How the Bernardi backlash could affect the carbon tax
Tony Abbott’s slim hopes of scrapping Julia Gillard’s carbon tax without having to call another election have been undermined by the backlash against Cory Bernardi.
And in an ironic twist, the big winner could be the determinedly pro-gay marriage Greens’ senator Sarah Hanson-Young.
Senator Bernardi, the Liberals’ number one on his state’s Senate ticket, was relegated to the backbench on Wednesday after suggesting that by allowing same sex couples to marry we were entering a slippery slope towards legalised polygamy and even sex with animals – assuming some “creepy people” get their way that is.
Facing public fury, Mr Abbott sacked his Parliamentary Secretary first branding his comments ill-disciplined but subsequently calling them repugnant.
However Liberal hardheads say while his demotion and Abbott’s more muscular condemnation were necessary, Bernardi’s ongoing notoriety could yet cost the party a winnable third senate seat in SA.
“His brand is damaged, permanently,” said one.
And they say that could be the difference, for an incoming Abbott government, between securing the numbers in the Senate to axe the carbon tax or, needing a whole new double-dissolution election to get it done.
People are not happy.
“It’s hard enough to stem the bleeding of votes to a populist like (Nick) Xenophon without having a turn-off like Bernardi on the ticket,’’ said another senior Liberal.
The Bernardi affair has attracted international coverage and even forced the party of British Prime Minister David Cameron to run for cover.
“We strongly condemn Mr Bernardi’s comments which don’t reflect David Cameron’s or the Conservative Party’s viewpoint in any way,’’ it said as the South Australian arrived in the UK to address a young conservatives conference.
Senior state Liberals fear Mr Bernardi’s prominence as the party’s first name on the Senate ballot will become a rallying point for competitors seeking the final Senate spot.
Labor and the Greens have previously committed to blocking any move in the Senate to unwind the carbon tax should Mr Abbott win in 2013.
But the Coalition has argued it would have a clear mandate to do so if it were elected on the simple promise to repeal it. It is likely that independent senators Nick Xenophon and John Madigan would share that view meaning there is an outside chance of the Coalition securing the 39 votes to repeal the tax if it performs well in a number of Senate contests.
“We realistically had a chance of picking up the third seat in South Australia, but not with him as the face of our party,’’ said a Liberal insider.
Six Senate seats are up for grabs at each regular election except when there is a full double-D election and all 12 from each state are declared vacant.
Of the six on offer in SA in 2013, the Labor and Liberal parties will almost certainly retain two each, with a fifth going to the popular independent senator, Nick Xenophon.
The final seat will probably come down to a two-way contest between Senator Hanson-Young and the third (as yet unspecified) Liberal. It is the squandering of this possibility, however remote, that has made senior Liberals in SA and beyond, livid at Mr Bernardi’s “bone-headed” behaviour.
While the centrist Xenophon is expected to benefit first from any Liberal disaffection, he is expected to easily achieve a quota for his own re-election. However, any excess votes he accumulates after that, are likely to flow to other minors and the Greens before getting to the Liberals thus increasing Senator Hanson-Young’s chances.
Meanwhile, the ultra-conservative Ron Boswell, a fierce opponent of same-sex marriage and a 30-year Queensland Nationals senator, announced Friday he will retire when his term expires in two years time.
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