07 May 2016
by Simon Evans

Is Nick Xenophon the 2016 kingmaker in waiting?

Kirby Manning and Lachlan Aird. Xenophon supporters.

Depending on how the cards fall on election day, Nick Xenophon may become the 2016 version of Tasmanian senator Brian Harradine, who secured riches for his state by holding the balance of power when Prime Minister John Howard reigned.

South Australia needs it. The state has the highest unemployment rate in Australia. Naval shipbuilder ASC will cut 640 jobs by the end of 2017, puncturing the euphoria of a $50 billion submarines contract announced by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull which only surfaces by the mid-2020s.

Plans outlined on Friday by OZ Minerals to build a $150 million copper concentrate plant at the stricken steel city of Whyalla to process copper from the $975 million Carapateena mine in the far north of the state provided a slice of better news.

Kirby Manning, 28-year-old graphic designer who lives in central Adelaide, is inspired by Senator Xenophon's style of using attention-grabbing stunts to attract the spotlight, which is backed up by a hard-driving, consistent approach where everything is viewed through the prism of what is best for South Australia.

"I see Adelaide growing into a really thriving boutique city where there's lots of opportunities," she says.

Ms Manning says smaller states need a staunch advocate and Senator Xenophon has the right approach to help ensure that bright youngsters have better opportunities to pursue fulfilling jobs in their home state. "Too many times there are instances where people have to go interstate or overseas," she says.

Friend Lachlan Aird, a brand manager for boutique winery Alpha Box & Dice, says Senator Xenophon has an approach that cuts through, and isn't bound by party politics. Mr Aird, 27, who lives in the inner Adelaide suburb of Parkside, says he has an engaging personality and seems to be more passionate about fighting for his state's interests than others from the traditional political parties.

"I think that strong personality and approach is really important. To have someone fighting hard is what's needed," Mr Aird says.

"When you're there in front of the ballot box you are drawn to familiar faces and those with a strong moral core, rather than party political people," he says.

The permutations on July 2 are endless, but the potential for Mr Xenophon to end up as a powerful kingmaker in Canberra is rising. There is a real prospect of his Nick Xenophon Team holding the balance of power in the Senate, and if the group sneaks in to win lower house seats and the election is tight, they may also have a serious say in who becomes Prime Minister.

The man himself is modest about his chances. "I'm a cautious pessimist by nature," he says.

He says that while he takes a practical approach, he isn't advocating a protectionist approach to Australia's economy, but is pleased that Mr Turnbull made the decision to build 12 submarines in Adelaide. He says not enough is being done about the looming fall-out and knock-on impact from the closure of Australia's car-making industry.

Senator Xenophon says he started reading The Australian Financial Review in 1973 when he was a Year 10 student with a keen interest in economics and public policy. He isn't advocating tariff walls, but wants policy-making which puts Australian jobs first.

He says Germany derives 22 per cent of GDP from manufacturingindustry, while Australia's has fallen to 7 per cent. "It's an issue that resonates in the electorate," he says.

He says Nick Xenophon Team doesn't have the big budget of the Liberal or Labor parties.

"It's not so much a shoestring budget as a dental floss budget," he says.

He anticipates the major parties will seek to discredit him with a barrage of negativity. "I'm sure they'll be throwing everything at me," he says.

Working as a suburban lawyer for 15 years from 1982, Senator Xenephone began his political career in 1997 as a single-platform anti-gambling No Pokies MP in state politics. He shifted into federal politics in mid-2008 as a senator for South Australia.

His approach has transformed into a broader sweep of trying to foster Australian industry and locally-made products, protect Australian jobs and to clamp down on predatory gambling.

His name is being used under the banner of the Nick Xenophon Team as a much wider field of candidates for both Senate positions and lower house seats in other states including NSW, Victoria and Queensland present themselves.

Foti Likouras, who runs the Penny University cafe in Adelaide's East End about 100 metres from Senator Xenophon's electoral office says his straight shooting cuts through. "I think he's making a difference," he says.