THE FIRST YEAR HONEYMOON
Alliances and Defections to the ACP 2017
Australian Conservatives [AGP] was registered as a political party with the Australian Electoral Commission on 12 April 2017.
Source: "Australian Conservatives, party registration approval" (PDF). Australian Electoral Commission. 13 April 2017.
The first task Cori Bernadi set for himself as leader of a fledgling micro party was to secure an amalgamation with other far right conservative micro parties - along with those parties sitting State and Federal Government members. Where negotiations failed to achieve amalgamation, the defection of those sitting members of government to the ACP would be welcomed.
1 AUSTRALIAN LIBERTY ALLIANCE [ALA]
The first stop on Cori Bernadi’s goal so forming a micro party amalgamation was with the Australian Liberty Alliance Party [ALA].
The ALA is the political offshoot the Q Society, which describes itself on a website as
"Australia's leading Islam-critical movement. Q Society supports an integrated multi-ethnic Australia and rejects racism, which the Oxford dictionary defines as: 'Belief in the superiority of a particular race.' Since Islam is not a race or ethnicity, being critical of Islam is not racist,".
ACP shares with the Q society, the ALA and Pauline Hanson an unapologetic stance against the perceived threat of Islam in Australia.
Q society and ALA members often find themselves confronted with allegations of racism and ‘right wing’ fanaticism. However, Bernadi would concur with now NSW ACP candidate Kirralie Smith that she is not right wing. On the contrary, she describes herself as a
“part of the silent majority of mainstream conservatives whose voices are now being heard”.
Winning an amalgamation with this powerful conservative party - and with it the active support of the Q society, its media profile access including Sky News and the Murdoch Press, financial resources and social media following - would have been a major coup for Mr Bernadi and his fledgling ACP.
Unfortunately for Mr Bernadi, after four weeks of negotiation, the ALA decided not to form an amalgamation with the ACP. ALA president Debbie Robinson said the decision came down to a ‘no thanks’ because they disagreed on fundamental issues including organisational structure, policy development and candidate selection input.
On the bright side, Bernadi secured the defection of prominent anti-Islam Q society member and former ALA candidate Kirralie Smith to the ACP. Smith will stand as a senate candidate in NSW for the ACP in 2019.
Sources: "Wilders-backed ALA won't join Bernardi". SBS. 11 April 2017.https://www.sbs.com.au/news/wilders-backed-ala-won-t-join-bernardi
Nick O'Malley. Anti-halal leader Kirralie Smith joins Cory Bernardi's Australian Conservatives. Sydney Morning Herald. 7 April 2017.
Sydney Morning Herald. Islam Critic Kirralie Smith seen as potential libertarian leader. January 28 2017. https://www.smh.com.au/national/islamcritical-kirralie-smith-seen-as-potential-libertarian-leader-20170128-gu0lng.html 28 January 2017
2 DEMOCRATIC LABOUR PARTY [DLP]
Cori Bernadi next tried to secure a micro party amalgamation with the Victorian based Democratic Labour Party [DLP].
The DLP declined the invitation to amalgamate with the ACP. It was also announced that sitting Victorian MLC Rachel Carling-Jenkins was leaving the DLP to join the ACP.
Bernadi failed again to secure an amalgamation, but he came away with a second defection to the ACP.
Source: The Age. "Cory Bernardi targets Victorian election after recruiting upper house MP Rachel Carling-Jenkins". 26 June 2017.
3 AUSTRALIAN CHRISTIANS PARTY
In May 2017, Bernardi met the national and Victorian state leadership of the Australian Christians party to discuss a merger between the two parties.
The Australian Christian party decided not to merge with the ACP as a party, however they formed a joint leadership group.
In February 2018, Lyle Shelton resigned from his role with the Australian Christian Lobby to join Cory Bernardi’s ACP as national communications director and number one ACP Senate ticket holder in Victoria for the 2019 election.
Sources: Cory Bernardi approaches Australian Christians for Family First-style merger". Crikey. 15 May 2017.
Ben Doherty. "Lyle Shelton quits Australian Christian Lobby to enter politics". The Guardian. 3 Feb, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2018/feb/03/lyle-shelton-quits-australian-christian-lobby-to-enter-politics
4 LIBERAL DEMOCRATIC PARTY [LDP]
Early in 2017, the ACP had begun the formation of a Senate voting bloc with the Liberal Democratic Party Senator David Leyonhjelm. Any party with the word LABOR in in was never to going to work in election marketing, so any talk of amalgamations or mergers was never touted here.
The first issue of importance for this informal alliance was documented in a policy release in April urging party members to petition major chocolate companies to oppose Easter Eggs being renamed Holiday Eggs.
[Senator Leyonhjelm quit federal politics to contest the NSW State election in 2019]
Sources: "Bernardi's alliance intends to bloc Xenophon". The Australian. 27 April 2017. Lane Sainty. "Conservatives Are Fighting For Easter But No One Knows Who Their Opponents Are". Buzzfeed. 7 April 2017.
Paige Cockburn. David Leyonhjelm to quit federal politics and contest NSW election.ABC News Online. Jan 7 2019. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-01-07/david-leyonhjelm-quits-federal-politics-to-run-in-nsw-election/10696090
5 THE FAMILY FIRST PARTY [denoted as FFP]
By August 2017, Cori Bernadi’s attempts to form mergers with conservative micro parties was not looking good. He was running out of micro party amalgamation options after being rejected by the Australian Liberty Alliance [ALA] in NSW, the Democratic Labour Party [DLP] and the executive of the Australian Christians party in Victoria.
Bernadi finally had a level of success in his home State of South Australia where he had approached the FFP.
