While both the major parties were disappointed with their federal election results, Nick Xenophon emerged elated. There is no doubt that Xenophon managed to tap into the discontent that exists with his new party the Nick Xenophon Team (NXT) winning 21% of the vote in South Australia and three Senators.
NXT also won the lower house seat of Mayo, putting the party in an influential position in both houses of parliament.
Xenophon styles himself as an anti-politician, a man of ‘common sense’, and someone that ‘supports South Australia’. But, many people have asked, what does this mean in practice?
While Xenophon presents himself as somewhat anti-establishment, he has actually been a member of parliament for around 20 years. He went to a prestigious school in Adelaide and then went on to study law. While at university he was a member of the Young Liberals.
He was embroiled in a vote rigging scandal at the student union and claims that this experience turned him off party politics. He went on to set up a suburban law firm.
In 1993 the Labor state government in South Australia introduced pokies. As has been the case everywhere, this led to a huge spike in problem gambling. As a lawyer Xenophon was involved in a number of cases aimed at tackling the predatory nature of pokie venues.
In 1997 he stood in the South Australian state election on a ‘No Pokies’ ticket. He won an upper house seat and stayed in the state parliament until 2007 when he resigned to stand in the federal election.
Xenophon was elected to the federal Senate at the 2007 election winning almost 15% of the South Australian vote. He increased this vote to almost 25% at the 2013 federal election, beating Labor into second place.
During his time in both the state and federal parliaments Xenophon has attempted to straddle between both the major parties. While he has a somewhat progressive façade in relation to gambling and other social issues, the real nature of his politics emerges when you look at his economic policies.
South Australia is a state ravaged by high unemployment. The car industry is on the verge of collapse and there is uncertainty over the fate of the steel industry. Xenophon has been an advocate of manufacturing industry protection, which mostly translates to subsides for big employers.
Xenophon is an economic nationalist which means he is in favour of policies that protect Australian businesses at the expense of their international rivals. Alongside corporate subsides he has called for government procurement programs to favour Australian companies.
For working class people these protectionist policies are a dead end. They merely protect the profits of local bosses at the expense of local consumers and tax payers. The employers are not obliged in any way to guarantee secure jobs or decent wages.
In exchange for his advocacy a number of wealthy donors have contributed to NXT. His biggest donor is Ian Melrose, who lobbies for Australian-made goods. Xenophon is in fact the recipient of the largest corporate donation ever received in South Australia!
There is no doubt that Xenophon lines up on the side of profits over wages. He opposes Sunday penalty rates, he supports corporate tax cuts and has voted for a number of anti-worker laws including the ABCC. He is a great friend of big business.
Xenophon is in favour of assembling new submarines in Adelaide, but in addition to his support for local industry bosses this is connected to his pro-US stance. He wholeheartedly supports US imperialism and all efforts to bolster their influence at the expense of China in the region.
If you look past the cheap suits and populist rhetoric Xenophon and his team are far from anti-establishment. They are a small right-wing, populist party that embodies the ideas of economic nationalism. They are not in favour of upsetting the status quo, they merely represent a specific layer of the Australian capitalist class.
While Xenophon differs from Hanson, Hinch and Lambie in his execution, the end result is the same. Like all right-wing populists he taps into people’s anger at the system but ends up channelling it along safe lines. In time Xenophon’s politics will be exposed, but we need to hasten that process by building a mass left-wing alternative to the major parties.
By Anthony Main