Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site


Nick Xenophon's tantalising gambit

  • 09 October 2017


The decision by South Australian Senator Nick Xenophon came out of the blue but it has rattled the political elites in his state and stirred the pot nationally.

He has gambled on leaving the leadership of his three-member NXT Senate team plus one House of Representatives NXT MP to return to South Australian politics. He will stand for the Liberal-held House of Assembly seat of Hartley, leading a team of a dozen or more candidates for his new state party called SA Best.

This is a fresh gambit which is not about returning to the SA Legislative Council where he cut his political teeth for a decade before switching to the Senate ten years ago. He is not aiming to consolidate an upper house cross bench position but to forge a more powerful balance of power position at the next state election due early next year. He will be confronting the struggling long-term Labor government led by Jay Weatherill and the hopeful Liberal Opposition led by Steven Marshall.

Xenophon has electoral momentum behind him after the 2016 national election (22 per cent of the SA Senate vote), though he is troubled by Section 44 problems and has not been the force in the current federal parliamentary term that he was in the previous one. The NXT party has also suffered disunity and defections at the state level. The big question is whether he can repeat his barnstorming federal effort at the March 2018 state election.

Xenophon's gamble raises two immediate implications and suggests one bigger and more tantalising question for Australian politics.

One immediate implication is for SA politics. If NXT proves to be as popular as most commentators predict then neither of the major parties will be able to form a majority government in the 47-seat lower house.

This has happened several times to SA Labor under Mike Rann and Weatherill recently, and each time they have performed Houdini-like escapes to create stable coalition governments with a variety of unlikely partners. But the challenge is greater this time. Xenophon may elect a large group of SA Best MPs somewhat like One Nation did when it broke through in Queensland in 1998.


"If Hanson did a Xenophon and flipped to state politics she would ensure that One Nation did even better in the state election and would become the kingmaker that Xenophon hopes to be."


Another implication is for federal politics. The NXT team will suddenly become very