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Cory Bernardi (born 6 November 1969) is an Australian politician. He has been a Senator representing the state of South Australia in the Australian Senate since 2006 and was the leader of the Australian Conservatives, a minor political party he founded in 2017 but disbanded in 2019. He is a former member of the Liberal Party of Australia, having represented the party in the Senate from 2006 to 2017. Bernardi is a staunchly conservative Roman Catholic and author of The Conservative Revolution.[1][2]

Cory Bernardi
Cory Bernardi crop.jpg
Leader of the
Australian Conservatives
In office
7 February 2017 – 25 June 2019
Preceded byParty established
Succeeded byParty disestablished
Senator for South Australia
Assumed office
4 May 2006
Preceded byRobert Hill
President of the Liberal Party
in South Australia
In office
Preceded byRobert Lawson
Succeeded byAlexander Downer
Personal details
Born (1969-11-06) 6 November 1969 (age 49)
Adelaide, South Australia, Australia
Political partyIndependent (2019–present)
Other political
Conservatives (2017–2019)
Liberal (until 2017)
Sinéad Sheehy
(m. 1997)
ResidenceAdelaide, South Australia, Australia
EducationPrince Alfred College
Alma materSouth Australian Institute of Technology
Australian Institute of Sport
Heriot-Watt University
Edinburgh Business School
OccupationHotel manager

Bernardi entered politics in 2006 when he was selected by the Liberal Party to fill a Senate seat vacancy for South Australia left by the resignation of Robert Hill. During his time in Parliament, Bernardi has attracted controversy over several statements and views. On 7 February 2017, Bernardi announced that he would be leaving the Liberal Party to form his own party—the Australian Conservatives.[3] In June 2019, Bernardi announced he was disbanding the Australian Conservatives and the party was voluntarily deregistered by the Australian Electoral Commission on 25 June 2019.[4][5]


Personal lifeEdit

Bernardi was born and raised in Adelaide and attended Prince Alfred College in Kent Town, South Australia. His father was an Italian immigrant who came to Australia in 1958.[6] His maternal grandfather was a trade unionist and staunch Labor supporter.[7] Bernardi took a business and management course at South Australian Institute of Technology[8] before winning a scholarship and furthering his rowing career at the Australian Institute of Sport in 1989.[7][9]

After a back injury terminated his rowing career, Bernardi travelled Europe and Africa, working as a laborer. Returning to Australia, he managed the family's hotel before spending four months in a hospital with tuberculosis. He subsequently worked as a stockbroker and financial adviser before entering politics.[7]

Bernardi and his Irish-born wife Sinéad, an economics graduate,[7] have two sons.[10]

Rowing careerEdit

Bernardi made state representative appearances for South Australia in the State Youth VIII at the Australian Rowing Championships in 1987 and 1988.[11] In 1988, as part of a Mercantile Rowing Club eight, he won the Ladies' Challenge Plate—open to 2nd grade/varsity/college crews below the heavyweight international standard—at the Henley Royal Regatta in England.[12]

In 1989, Bernardi was selected in the seven seat of the South Australian Men's Senior VIII. Unfortunately, the nationals interstate events that year were cancelled when a cyclone hit the Wellington Dam course in WA, part-way through the programme of events. Three weeks later at Carrum in Victoria, Bernardi's South Australian crew placed 2nd in an unofficial men's eight race attended by the Victorian, Western Australian and South Australian crews who raced for the Patten Cup.[13] That same year Bernardi became an Australian national representative when he was selected in the three seat of the coxless four which competed at the 1989 World Rowing Championships in Bled—formerly of Yugoslavia but what is now the Republic of Slovenia—and placed tenth.[14] Later that year Bernardi suffered a back injury that effectively ended his rowing career.[6]

Political careerEdit

Elections to the SenateEdit

After South Australian Senator Robert Hill resigned from the Senate to become Ambassador to the United Nations in March 2006, Bernardi was selected by the Liberal Party to fill the vacancy, officially commencing his senate term on 4 May 2006.[15] On 17 February 2007, Bernardi was pre-selected ahead of Simon Birmingham and Senator Grant Chapman by the State Council of the South Australian Liberal Party to be the number one candidate on the South Australian Liberal Senate ticket for the federal election[citation needed] to be held in late 2007. At the election, Bernardi was elected to a full six-year term. He was again given the first place on the Liberal ticket at the 2013 federal election and was re-elected. Following a double dissolution of Parliament at the 2016 federal election, Bernardi was re-elected from the second place on the Liberal ticket. He was elected for a term of six years, ending on 30 June 2022.

Opposition under Brendan Nelson: 2007–2008Edit

In December 2007, Bernardi was appointed the federal Coalition's Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Families and Community Services. On 19 March 2008, Bernardi was named in a story published in The Australian newspaper as having been linked to a scheme that sold financial advice on how divorcees could hide money from their former spouses.[16] In a media statement released shortly after the article was published, Bernardi described the story as "a rehash of a factually incorrect story that first appeared in 2006 before my appointment to the Senate." Bernardi claimed that he had been "made aware that a colleague [had] been approaching numerous journalists in an attempt to 'push' this matter as a means of personally attacking me." In a statement he went on to say, "I find it disappointing that there are people who clearly pine to background journalists with half-truths and mischievous suggestions in an attempt to smear others. The people who creep out of their darkened closets to resurrect previously discredited accusations do no service to themselves or the community. Politics is a battle of ideas, not a battle of smears."[17]

On 20 March 2008, Bernardi introduced a motion calling for a Senate inquiry into swearing on television and the effectiveness of the Code of Practice after a television show was broadcast at 8.30pm containing the word "fuck" eighty times in 40 minutes.[18] The Senate supported the motion. Then in June, Bernardi stated his personal view on regarding a proposed reform relating to same-sex relationships. He stated, "Same-sex relationships are not the same as marital relationships and to treat them the same is to suspend common sense."[19] A month later, Bernardi questioned the ethics of granting human rights to great apes while ignoring the rights of the unborn child[20] on the ABC "unleashed" website.

In August 2008, the Herald Sun newspaper reported that the Federal Parliamentary Library had, following a request from Bernardi, identified a loophole in government legislation that allowed some women who aborted their pregnancies to claim a $5,000 "baby bonus". The Government later stated that the bonus was not available for aborted pregnancies and was committed to following up on any such occurrences.[21]

Opposition under Malcolm Turnbull: 2008–2009Edit

In September 2008, new Federal Liberal leader Malcolm Turnbull appointed Bernardi the Coalition Spokesman for Disabilities, Carers and the Voluntary Sector.[22] In October, Bernardi caused a stir with a speech to the Senate against the Same-Sex Relationships (Equal Treatment in Commonwealth Laws-Superannuation) Bill 2008[23] supported by the Liberal Party. The bill led to discontent within the Party's conservative faction—of which Bernardi was a key figure. Turnbull was "unhappy that Party authority was being challenged" by Bernardi.[24] In Bernardi's speech, he complained that society should not "throw open the doors and welcome into the fold those whose relationships are uncharacteristic of the most basic elements of a marital union."[25] The next morning Turnbull rang Bernardi to "chip him", having felt the speech was intemperate in tone and that it went against the party line and Turnbull's own leadership.[26]

Bernardi was removed from the Shadow Ministry by Turnbull in February 2009 after reportedly making unsubstantiated claims regarding a fellow Liberal MP in his weekly blog. Recalling an encounter with the Liberal MP at the Royal Adelaide Golf Club about 14 years before, he wrote:

In response to my question of why he joined the Liberal Party, the MP blithely responded "I live in a Liberal seat so I had to be a member of the Liberal Party to get into Parliament. If I lived in a Labor seat I would have joined the Labor Party." Frankly I was aghast at this response. Where was the conviction, the beliefs, the values that I believe should motivate our political leaders? Several follow up questions disclosed that the only motivation for his own political involvement was for him to become Prime Minister.

The MP involved was thought to be Christopher Pyne, who denied the allegations as "preposterous."[27][28][29]

Opposition under Tony Abbott: 2009–2013Edit

Following the election of Tony Abbott as the leader of the federal Liberal Party in late 2009, Bernardi was appointed Shadow Parliamentary Secretary Assisting the Leader of the Opposition and Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Infrastructure and Population Policy, and in August 2012 was appointed Deputy Manager of Opposition Business in the Senate. In September, 2012, Bernardi resigned from his position as parliamentary secretary as a result of statements he had made the day before, when he argued that permitting same-sex marriages would lead to legalised polygamy and bestiality.[30]

Abbott and Turnbull Governments: 2013–2017Edit

In January 2014, Prime Minister Tony Abbott again distanced himself from Bernardi after the latter called for a new debate on abortion, called for more flexible industrial relations laws, stated his belief in the primacy of the traditional family and claimed that non-traditional families may cause negative social outcomes,[31] linked a secular polity with Australia having lost its way, and claimed that Christianity was under siege from both the political Greens and Islam.[32]

