By Toby Halligan
Senator Cory Bernardi has officially resigned from Federal Parliament a mere two years after quitting the Liberal Party to launch his own party, the Australian Conservatives.
His legacy will be largely shaped by his controversial views on a range of subjects which ultimately derailed his frontbench career and made him a national laughing stock.
Bernardi was once a member of the iconic Olympic rowing team, the Oarsome Foursome, before a back injury ended his rowing career and kickstarted his entry into politics.
Among the more controversial stances he’s held, Bernardi: opposed medical care for ill refugees imprisoned on Manus Island; criticised single mothers in his book The Conservative Revolution; launched a Senate inquiry into Halal food with Pauline Hanson; and demanded the burqa be banned because it made it easier for people to rob banks.
But it was Bernardi’s views on homosexuality that got him into the most hot water. In 2012 he claimed that allowing gay marriage would lead to polygamy and bestiality saying:
“The next step, quite frankly, is having three people or four people that love each other being able to enter into a permanent union endorsed by society – or any other type of relationship.”
The Senator went on to say that:
“There are even some creepy people out there… [who] say it is OK to have consensual sexual relations between humans and animals.
“Will that be a future step? In the future will we say: ‘These two creatures love each other and maybe they should be able to be joined in a union’.
“I think that these things are the next step.”
Those comments forced the then PM Tony Abbott to remove Bernardi from the front bench.
Looking back on his career and the state of modern conservatism, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that Bernardi may simply have been a few years ahead of his time. In the era of Trump, would Bernardi’s pronouncement be greeted with the same ridicule? If he were launching his career today would his bigoted views hold him back?
Indeed, Bernardi himself has said the reason his tilt at starting his own party failed was because Scott Morrison had absorbed the voters he was targeting. In a recent interview with the Guardian, Bernardi said of Morrison:
“He reclaimed a lot of the ground we’d tilled the soil for.”
The Prime Minister, with his apparently unlimited supply of self-confidence, would no doubt take that as a compliment, but it says a great deal about how weird our national politics have become that a fringe politician like Cory Bernardi decides to leave politics because his fringe views are now no longer enough to distinguish him from other more mainstream conservatives.