What NXT? The froth and bubble that is Nick Xenophon

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Yes, Nick Xenophon is going back to South Australia to save the day. Lucky, lucky South Australia...

Nick Xenophon is a self-interested show pony, who may win votes in South Australia but will never fix anything, says John Passant.

SO, ONE YEAR into his new six year term, South Australian Senator Nick Xenophon has announced he will resign once the High Court has determined his section 44 constitutional eligibility status. He is leaving to contest the South Australian Lower House State seat of Hartley for his new group, SA Best, in the 17 March 2018 election there.

There is a certain irony to this, given that in 2007 he resigned one year into an eight year term in the South Australian Upper House to contest and win a seat in the Senate.

Of course, Xenophon is a self-interested show pony. But that doesn’t tell us much about his popularity or his policies.

At the last Federal election, the Nick Xenophon Team won 24.89% of the South Australian Senate vote. It won three Senate seats and a lower house seat. Labor’s vote was 22.67% and the Liberals 27.46%. Clearly, something is happening.

The decline of the vote for the major parties in South Australia is replicated across Australia, just not (yet?) to the same degree. In other states, one of the beneficiaries of this decline has been Pauline Hanson’s One Nation.

With an election due in Queensland on or before 5 May next year – and possibly before the end of this year – the most recent poll suggests One Nation may win 18% of the vote. Given its support is higher in rural and regional areas, the Party could win seats there and hold the balance of power.

By contrast, support for both Labor and the Opposition LNP in Queensland is in the very low 30s.

Obviously, Nick Xenophon is not Pauline Hanson. He is the Liberal Party cloaked in the rhetoric of the "sensible" centre. She is the populist face of reaction.  For many voters, the defining characteristic of both is that they are not Labor, the Liberals, or the Nationals.

Xenophon and his two other Senators often vote for the Government’s legislation, sometimes after extracting a few trinkets for South Australia. His departure from the Senate raises questions about whether this symbiotic relationship will continue. It will.

His replacement, irrespective of whether Xenophon wins or loses the High Court challenge to his eligibility to sit, will be an NXT member. Xenophon too has vowed to continue to run the Senate team after he leaves.

As he said:

"I will, of course, still have a very active and direct role in decisions made at a Federal level with NXT."

His Liberal worldview will ensure ongoing support for the Turnbull Government on many of the major issues.

The other so-called "outsider" party, One Nation, is even more consistent in its support for the Turnbull government — siding 85% of the time with it when the Government and Opposition differ. For the Nick Xenophon Team, the figure is 66 per cent.

The South Australian economy is one of the worst performing in Australia and has been at or near the bottom for some time. Given the decline of manufacturing generally in the State, the closure of large car plants in the recent past and the Holden plant on 20 October, it is not surprising unemployment is, at 6.6%, almost a percentage point higher than the national average. The population is falling. People are leaving the State to look for work.

This helps explain the Federal Government’s Christopher Pyne re-election fund — also known as the shipbuilding plan.

On top of all this, there is the South Australian energy crisis, built on the back of privatisation and inadequate private and public infrastructure spending. Poles and wires, poles and wires, poles and wires. Add a storm, protective shutdowns, and inadequate interstate supply routes and you had statewide blackouts on 28 September last year.  

The Labor Government, which retained power in 2014 with 47% of the vote 2PP, has responded with plans to build a Government gas fired power station and the much publicised Tesla Battery storage plant, due to be operational by December. AGL has also announced plans to build its own gas fired power plant in the State.

Even with the $100 million battery storage and nine temporary dual-fuel diesel-gas turbines in Adelaide by 1 December, to provide up to 275 megawatts of power, the State could still suffer blackouts this summer. (So too could Victoria, but that is another story.)

Nick Xenophon has been involved in South Australian politics since 1997. All of the economic problems and energy issues besetting South Australia have occurred or worsened on his watch. The great water theft that robs South Australia happened while he was – and is – a powerful crossbencher in the Senate.

Of course, he will argue he has never in power and only if he were could he, presumably, have prevented the closure of the car plants, addressed the high unemployment, stopped the water theft and maybe even avoided the blackout. This is hubris.

Take the car industry. Global forces are at work that have closed down car manufacturing in the state and in Australia. Unless Xenophon were prepared to confront these capitalist maelstroms, he would not be able to save the sector. He wasn’t and the result is increasing unemployment in his State.

His new State Party, SA Best, has not got off to a good start.

A few hours after unveiling its candidates, Xenophon sacked one of them, Rhys Adams, for having photos on Facebook showing him groping wax figures of Toni Collette and Lleyton Hewitt, and putting a fist to a wax Rihanna. It is a level of bureaucratic Party incompetence that does not bode well for any future role in government.

More importantly, Xenophon’s "policies" on addressing inequality, unemployment, climate change, and the crisis in our public hospitals and schools are non-existent at a Federal and State level. At best, his "solutions" involve fiddling at the edges. Inequality, unemployment and climate change are challenges that require societal restructuring. Xenophon is a tinkerer, not a restructurer.

Talk of sensible policies and "making South Australia great again" – my words of ridicule for his State-centric, do little, approach – will win Xenophon votes and maybe even the balance of power in South Australia. But Xenophon can’t and won’t address the fundamental problems of capitalism that beset his State.

Read more by John Passant on his website En Passant or follow him on Twitter @JohnPassantSigned copies of John's first book of poetry, Songs for the Band Unformed (Ginninderra Press 2016) are available for purchase from the IA store HERE.

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