MCM Strategic Communications

MCM Strategic Communications
Leading Canberra-based government relations and media relations consultancy firm.

16 February 2016

Major parties take on the new team in town

One of the most intriguing aspects of this year’s Federal Election will be how much of an impact the new political party which is being led by Independent South Australian Senator Nick Xenophon will have.

The “Nick Xenophon Team” (NXT) was launched in December 2014, but it’s only in the past three months that its activities have gone up a gear with the unveiling of many of its House of Representatives and Senate candidates.

When Australia goes to the polls – most likely in the second half of this year – it’s almost certain that the biggest splash the NXT makes will be in Senator Xenophon’s home state of South Australia. At the last election in 2013, Senator Xenophon attracted more than 250,000 votes – almost 25 per cent of the overall vote in SA, ahead of the Labor Party which secured just under 23 per cent.

A major part of Senator Xenophon’s appeal is that, to the average Australian, he comes across as being a voice of reason within the Parliament, while the overwhelming majority of other MPs and Senators are seen as being “just another politician”.

Soon after Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP seized the leadership of the Parliamentary Liberal Party in September last year – therefore becoming Prime Minister – he quickly demonstrated that he was aware of the threat that Senator Xenophon and the NXT could pose to the Liberals in SA. Realising that the NXT is a real chance of winning the prize Liberal seats of Sturt (held by the Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, Hon Christopher Pyne MP) and Mayo (held by Hon Jamie Briggs MP), the then new PM said on ABC Radio in Adelaide in October: “Nick will be running Nick Xenophon Team candidates; they are not robots, they are not clones of Nick Xenophon, they are individuals. And whether they can actually in practice represent his values or work as a team remains to be seen.” Mr Turnbull also highlighted the falling out Senator Xenophon had with another candidate who ran on his ticket and was elected to the SA Parliament’s Legislative Council, as well as the difficulties mining magnate and current Member for Fairfax, Mr Clive Palmer MP has had holding together his Palmer United Party.

Now Labor has gone public with its attempts to discredit the NXT. Last Wednesday, just before the House of Representatives adjourned for the evening, the member for the SA seat of Wakefield (and the Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Manufacturing), Mr Nick Champion, gave a short, but detailed speech raising questions about the NXT. Of Senator Xenophon, Mr Champion said: “Is he independent? Is he leader of a party? Is he convenor? Is he all three? It sounds like a recipe for confusion and division to me…confusion and division that the nation cannot afford.” Mr Champion then used seemingly conflicting statements on the NXT website and within its constitution to say it was unclear whether NXT candidates would be bound by NXT policies or whether they would be free to exercise a conscience vote when it came to making decisions.

Mr Champion then went a step further, telling Parliament that a reference in the NXT constitution which covers the death or incapacity of Senator Xenophon was “like something out of a Woody Allen film”.

Whether you agree with the Prime Minister and Mr Champion or whether you are a supporter of Senator Xenophon – and by extension, other members of the NXT – it is now very clear that both of the major parties have redirected some of their guns away from each other and towards Senator Xenophon and the NXT. However, Senator Xenophon has shown that both at state and federal government level, he will be a formidable foe, largely because of his popularity in the electorate.

- By Hamish Arthur

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