Nick Xenophon will be a kingmaker in the new parliament after winning around 29 per cent of the vote in South Australia.
His party now has three Senators, whose support Turnbull will need to get his legislation through, and one seat in the lower house. But many have been left wondering what exactly Xenophon and his team represent.
Xenophon calls himself a centrist and often presents himself as “above” major party politics. This obviously struck a chord with voters who are disillusioned with the cynical two-party system of Liberal and Labor, expressed in the record-high vote for minor parties.
In the lead up to the election Xenophon was presented by some media commentators as a progressive political force.
But Xenophon is far from progressive or left-wing.
Xenophon started out as a member of the Young Liberals at Adelaide University in the 1970s. He split with the group after a feud involving voting fraud and accountability and has always run as an independent in elections.
His most consistent platforms have been restricting poker machines and calling for political transparency. Xenophon was first elected to the South Australian upper house on a “no pokies” ticket.
He has also opposed free trade deals including the Trans Pacific Partnership, saying they are destroying manufacturing jobs.
This has won him a lot of support in a state whose once large manufacturing sector has been decimated in recent years.
Since 2013 he has voted down some of the Liberals’ worst attacks, such as university fee deregulation, giving him a progressive sheen. But his decisions to vote down these bills had more to do with their deep unpopularity amongst the public than any matter of principle. A quick look at Xenophon’s time as Senator shows that he is little more than a right-wing opportunist.
In 2014 Xenophon voted to pass the Maritime Powers Bill, which allows the Australian navy to detain asylum seekers on the high seas, fast-tracks deportations and gives the Immigration Department the right to complete secrecy.
He opposed Labor’s negative gearing changes—which would end the use of billions of dollars of public funds to pay for the losses on investment properties, explaining that his father was a “modest property developer”.
And he has indicated that he would support abolishing penalty rates for businesses with up to 20 employees.
Meanwhile, he supports an Emissions Trade Scheme, which in Europe has proven useless for combatting climate change, and has campaigned against the introduction of wind power to SA.
Xenophon and his team are not progressives. They cannot be relied upon to stop the passage of neo-liberal or racist policies under whatever government comes to power.
By Caitlin Doyle-Markwick