South Australian senator Cory Bernardi has officially quit the Liberal Party to establish his own party, using a scathing speech to criticise colleagues for “failing the people of Australia”.
The senator informed Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull of his decision to defect shortly before a church service this morning, which marked the start of the parliamentary year.
In a speech to colleagues, Senator Bernardi said he was reluctant and relieved to the leave the party, saying the decision had “weighed heavily on his heart”.
“The level of public disenchantment with the major parties, the lack of confidence in our political process, and the concern about the direction of our nation is very, very strong.
“This is a direct product of … the political class being out of touch with the hopes and aspirations of the Australian people.”
Senator Bernardi said his calls to restore faith in the political system had been ignored by some of his Liberal Party colleagues.
“It really is time for a better way — for a conservative way,” he said.
Senator Bernardi said his new party, the Australian Conservatives, would focus on limiting the size of government and provide hope to “those who despair at the current state of Australian politics”.
The 47-year-old senator has been a controversial figure in the Liberal Party and is known for his inflammatory remarks on gay rights, Islam and climate change.
He said the Government’s position on energy and climate change was one reason behind his decision to leave the party.
‘It’s not your ticket to really hand over’
Coalition ministers have turned on Senator Bernardi, describing his actions as “a betrayal”, with some calling on him to resign from politics.
The ABC understands Mr Turnbull told the partyroom he asked Senator Bernardi why he was leaving so soon after the election, describing his response as “not satisfactory”.
Attorney-General George Brandis said Senator Bernardi had not acted like a conservative and had broken a promise to his electorate by leaving the party.
“Breaking faith with the electorate, breaking faith with the people who voted for you, breaking faith with the people who have supported you through thick and thin for years, is not a conservative thing to do,” he said.
Defence Industry Minister Christopher Pyne called on Senator Bernardi to resign and recontest as an independent.
Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce said volunteers who worked for Senator Bernardi during the election campaign should be upset with his decision to leave the party.