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29 March 2016
By Matt Hrkac

No, Xenophon is not a good alternative for progressive voters

There has been a lot of talk in recent months about the electability of Nick Xenophon, or more specifically, his new party that he is now leading, and that is standing candidates in a number of seats around the country. But is the Nick Xenophon Team really a good alternative for progressive voters who are tired of the major parties? I'm not so sure. I may be biased in assessing this, but there are some serious issues when it comes to Xenophon that need to be addressed.

Granted, Nick X has been a reliable and relatively progressive voice in the Senate; and he is literally the most popular politician in the state of South Australia, which is where he sits as a Senator for. He is good at marketing himself as a mainstream alternative for progressive Labor voters, and small-l Liberal voters alike, and he is good at getting himself into the media by making a mockery of himself. One thing he is not good at, and has a sketchy history of, however, is selecting credible support candidates that aren't borderline crazy.

One only has to look at Ann Bressington for Nick Xenophon's lack of judgment when it comes to selecting credible candidates. Not many people expected her to be elected in addition to Nick Xenophon in the 2006 South Australian State Election on the 'No Pokies' ticket; but she did, and she turned out to be a pseudoscience promoter, an Agenda 21 conspiracy theorist, and an anti-vaxxer. Needless to say, Nick Xenophon and Ann Bressington would soon have a falling out that would result in the latter sitting as an independent.

Nick Xenophon's history in backing candidates such as Ann Bressington is important; because in the event of a likely double dissolution election, it is highly likely that the Nick Xenophon Team will see three Senators elected in South Australia with a strong possibility of winning seats in the House of Representatives too. If Nick Xenophon's three Senators wind up in the balance of power, and two of them wind up being within the same ilk as Ann Bressington; it will wind up being two conspiracy theorists and pseudoscience promoters with wildly inconsistent views holding the balance of power, rather than a consistently socially liberal party.

Of course, Nick Xenophon has a sketchy history himself of supporting pseudoscience, particularly when it comes to wind turbines and their apparent ill health affects (even though actual scientific evidence overwhelmingly rejects the premise of 'wind turbine sickness'). It's a major red flag, but such is the way of a Senator and now party who has relied upon populist rhetoric for more than a decade; to siphon votes from both the Liberal and Labor Party's, and even the Greens to a certain extent, to get himself elected.

But could the party apparatus that is now the Nick Xenophon Team be able to properly vet candidates and reject those who hold dodgy views? Probably not. It must be remembered that even though Nick Xenophon is now leading a party with a more traditional party-based structure; that this is still Nick Xenophon pulling the strings from the top. It is exactly the same with other parties that are named after prominent figures - for example, Katters Australia Party and the Palmer United Party. These parties are almost always based on personality and not on values, and these parties almost never last.

Sure, the Nick Xenophon Team has a comprehensive set of policies and values, but at the end of the day, this is still a party based on personality, not values. It is still effectively led from the top down by a man who had a conspiracy theory promoter on his ticket who got elected, and that is not a good prospect.

When a progressive voter casts their vote for the Greens, the Pirate Party, the Sex Party, or any other values based progressive party that isn't a single issue party or based on the name of a prominent figure, at least they know what they are voting for because the aforementioned parties are values based parties, and their candidates campaign on those values. With the Nick Xenophon Team; Nick Xenophon aside, it is basically a wildcard as to the sort of candidates that could be elected. If elected, will  these candidates support the science of vaccines, or will they give legitimacy to the anti-vaxxer movement? Will they support the science of climate change, or will they be climate change deniers? Will they stay the course as part of NXT, or will they, like PUP, split and fracture? We just don't know.

Mainstream progressive voters, particularly those who are Greens leaning or on Labor's Left, therefore should not be looking to Nick Xenophon as a credible progressive alternative.

About the author:

Matt Hrkac is a writer and activist based in Geelong who regularly contributes to Green Left Weekly. He has particular interests in politics, elections and the trade union movement and has had extensive involvement in a number of local campaigns. He is a former member of the Greens.

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