Australian senator says will start new conservative party

Australian Senator Nick Xenophon arrives at the Senate entrance at Parliament House in Canberra, holding a doormat featuring an image of United States President Donald Trump, Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017. (Mick Tsikas/AAP Image via AP)

CANBERRA, Australia — An Australian senator and outspoken supporter of President Donald Trump announced on Tuesday he will start a new political party to appeal to disenfranchised conservatives.

Cory Bernardi decided to abandon Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's conservative Liberal Party as the ruling coalition trails further behind the center-left Labor Party in opinion polls seven months after elections.

Bernardi told the Senate he had resigned from the party to start his new party called Australian Conservatives.

"We will be united by the desire to create stronger families, to foster free enterprise, to limit the size and scope and reach of government while seeking to rebuild confidence in civil society," Bernardi said.

Bernardi's defection came on the first day that Parliament has met since Trump's inauguration.

Senator Nick Xenophon, leader of a minor party Nick Xenophon Team, marked the occasion by bringing a doormat emblazoned with Trump's face and with the message: "Australia: not your doormat."

Xenophon has taken exception to a terse phone call between Trump and Turnbull when they first spoke as national leaders last month. Xenophon said Trump's reported language was "completely uncalled" for in a conversation with an ally such as Australia.

"This doormat might be a good gift for Cory Bernardi, given that as he's such a big fan of Donald Trump," Xenophon said.

Bernardi won in an election last July that saw a record number of Australians vote for anti-establishment parties that splintered the conservative vote.

Bernardi's former government colleagues accused him of being a traitor, saying he was obliged to serve the party on whose policy platform he had been re-elected.

The 47-year-old had long been among the Liberal Party's most conservative figures. He was demoted from a senior party position in 2012 for suggesting legal recognition for gay marriage could lead to legalization of bestiality and polygamy, offending many same-sex marriage advocates.

Bernardi recently spent three months in New York seconded to the United Nations and met Trump associates. He owns a red hat with a Trump-like slogan: "Make Australia Great Again."

Bernardi said on Tuesday the major political parties had failed Australians.

"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," Bernardi said.

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