NEWS UPDATE: Cory Bernardi's ship finally sails

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(Screen shot via smh.com.au)

Deputy editor Michelle Pini discusses the implications of Cory Bernardi's departure from the Liberal Party. 

WE'VE heard rumours, innuendo and thinly veiled threats in the form of tantrums for months, but Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi has finally officially defected to set up his own "Australian Conservatives" party.

In the grand tradition of it’s-all-about-Cory, however, he delivered a speech that would rival Othello’s delusions of grandeur.

Full of metaphors about ships sailing and the “enduring beauty of the conservative way”, Cory managed to stick the knife into the Coalition at every opportunity, lamenting the loss of:

" ... enduring values and principles that have served our nation so well for so long."

According to The ABC's Henry Belot, Bernardi gave a "scathing" speech in which he criticised his former 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 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," he said.

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.

The Sydney Morning Herald's James Massola said Bernardi's resignation had added to the Turnbull Govenment's woes by inciting the wrath of his colleagues:

But his resignation has drawn withering attacks from former colleagues, with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull suggesting the senator should do the honourable thing and resign from the Senate, senior South Australian colleague Simon Birmingham accusing him of a "dog act" and Liberal Senate leader George Brandis declaring he had broken faith with Liberal voters who had elected him.

But the former Liberal senator, who has delivered another hit to Mr Turnbull's ailing government and who was verbally carpet-bombed by furious ex-colleagues on Tuesday, has no intention of quitting.

"The body politic is failing the people of Australia. It is clear that we need to find a better way. 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," he told the Senate, announcing his resignation.

Last Thursday, The Australian reported that Bernardi had been meeting with billionare mining magnate Gina Rinehart and that they had also held meetings with key members of Donald Trump’s campaign team in Washington last month, sparking rumours of a split.

The Guardian's Katherine Murphy reported that Bernardi intended to run Senate candidates in the next election but had "no idea" whether Gina Rinehart would bankroll this move.

Murphy stressed the importance of Bernardi's vote for the Turnbull Government:

'Cory Bernardi can wield considerable influence outside the Liberal party on an enlarged Senate crossbench. Bernardi's resignation brings the Coalition down to 29 seats. One Nation (three) and the Nick Xenophon Team (three) are key to helping the government achieve a majority of 38 ... Bernardi's vote counts because the government can only afford to lose two or three crossbench votes.'

Crossbencher Derryn Hinch was quoted by News Corp's Claire Bickers as saying he did not expect Bernardi's resignation to impact many votes since:

'Someone “to the right of Genghis Khan” was unlikely to vote with Labor and the Greens.'

As IA has already reported, things continue to spiral out of contol for Malcolm Turnbull with questions again surfacing about his leadership – a stretegic parting gesture from Bernardi – and challengers, including the erstwhile PM Tony Abbott, waiting in the wings. This comes on top of a string of poorly received policy decisions and backflips, such as "clean coal", together with disastrous popularity polls indicating the Turnbull Government now trails the Shorten Labor Opposition with 46% to the ALP's 54% (two party preferred). 

All in all, not a great first day back at the office for Malcolm Turnbull.

You can follow deputy editor Michelle Pini on Twitter @vmp9 or check out her blog here.

Keep up-to-date with Cory Bernardi's defection on the live #CoryBernardi Twitter feed:

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