At a Glance

Nick Xenophon the South Australian Senator and leader of the Nick Xenophon Team (note it’s a team and not a party more about that later) looms as a political wrecking ball for the major parties in his home state.

His brand of political populism wrapped up in the language of moderation, has made him a powerful third force, drawing support from both traditional ALP and Liberal party supporters.

Have no doubt, Nick Xenophon is a political phenomenon rarely seen in Australian politics.

Most third parties, (remember One Nation or the more recent Palmer United Party), tend to reach dizzying political heights and then just as quickly flame out.  Not Nick Xenophon, his political star keeps on rising.

Newspoll currently have the Nick Xenophon Team polling 29% of the House of Representatives primary vote across South Australia.  Given the strength of this vote, The Nick Xenophon Team is also well on its’ way to capturing 3 Senate seats.

With voter support this high, when the preferences of Nick Xenophon Team candidates get distributed, they will most likely determine the outcome in both ALP and Liberal held lower house South Australian seats.

At this stage, the Nick Xenophon Team could possibly pick up one or two lower house seats itself.

Where Did it All Start?

Nick Xenophon’s political career began in the South Australian upper house when he was first elected in 1997.

Running as a single issue candidate on a ‘no pokies’ platform he secured 2.8% of the primary vote and with the support of other minor party preferences was elected to the South Australian parliament.

It is with some irony that he supported Government Senate voting reforms designed to get rid of minor party Senators.  Having been elected as a minor party candidate to the South Australian parliament, he voted in April in the Senate to try and get rid of minor party Senators.

As they say in politics, back that horse self-interest every time!!

Xenophon presents himself as the anti-politician, portraying Labor and Liberal as the Coles and Woolworths of Australian politics – the political duopoly not to be trusted.

For an electorate increasingly seeing the major parties as a choice between ‘dull’ and ‘duller’, Xenophon presents as a charismatic and credible alternative choice – the sensible centre as he calls it.

It’s not often in modern politics that the words ‘honest’ and ‘politician’ are seen as associated, but for Nick Xenophon people do.

The Xenophon Factor and South Australia

The Nick Xenophon Team is cutting a swathe through both major political parties in South Australia.  With the Nick Xenophon Team on 29% of the primary vote, the ALP is on 27% and the Liberal Party 34%.

This is a drop in primary vote support of 9% for the ALP and 11% for the Liberal Party from the 2013 election, showing Xenophon’s ability to peel off voters from both major parties.

During the 2013 federal election Nick Xenophon outpolled the ALP in the Senate with 25% of the vote.  This is a feat he may repeat, not just in the Senate but possibly in South Australian lower house seats as well.

Nick Xenophon Team at this stage is performing strongly in Liberal held seats, although Labor is not immune from the challenge presented by the X-factor.

The Liberal seat of Mayo held by former Minister Jamie Briggs is most under threat.  Currently held with a margin of 12%, Briggs is facing off against a former staffer Rebekha Sharkie running for the Nick Xenophon Team.

A recent Newspoll has Sharkie winning the seat with 52% of the two party preferred vote, a swing of nearly 14% against the former Turnbull Minister.

The Government held regional seat of Grey, home to the town of Whyalla and the collapsed Arrium steel works, is also seen at risk from the Nick Xenophon Team.  Concerns are also held for Industry Minister, Chris Pynes seat of Sturt.

For the ALP the seats of Adelaide, Kingston and Makin are also facing strong challenges from Nick Xenophon Team candidates.

Party Rule or Xenophon’s Rules?

Nick Xenophon would appear to have successfully positioned himself as the voice of the sensible centre.

With both major parties suffering from a ‘pox on both your houses’, Nick Xenophon has mined a rich vein of political discontent to be now riding high in the polls.

While he has built substantial support from positioning himself as the anti-politician, Nick Xenophon has established the Nick Xenophon Team to ensure he maintains maximum command and control.

The Nick Xenophon Team is exactly that, a team and with any team there can only be one captain and in this case it is Nick Xenophon.

The Nick Xenophon Team is actually an incorporated association which is unusual in Australian politics.  Neither the ALP or LNP are incorporated associations.  They are fully participative membership organisations, unlike the Nick Xenophon Team.

According to the Nick Xenophon Team the members of the association are as follows:

  • Parliamentary Members (Nick Xenophon, John Darley)
  • Voting Members (Nick Xenophon, John Darley, Stirling Griff, Connie Bonaros)
  • Supporter Members (over 1,000 members)

An interesting arrangement for a political party with only 5 voting members, but over 1,000 supporter members who would appear not to have a vote in party matters.

Is Nick Xenophon presenting a public persona, built around transparency and openness not mirrored in how he runs his own party?

One of the voting members Stirling Griff, is number 2 on the Nick Xenophon Team Senate ticket and will be joining Nick Xenophon in the Senate on 2 July.

What Does the Nick Xenophon Team Stand For?

Nick Xenophon is one of the highest profile cross bench Senators in the Federal Parliament, but what does he and his team actually stand for?

According to the Nick Xenophon Team they stand for:

  • Honest and accountable government
  • Looking after the national interest – not vested interests

And their core focus is:

  • Predatory Gambling
  • Australian Made & Australian Jobs
  • Government & Corporate Accountability

In order to claim the anti-politician mantle, he often rails against MP entitlements calling for ever more scrutiny and accountability in regards to MP perks.

The public like nothing more than a member of the exclusive parliamentary club, dumping on their own, and Xenophon does this in spades.  He is often seen as the ‘outsider’ railing against overly generous taxpayer funded MP perks.

Fundamentally Nick Xenophon is an economic protectionist.  Being from the state of South Australia, having seen its manufacturing sector and in particular the car industry decimated, this is understandable.  While he may not appeal to the free market lobby, he is not trying to.

Most recently he marched with Victorian dairy farmers in support of a levy of 50c per litre on milk.

He has also stated opposition to the entry of Australia into the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an agreement covering 48% of global GDP, using the failure of the Arrium steel works in Whyalla as a reason.

You get the picture, he is the struggling business battlers friend, but definitely no fan of big business.

In the Senate, Xenophon has voted with the Turnbull Government 22% of the time and with the Abbott Government 29% of the time.

With this voting record he is no friend of the Government.  But with the Nick Xenophon Team poised to win 3 Senate seats from South Australia and possibly seats in the House of Representatives, the Government may well be getting nervous.


Nick Xenophon is a one-man political brand and soon to be an even bigger brand with considerable influence.

He will soon hold 3 Senate seats, and with that a share of the balance of power in the Senate.  Combine that with a possible lower house seat or two and Nick Xenophon is going to be a political force to be reckoned with.

Unlike other political brands that have flamed out, his flame continues to burn brighter and soon the Government elected on July 2 will be feeling Xenophon’s heat in the Senate.

Neither major party in South Australia is immune from the Xenophon wrecking ball, but the Government seem more vulnerable at this stage.

Xenophon is indeed the X-factor in South Australia, on a mission to cut down the major parties, and place the Nick Xenophon Team at the sensible centre of Australian politics and political power.

For more information in regards to this or any other public affairs issue you may require assistance with, please don’t hesitate to contact me.


Jody Fassina | Managing Director | Insight Strategy

M: (0405) 103 493

W: (02) 9238 1944





  1. Dominic Barnes

    Thanks Jody – nice analysis. Do you think the recent media around his apparent failure to declare his multiple residential investments will have any traction?


    1. Its a good question Dominic. It’s the first time he has been under sustained scrutiny but to date he seems Teflon coated. I don’t think the negative media will impact on him this time round. The question will be, will it continue post election such that people then begin to take notice of it and re-evaluate their view of him.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s