state. After swallowing Family First. Maybe the conservatives down there wanted to punish him getting elected as a Liberal senator in 2016, heading off for a taxpayer-funded soiree at the UN for about four months — where he seemed to spend much of his time sporting a red Make America Great Again hat — and then jumping ship to form his own party on his return.

He didn’t do much better in the Batman by-election the same day where there wasn’t even a Liberal candidate running, in a seat where they got nearly 20,000 votes last time around. Maybe Jeff Kennett was right. When Bernardi announced his new national party and revealed plans to run in state elections (including Victoria next November) Kennett scoffed that Cory could walk down Bourke Street at lunch-time and not cop one recognition.

***

Speaking of Batman. Sometimes a Captain’s Pick works. Bill Shorten’s insistence on Ged Kearney being the Labor candidate paid off. Once again, the polls were wrong. The Opposition’s chances of winning were helped by the Greens choosing a candidate, in Alex Bhathal, whom the electorate had rejected a zillion times before. And by the destructive in-fighting within the Greens, culminating in leaked vote-burning allegations about their own candidate.

What was it that Bob Hawke famously said: “If you can’t run your party, you can’t run the country”. And now the leader of the Kumbaya party, Richard Di Natale, is calling for a Stalinist purge of the “traitors”.

***

As part of our promised monthly visits to rural and regional Victoria, I was in a Ballarat shopping centre recently. On that excursion I was accosted by one old geezer determined to pick a fight. First up was the typical (but wrong) “snouts in the trough” question.

“You’re only in it for the frequent flyer points?”

“We don’t get frequent flyer points.”

I then told him to ask me why I fly business class.

“Yeah, why don’t you fly domestic.”

I said I did fly domestic but didn’t fly economy. Was tempted to say: “So I wouldn’t have an eye-glazing hour-long conversation with people like you.” I didn’t.

But I did risk losing a vote by answering the business class question.

I said: “The simple reason I fly business class is because Virgin doesn’t have a first class.”

Not sure he got the joke.

Peter Fray

Join us today for just $1 a week.

Get your first 12 weeks for $12. Cancel any time.

Our journalism is funded directly by our members — that’s how we maintain our fierce independence. We don’t rely on advertisers, clickbait or culture war obsessed columnists.

If you like what we do, join us today.

Peter Fray
Editor-In-Chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW