Senator Cory Bernardi at the National Press Club on Thursday. Photo: Jeffrey Chan
Senators should be banned from serving as ministers, corporate donations should be outlawed and all perks should end when politicians leave office, according to outspoken Liberal Party senator Cory Bernardi.
But Senator Bernardi, who resigned from the Coalition front bench in 2012 amid widespread furore over comments he made that same-sex marriage would lead to legalised polygamy and bestiality, refused to rule out returning to the front bench himself.
In a speech decrying the mediocrity of many of his political colleagues, the South Australian senator said too many politicianswere risk-averse and lacked conviction.
"Some elected officials view politics as a career rather than a temporary duty, fuelling the perception that it becomes more about self-interest than national interest," Senator Bernardi told the National Press Club.
"[T]he political arena is occupied by people who have little interest in the maintenance of the public square but use it for the raw pursuit of power and influence.
"The seeds of this are easy to spot: simply, all too often mediocrity and a lack of conviction are mistaken for 'moderation', while actually believing in something is labelled 'extreme'.
"Public cynicism and apathy is partly due to this confusion."
Senator Bernardi said voters around the world were losing trust in politicians and moving away from major parties – as seen in the rise of the Tea Party in the United States, the UK Independence Party, the Netherlands' Freedom Party and the Palmer United Party in Australia.
"People want consistency and principle; they want to know what their politicians stand for even if they don't agree with them," he said.
"In some respects, politicians do live their lives cocooned from real world concern by the insulating nature of Parliament House, the opinions of the press gallery and the accoutrements of office.
"Politicians have to stop drinking the Canberra Kool-Aid and start tackling the self-interest that permeates the parliamentary halls."
Mr Bernardi proposed a set of reforms he said would rebuild faith in politics.
- Restoring the Senate to its role as the house of review by banning senators from serving as ministers;
- Introducing term limits for senators so they can only serve two six-year terms ;
- Creating a national, easily searchable database to provide more transparency on government spending;
- Limiting political donations to individuals and put a cap on the amount they can donate;
- Ending all taxpayer-funded benefits for politicians once they leave office (except former prime ministers); and
- Introducing a system where politicians debate petitions that receive 100,000 signatures.
When asked if he would rule out ever returning to the front bench, Senator Bernardi said he would operate within the current rules and that politicians are ambitious by nature.
Senator Bernardi said he opposed a conscience vote on same-sex marriage and that if Liberal politicians feel passionately about the issue they are allowed to cross the floor.