Senator Cory Bernardi arrives to make a statement to the Senate at Parliament House in Canberra on Tuesday 7 February 2017. Photo: Andrew Meares Photo: Andrew MearesCory Bernardi’s breakaway conservative party will join forces with Family First but the incoming Senator for the soon-to-be-defunct party will not join the Liberal defector, depriving him of a two-person voting bloc.
The merger is a significant coup for Senator Bernardi, whose Australian Conservatives will gain thousands of members, finances and two MPs – Robert Brokenshire and Dennis Hood in the South Australian parliament – along with grassroots campaigners around the country.
The merger has been approved by every state division and the federal body of Family First.
Fairfax Media has confirmed Senator Bernardi will announce the merger on Wednesday in South Australia.
Senator Bernardi was a close friend and philosophical ally of Bob Day, who was re-elected as Family First’s South Australian representative in the 2016 double dissolution election.
But Senator Day was this year disqualified from the Senate with the High Court ruling that he had an “inappropriate pecuniary interest with the Commonwealth” because of the way he had arranged the ownership of his Adelaide electorate office. There has been growing concern about the damage to Family First’s brand as a result of his disqualification.
Kenyan-born lawyer Lucy Gichuhi, who was second on Family First’s South Australian ticket at the last election, was declared the winner of the spot after a special recount.
But Ms Gichuhi, a wild-card entrant to the Senate, is defying the will of the party she was elected to represent in choosing to sit as an Independent. Ms Gichuhi was placed in the unwinnable spot after interning with Senator Day for two weeks under a scholarship program funded by the Australian Christian Lobby.
The SA-centric Family First party attracted a Senate primary vote of 3.93 per cent in the state at the 2016 election. Nationally, Family First won the support of more than 200,000 voters, drawing 1.49 per cent.
Formed in 2002 by Pentecostal pastor Andrew Evans, the socially conservative and pro-business party had its first national representative in former Victorian senator Steve Fielding. Mr Fielding was elected for a six-year term in 2004 on the back of heavy preference flows, having attracted a 1.88 per cent primary vote.
Nationals leader and Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce said he wasn’t worried by the new amalgamation.
“Already we’ve got the new senator from South Australia who’s saying she’s not going to be a part of it. That’s not a good start,” Mr Joyce said.
Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese said he doesn’t think the merger “will trouble the scoreboard”.
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