18 June 2016
by Peter Hartcher

Nick Xenophon intends to 'drag both parties to the centre'

Independent Senator Nick Xenophon is worrying both major parties.

Potential kingmaker Nick Xenophon has named his policy priorities for negotiation with Labor or Liberal to form a government after the July 2 election.

The leader of the Nick Xenophon Team could control the balance of power in the House in the event of a hung parliament or extremely close outcome.

Senator Xenophon told Fairfax Media that he would negotiate with both major parties in such an event, and decide who to support based on their responses to his five-point list.

Though there have been demands that he nominate in advance which party he would support, he declined to do so.

Senator Xenophon predicts a "comfortable enough" victory for the coalition.
"I would destroy any ability to negotiate the best deal," he said in an interview.

The senator for South Australia said that his demands "would be a fine balance between doing the right thing for your electorate and doing the right thing for the country".

"I think it's a case of whatever I do would drag both parties to the centre – that would be the outcome."

Both major parties have become increasingly hostile towards the Xenophon party in the past week as its electoral prospects have improved.

Saturday's Fairfax Ipsos poll shows each of the Labor and Liberal parties losing 3 percentage points of support in a fortnight even as they remain deadlocked. The "others" category including the Xenophon party has gained 4.

"This rise in the share of the primary vote going to minor parties is likely to be decisive in the outcome," says the Fairfax pollster, Jess Elgood of Ipsos.

First on Senator Xenophon's list is a demand to change the basis for government purchasing decisions. He has long advocated a preference for local procurement.

The Commonwealth let 69,236 contracts last financial year with a total value of $59.4 billion.

Instead of making purchases by looking at narrow contract specifications, Senator Xenophon says he wants an incoming government to "look at the social effects and the wider economic effects, including the tax effects, the employment effects, and the economic multiplier effects of buying local".

Second is a demand for greater transparency in government. He has been campaigning for years to give legal protection to so-called whistleblowers: "It ought to be an absolute defence if you're leaking documents that are in the public interest."

Third is Senator Xenophon's original cause on entering politics 20 years ago, gambling reform.

"We're up against an incredibly powerful lobby but it's never too late in a democracy."

He wants an incoming government to "push back and find a consensus to make an appreciable difference to the number of people getting hurt" by problem gambling.

His fourth demand would be to change the emphasis in health care towards more preventative measures.

Finally, in schools policy he wants to find "how to empower teachers to be better".

Even though schools are primarily a matter for State governments, he says that "the Commonwealth is critical in driving better outcomes".

The bookmakers are giving the odds of a hung parliament at about one in five. Senator Xenophon agrees that it's unlikely.

"I don't see a hung parliament," says the NXT leader. "I see a comfortable enough Turnbull majority."