Last week on Friday Nick Xenophon shook up the political spectrum by announcing he would quit Federal Parliament to return to SA Politics with a tilt for a lower house seat in Hartley. This will be a return to where it started for Nick Xenophon as he started in the SA senate for 10 years before coming to Canberra to sit in the Upper House for a further 10 years. The Nick Xenophon party was already polling in the 20 percent range in SA for both the lower house and upper house so it will be interesting to see what his presence in SA will do to possibly help him win more seats. He obviously now starts favourite in winning the seat of Hartley but it is a marginal seat which means both Labor and Liberal are getting good numbers already and so the goal of finishing second and then winning on preferences is more difficult. This is what happened when Nick Xenophon’s Party won the seat of Mayo in the last Federal Election; Labor are not strong in that seat making Rebekah Sharkie’s goal of finishing second easier and then she got preferences to finish ahead of Jamie Briggs the Liberal sitting member. I also think it is worth noting the COAG (Council of Australian Government) meeting which suggested a change in approach to counter terrorism.
(1) Provides a detailed explanation of what was discussed at the special COAG meeting on terrorism but I will provide a quick summary here. In the wake of what has been another year that we have seen the all too real of effects of terrorism here and abroad the PM and state and territory leaders agreed on a number of measures to help ensure a more national approach on terror. The big change was to introduce a national facial recognition system to better recognise people who have or are suspected to have committed terrorist and criminal acts. This has caused some outrage in the community who talk about freedom of privacy and invasiveness of government agencies but as Daniel Andrews said on Insiders and other radio programs (2) national security trumps peoples belief that they have a right to civic liberties. Essentially it boils down to the leaders not wanting civic liberty to be the cause of a terrorist attack going through and as he has said Australia are not immune to the threat of terror. Another change was to nationally enforce a presumption of non innocence for people who are suspected of terrorism charges, something that states and territories had already began to try and implement. The other changes fall into trying to protect crowded locations from the London like terrorism act and also look to better stop terrorism at it’s infant step by avoiding people falling into the wrong networks.
So returning to Nick Xenophon now I will now spend a few paragraphs on Nick Xenophon’s first stint in the SA Senate and then Federal Senate. In 1997 Nick Xenophon (3) did not yet have the personal following that he now has so on the No Pokies ticket he was able to preference harvest with other minor parties in order to enter the SA Senate. Now over all of his career Nick Xenophon has at times been criticised for a lack of action on his pet reform of pokies but I think that ignores a few points. Firstly as an Independent and Andrew Wilkie faced this with the Gillard Government Federally there is only so much he can do on this issue without major party support and both major parties have some vested interests in the gambling industry that made that reform difficult. Secondly it ignores the work Nick Xenophon has done on other issues. In his stint in the SA Senate he helped pass the privatisation of ETSA, taxation reform, protectionism of Australian goods, environment issues, consumer rights and other legal matters such as Procurement reforms which is not surprising given his Lawyer background. Nick Xenophon faced re election in 2006 and managed to obtain 21 percent in the senate, which allowed him to not only re elect himself but also Ann Bressington. Now his running mates and the struggles Xenophon has had to keep them on party line has been an area of concern and is worth looking at here as both Bressington and then John Darley who was elected under the Xenophon brand post Nick Xenophon moving to the Federal Parliament have gone rogue. (4) Essentially in Ann Bressington’s case once Nick Xenophon moved to the Federal Parliament she attacked him for ignoring her once elected and not considering her part of the Parliament. Similarly with John Darley (5) it appears that some people don’t like Nick Xenophon having such power over the party and so it will be interesting as Nick Xenophon runs more candidates this time if they are ok with not always having a big say, to be the Federal experience since 2016 has suggested that those senators and federal members are okay with Nick’s leadership.
In 2007 Nick Xenophon announced his move to the Federal Senate, in the 2007 election he garnered 14 percent of the vote. This was enough to vote him into Parliament where he initially held the balance of power before the Greens took full balance of power. In his role in the senate under Kevin Rudd Nick Xenophon was able to guarantee extra funding to the Murray Darling in order to pass the supplement that was given to families post the Global Financial Crisis hitting. From then on until his re election in 2013 he had a mainly limited role as I mentioned he lost his balance of power. His voting record mainly was to be more supportive of the Liberal Party Economically. Then in the 2013 Election which saw the election of Tony Abbott Nick Xenophon was able to see his senate vote increase to 25 percent which was just shy of two quotas, this was improved upon in 2016 where his party did slightly poorer with 22 percent but the double dissolution election meant that quotas were halved so that result saw three senators be elected. As a result of the 2013 and 2016 result there was a more defined cross bench and so Nick Xenophon has played a bigger role on the cross bench on almost all important legislation. What Nick Xenophon has also done is take more junior independents under his wing like John Madigan, Ricky Muir and Jacquie Lambie which has helped create a smaller independent block that can combine their various views together to be an easier negotiating block for the Government. There is some criticism that Nick Xenophon has supported government policy more than Labor but I think that’s a reflection of Nick moving policy more to the centre to allow some resolution to an issue rather than leave an issue to sit without passing. Nick Xenophon was steadfastly against reforms like the Higher Education Reform and Defence Spending Cuts that Tony Abbott originally introduced in the 2014 budget.
In 2017 it was revealed that Nick Xenophon may face issues with Section 44 of the Constitution as a possible UK Citizen that would leave him ineligible to sit in Parliament. Cynics might suggest that he has jumped before a possible adverse finding by the high court or that after 10 years he is eligible to a better pension. I think this is unfair, I think it’s a reflection of both general and internal polling that shows Nick Xenophon’s SA Best Party will be the party that holds the balance of power post the 2018 election and it makes sense for him to be personally involved in any such negotiations as an MP because I think he will win his seat. What will be interesting is how many seats he could win, Antony Green Election Yoda (6) has not ruled out a possible path where his party win the second most seats and then have the third major party support him to make him Premier. My warning to this possibility is whether the voters embrace Nick Xenophon surrogates in other seats and the suspension of one of his candidates already for a series of distasteful Facebook Posts would seem to confirm these worries (7).