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Issue #1739      July 13, 2016

Taking Issue – Nick Schadegg

What’s next for the Xenophon Team?

For Nick Xenophon, turning his personal political success into a commanding, pluralistic presence in the federal Senate always seemed assured. His primary vote at the federal election in South Australia rivalled that of the two major parties. He will probably receive three seats in the Senate and, in spectacular fashion, managed to beat Jamie Briggs in the safe Liberal seat of Mayo. However, if you voted for the Nick Xenophon Team (NXT) to represent you in federal Parliament then it’s highly possible that you won’t end up with the sort of representation you were expecting.

Former dairy farmer and NXT member James Stacey (second from right) is at odds with the party’s leader on plummeting milk prices.

For many voters in the electorates of Mayo and Grey who have lived in safe seats for many years, a vote for NXT seemed like the best way to upset the traditional balance and topple long-standing members. Nick presented himself as the underdog; the only viable opponent to the “Coles and Woolies” of politics, as Nick likes to refer to the Coalition and Labor parties.

He takes jabs at both parties, aiming at easy targets like politicians’ entitlements and corruption. But when it comes to divisive issues he characteristically goes into hiding, and the media seem compliant in giving him a wide berth for political hot potatoes like asylum seekers and negative gearing.

Until now, he’s been able to make up his own mind about these issues and vote accordingly in the Senate. He’s had the comfort of being his own man – of not having to consult colleagues and determine party policy via compromise and debate. This will all change now.

Nick walked into this election with guaranteed success despite very little policy, other than being a political disruptor. The new government will introduce new policies in the coming years that we don’t even know about yet, and with the added pressure of being among the cross benchers who will hold the balance of power in the Senate it will be up to Xenophon and his party to agree on pieces of legislation amongst themselves and vote as a single block. It is here that they’ll find their differences.

Without the advantage of having an ideological starting point (as they are neither classically left nor right, conservative nor progressive), the X-Team will take each issue as it comes. Opinions will differ. Personalities will emerge and clash.

The public will come to know these new NXT members and they’ll become political pseudo-celebrities. They’ll possibly even find themselves in a position where they’ll no longer have to rely on the Xenophon brand name to maintain their political success, and the threat of disendorsement for disloyalty or “crossing the floor” will no longer be a force of unity. This happened very publicly to the Palmer United Party who strode into Parliament after the 2013 election as a four-strong team (with Ricky Muir tagging along behind), and exited as a broken, fragmented fizzle three years later.

This wouldn’t be the first time that Xenophon has attempted to build an electoral team around himself. At the South Australian 2006 state election he pulled a far greater number of votes than anyone anticipated, and subsequently Ann Bressington, his number two Legislative Chamber candidate under his No Pokies ticket, emerged from nowhere to claim her seat in state Parliament.

It wasn’t long before she used her position to push crackpot theories about vaccinations, new world order, fluoride in tap water, chemtrails, and wind turbine syndrome (which, oddly enough, Xenophon himself believes is real). Ultimately, the duo had a falling-out. He allegedly demanded that she contribute $50,000 of her own money to his 2013 federal campaign which almost sent her broke, and she eventually defected to the Katter Australia Party where she faded into obscurity. Bressington recently commented that she has unhappy memories from her time as Xenophon’s colleague.

If history is anything to go by, then the X-Team of political super friends will probably become foes by the time the 2019 election rolls around. Political parties with weak ideological bonds (and, once gain, the Palmer United Party springs to mind) may come across as anti-establishment heroes for the disillusioned at first, but these weak bonds will almost certainly develop into obstacles for their longevity.

Next article – Taking Issue – The real undercurrent to this election

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