Nick Xenophon has been one of Australia’s finest politicians of his generation and it is a tragedy that a combination of powerful interests – both political and driven by self-interested commercial interests – have come together to end his 20 year political career.
I first became involved with the gambling harm issue in the mid-1990s with the opening of the temporary Melbourne casino. Nick contacted me out of the blue shortly before the 1998 SA election and I travelled across to Adelaide and met him for the first time during that campaign.
We have remained firm friends ever since and I remain in awe of his remarkable energy, honesty, endeavour, innovation, strength, resilience and persistence.
I hope it will only be a temporary interruption because Australian politics needs talented and high energy people like Nick who fearlessly advocate for transparency and good governance from the sensible centre, whilst always respecting the interests of taxpayers.
Nick is one of the only politicians who refuses membership of the Qantas chairman’s club, mortgages his own house to fund election campaigns, shuns sleazy back room preference deals, exposes the many rorts in the political system, fearlessly takes on powerful vested interests such as the gambling industry and does it all with good humour and integrity.
Nick’s SA Best party may have spread itself too thinly by running in 36 of 47 lower house seats, but that also reflects the quantity of people who were inspired by his vision to shake up South Australia’s long-standing political duopoly and put themselves forward to run with Nick.
When you consider everything that was thrown at him by the major parties, unions and the pokies lobby and without resources or an institutional base of his own to rely on, it was remarkable that SA Best still managed to poll 18.9% state-wide in the upper house.
Only One Nation’s 22.68% state-wide vote in the 1998 Queensland state election exceeds this outcome for a start-up party. The highest ever Green state-wide vote was 21.61% in the 2010 Tasmanian election.
Nick has never been one for backroom political deals and I was very surprised and disappointed to see parties like the Greens, which normally support pokies reform, preferencing both major parties ahead of SA Best in many seats, including Nick’s own seat of Hartley. This was a major blow.
The Greens, both Federally and in South Australia, need to explain why they made this decision and whether they have any regrets, because it has contributed to a major missed opportunity for pokies reform in the country with the greatest level of per capita gambling losses on earth.
This is the first personal election defeat for my dear friend in a 20 year political career and I hope everyone will give him some space to re-charge his batteries and also reflect on his remarkable achievements across a range of policy areas and political processes.