The political views of the South Australian based FFP was a comfortable potential amalgamation fit for the ACP. FFP was a conservative Christian collection box of ex-Liberals including Robert Brokenshire and Bob Day. The party first adopted a moral family values agenda, later extended to include issues such as industrial relations reform, free speech and small government.
The second attraction to the FFP for Bernadi was that the party had two sitting members in the South Australian State Government Legislative Council, Robert Brokenshire and Dennis Hood.
The immediate transition of these two men from FFP to ACP members of the State Government Legislative Council gave the ACP a stable of three sitting State Government incumbents inside the first year of existence. Victorian MLC Rachel Carling-Jenkins had previously resigned from the DLP and joined the ACP.
A third compelling feature of FFP was that the party had a Senator in the Parliament. Lucy Gichuhi. She had replaced Bob Day who had served as a Senator from June 2014 to November 2016 when he resigned. His election to the Senate was ruled void in April 2017 under section 44 (v) of the Constitution.
In April 2017, senator Gichuhi declined an offer to join the Cori Bernadi lead voting bloc in the Senate, claiming fidelity to the FFP which had put her in office. This fidelity persisted despite the flagging of FFP intentions to amalgamate with the AGP.
After the FFP was dissolved, senator Gichuhi evolved into an ‘independent’ until she ultimately joined the Liberal Party in 2018. The Senator told her Upper House colleagues she would be naming and shaming bullies in her party, after she was relegated to an unwinnable spot on the South Australian Senate ticket.
Sources "Bernardi's alliance intends to bloc Xenophon". The Australian. 27 April 2017. https://www.sbs.com.au/news/australian-success-story-pm-welcomes-gichuhi-to-liberals
Parliament of Australia. Senators and Members. https://www.aph.gov.au/Senators_and_Members/Parliamentarian?MPID=HYG
A Family first Merger?
The FFP relinquished its registration as a party with the AEC 30 August 2017.
Source: Australian Electoral Commission. Deregistered/renamed political parties - Australian Electoral Commission. 6 June 2018. www.aec.gov.au/Parties_and_Representatives/Party_Registration/Deregistered_parties/index.htm
According to ACP Australian Board executive John Macaulay, the Family First Party did not merge with the ACP. The Family First executive voted to dissolve the party, and in accordance with Australian law, they donated all their assets to the ACP.
6 A FORMER WESTERN AUSTRALIAN FEDERAL LIBERAL MP
On 11 August 2017, former federal Liberal MP Dennis Jensen joined the ACP and urged Liberal Party members in Western Australia to join him.
Jensen was the former federal Liberal Member for Tangney in Western Australia. He held this position from October 2004 to 2 July 2016.Jenson’s conservative political credentials include
- being a former research scientist skeptical about human-induced global warming; In 2007 during a parliamentary sitting Jenson cited a vice chair of Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC], who claimed "there is no proven link between human activity and global warming";
- Joining Peter Dutton in boycotting the Kevin Rudd apology to the Stolen Generation;
- Telling Indigenous women affected by European colonisation 200 years ago to “get over it”
- Opposing same-sex Marriage, and
- Conceding he had “made a mistake” in using a parliamentary letterhead to seek a publishing deal for his novel about a fictional war including a “racy sex scene”.
Sources: Denis Peters. Climate change a campaign of alarmism. News.Com.Au. 28 Feb 2007.
Sydney Morning Herald, Tweet and sour: MP in spat with Aboriginal woman on colonialism, Fairfax Media 18 April 2013.
Australian Marriage Equality Organisation. Where your MP Stands. .http://www.australianmarriageequality.org/whereyourmpstands/electorates/Tangney/
Alisha O'Flaherty. Tangney MP Dennis Jensen admits 'mistake' in using parliamentary letterhead to seek book deal. ABC News online. 31 March 2016. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-03-31/tangney-mp-dennis-jensen-defends-using-letterhead-book-deal/7287578
Jensen lost pre-selection for the 2016 election to Ben Morten and subsequently resigned the Liberal Party.
Now a federal Liberal MP, Ben Morten found himself caught up in the citizenship saga in January 2019. Morton spent his summer break rushing to confirm he is not a dual citizen, after he found out his grandfather was born in Ireland as constitutional experts speculated on his political future.
Source: Jackson Gothe-Snape. Citizenship issue resurges as Liberal MP discovers Irish heritage and scrambles to avoid disqualification. ABC News online. 10 Jan 2019. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-01-10/citizenship-doubt-liberal-mp-ben-morton-discovers-irish-heritage/10705292?section=politics
The State of Play – December 2017
By the end of 2017, a mere nine months since he announced his defection from the Liberal Party, CLP leader Cori Bernadi had not secured any micro party amalgamations or mergers. However,
1 He had inherited access to two national micro party election machines with associated contacts and assets from the Australian Christian group in Melbourne and the FFP in South Australia;
2 He had secured the defection of one sitting State government politician and the inheritance of two sitting State government politicians into the ACP stable;
3 He had secured the move of two prominent conservative activism leaders into the ACP, both preparing to stand for Senate election in 2019 and both bringing with them a substantial supporter base [Anti-Islam candidate Kirralie Smith in NSW claims a social media following “of 50,000”];
4 Former WA federal Liberal MP Dennis Jensen has joined the ACP and urged Liberal Party members in Western Australia to join him;
5 ACP had formed a Senate voting bloc with the LDP Senator David Leyonhjelm, and
6 The ACP was building a media profile, not bad for a fledgling micro party.
Unfortunately, that media profile turned into a liability in 2018 when things started to go pear shaped for the ACP. Moreover, the failure to negotiate an amalgamation of the powerful and well resourced Australian Liberty Alliance into the Australian Conservatives party and the backing of the Q group would come back to haunt him quickly.