George Christensen shared his shock political retirement via a pre-recorded Facebook video, speaking directly to his audience.
Staring down the camera, the 42-year-old LNP Member for Dawson announced on Thursday night that he would not contest the next federal election for the party.
He cited a frustration at the state of politics and a desire to reunite with his family as the reason for his decision.
“The reality is that for the past year I’ve been separated from my family who are caught up overseas with the pandemic,” he said.
The maverick conservative politician made a name for himself through media-attracting antics, his loyal service as a culture warrior and his hardline stance on his pet issues: Christianity, freedom of speech, a love for fossil fuels and opposition to Islam, China and big tech.
He has survived many controversies. That includes cash splashes at an adult entertainment bar in the Philippines that had Australian security services worried, posting pictures of himself with a gun and the caption “do you feel lucky, greenie punks?”, promoting conspiracy theories, and appearing on white supremacist and far-right podcasts and livestreams.
Despite these incidents — or perhaps because of them — Christensen has proven popular in his far north Queensland electorate that he holds on a 14.6% two-party preferred margin.
What’s next for George?
Christensen hasn’t said how he’s going to spend his post-Parliament life — but his retirement video offered some hints.
The MP spoke about how he had become disillusioned with the power of the Parliament and hinted at chafing against some of the restrictions placed on him as a member of the government.
“Unfortunately, I’m not so sure these issues can be fixed by legislation and via the ballot box,” he said.
“And I say that because the mainstream media and other cultural institutions in this nation sadly have the dominant influence over our politics, and these institutions are just so disconnected from everyday Australians — or at least those I represent in my north Queensland electorate of Dawson.”
Christensen floated the idea of trying to shape politics as a non-elected official.
“On all these issues and more, I can have a stronger, more unfiltered voice outside of Parliament,” he said.
This wouldn’t be out of character for Christensen, who has used his time in Parliament to loudly speak out for issues both related to his electorate and on broader conservative topics.
The digitally savvy MP has campaigned on everything from lowering insurance rates in north Queensland to freeing Julian Assange.
And in recent times, he’s spent more and more energy using his position as a local MP to take on global right-wing topics that wouldn’t seem out of place coming from a MAGA-supporting Republican.
George Christensen, the political influencer
In the past year Christensen has pivoted to campaigning against technology platforms like Facebook and Twitter banning and fact-checking users, he’s held an inquiry into China’s “economic infiltration” of Australia, and he’s pushed for anti-abortion laws.
Even his local campaigns have aligned with international culture wars, like his dogged campaign to terminate the lease of a Chinese company that bought property on Keswick Island.
The MP set up dozens of websites for these causes, each of them encouraging users to sign a petition — cleverly harvesting emails, an important source of data for modern political campaigning.
Christensen has promoted these causes through produced content distributed online, including a personal newsletter, a (now abandoned) podcast, YouTube channel and livestreams with slickly produced video packages.
This strategy appears to be working. Christensen’s presence on Facebook has ballooned in the last year. He’s reaching many more people and gaining many more followers.
The number of times people liked, shared or reacted to his posts on Facebook sharply jumped in April last year, which suggests his content is being seen by far more people than before.
Similarly, his Facebook following numbers have jumped by more than a third, bringing him up to almost 75,000.
Christensen has had the seventh most engagements on Facebook in the last year out of any Australian politician, the highest number of any government backbencher. This suggests, despite his relatively smaller following, his content is demanding an outsize amount of attention on the platform.
With a focus on global culture war topics and a clever use of social media, Christensen fits into the mould of the politician as a social media influencer.
US politicians like Ted Cruz and Marjorie Taylor Greene are examples of digital-first politicians who are seemingly less interested in legislating than using their office to draw attention and gain support for their causes.
Once established as a political influencer with a big audience, it’s an easy step to transition into that same role just outside of Parliament.
Like the pathway to talking heads in the media, politicians can parlay themselves into careers as influential figures in culture and into other media (and commercial) opportunities.
Christensen, perhaps more than any other Australian politician, has indicated an interest and set himself up to do so.
Those wanting a more unfiltered Christensen may not need to wait until after the next federal election, whenever that may be.
“I’m going to continue to speak out on issues that matter without fear or favour. Or the need to get reelected,” he said, finishing with a grin.