Breakaway senator Cory Bernardi says he will pursue mergers with other conservative parties and seek more defections from the Liberal Party after Family First folded its operations into his nascent Australian Conservatives party.
Family First, a socially and economically conservative party launched in 2001, will no longer exist from Wednesday and its two South Australian MPs will switch to serve under the Australian Conservatives banner.
The merger will give Senator Bernardi access to Family First’s party infrastructure – including mailing lists – but will not boost his party’s representation in the Senate.
While welcoming the merger, Family First senator-elect Lucy Gichuhi said she planned to serve as an independent rather than join forces with Senator Bernardi.
“While I respect the decision of Family First to join with Australian Conservatives, given the circumstances and the time frames, I have not been able to determine if joining this new entity is the best way for me to serve the people of South Australia,” Ms Gichuhi said in a statement.
“It is on that basis that I have decided to serve as an independent senator for the time being.”
Ms Gichuhi will be sworn into the Senate next month after the High Court decided Family First senator Bob Day’s election was invalid because he had an indirect pecuniary interest with the Commonwealth.
Mr Day, who has bankrolled Family First in recent years, gave a curt “no comment” when asked by Fairfax Media on Wednesday whether he supported the merger.
Speaking at a press conference in Adelaide, Senator Bernardi said: “I hope it’s not the last amalgamation.
“I welcome minor parties, I welcome former colleagues [and] existing colleagues, who want to be part of a team that really, genuinely wants to make politics different.”
Senator Bernardi said the two parties were a “natural fit” and the merger would strengthen the conservative movement across Australia.
He wished Ms Gichuhi well with her career.
South Australian Family First leader Dennis Hood said it was a “great day for Family First and we believe it is a great day for those on the conservative side of politics in Australia”.
“Finally, those on the conservative side of politics will have a united conservative voice in which to support and park their vote,” he said.
“We are excited about the prospect that holds.”
Mr Hood said all of Family First’s state branches and its federal executives agreed to join forces with the Australian Conservatives.
“This is a unanimous decision,” he said. “There has been no dissension within the Family First party at all.”
Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce said it was “not a good start” that Ms Gichuhi had declined to join forces with Senator Bernardi.
“They form a new party and the first response you get is the new senator-elect who says she doesn’t want to be a part of it,” he said.
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said the move was “inevitable” given Mr Day was the “father of Family First” and his financial support had been crucial to the party.
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