In September 2016, Bernardi spoke in favour of the repeal of section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, which prohibits speech that is reasonably likely to "offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate on the basis of race, colour or national or ethnic origin".[33][34] In December 2016 Bernardi got into a public spat with former Prime Minister Tony Abbott over reports that Bernardi may start his own party.[35][36]

Departure from the Liberal PartyEdit

On 7 February 2017, Bernardi announced that he would be leaving the Liberal Party to form his own party, the Australian Conservatives.[3][37] He had initially set up the Australian Conservatives as a right-wing activist group a year earlier,[38] but now rebranded it as a separate party.[39]

His move was made seven months into his six-year term in the Senate, following his election at the July 2016 election.[40]

In June 2019, Bernardi announced that the Australian Conservatives would apply to be voluntarily deregistered with the Australian Electoral Commission. He cited a poor result in the 2019 Australian federal election, and that the removal of Malcolm Turnbull as prime minister meant that his supporters would return to the Liberal Party.[4] The AEC confirmed the party had been deregistered on 25 June 2019.[5]

Advocacy initiativesEdit

In September 2016 it was reported that Bernardi in 2009 set up an entity called the Conservative Leadership Foundation, "a fundraising entity that inhabits a grey area in the political donations system and permits gifts from foreign donors." and that "it has never made a disclosure to the Australian Electoral Commission as an associated entity, nor disclosed any political expenditure."[41] In July 2016, Bernardi also formed the Australian Conservatives movement which "will unite conservatives",[42] and which by August claims 50,000 members.[43]

Political views and controversiesEdit

Prior to forming the Australian Conservatives, Bernardi was a member of the conservative faction or right-wing of the Liberal Party.[44]

Global warmingEdit

On 21 April 2007, Bernardi published an essay questioning whether global warming was caused by human activities. Then-environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull and other Liberal parliamentarians promptly distanced themselves from his views.[45]


Bernardi has been publicly critical of Islam.[46][47] In 2010, he wrote an opinion piece calling for a ban on wearing the burqa in public.[48]

In 2011, Bernardi referred to the controversy over paying funeral expenses for asylum-seekers, declaring it was "wrong" for the government to pay. He also said that "Islam itself is the problem—it's not Muslims", and that multiculturalism had failed. He subsequently clarified his remarks by stating "When I say I'm against Islam, I mean that the fundamentalist Islamic approach of changing laws and values does not have my support."[49]

For these comments he received death threats.[50] Liberal leader Tony Abbott distanced himself from the comments.[51]

Bernardi has shared values with Dutch anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders whose vocal concerns about Islam are shared by Bernardi, and met Wilders in Europe.[52] Bernardi offered to assist Wilders in a visit to Australia but, in February 2013 when Wilders did come, Bernardi did not meet with him. Wilders stated in an interview that Bernardi's decision not to meet him was a "sad but true" reflection on politics, particularly in an election year.[53][54] The opposition treasury spokesman, Joe Hockey, said in response "Neither Cory Bernardi nor the Coalition will be facilitating this visit."[55]

Abbott rejected suggestions that Bernardi was trying to bring Wilders to Australia, saying the Coalition had nothing to do with the organisation of any trip.[56]

In September 2016, Cory Bernardi proposed the Turnbull government take up a modified version of the immigration policy of One Nation, aiming to mollify people fearing Muslim immigration as he felt soft immigration policies were to blame for a fall in government support.[57]

In February 2017, Cory Bernardi attracted criticism for speaking at the Q Society of Australia. The event received protests who called the event "racist".[58]

Publicly funded broadcastingEdit

Bernardi has publicly expressed his concern over the effect of Australia's public broadcaster, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, on commercial operators. His view is that the ABC has grown beyond its initial charter and its size is unjustifiably encroaching into the online news sphere at the expense of commercial operators and media diversity. However, Bernardi supports the continued existence of iView (internet based television service) and podcasting services. Bernardi agrees that the ABC provides useful services to regional areas often under-serviced by commercial operators; however, he suggests that the scale of the ABC's funding should be reviewed.[59]

Same-sex marriageEdit

Bernardi has said that permitting same-sex marriages would lead to legalised polygamy and bestiality;[30] and said that the "safe schools program" designed to make homosexual children feel safer at school "bullies" heterosexual children.[60] Several of his colleagues from the Liberal Party at the time distanced themselves from Bernardi's comments, including Tony Abbott who also opposes same-sex marriage. Bernardi was one of twelve senators who voted against what became the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Act 2017.[61]


He is anti-abortion saying those who support it are "pro death".[62][63][64] On 16 November 2017 Bernardi moved a motion in the Senate to ban abortion on gender grounds. He was one of the 10 senators who voted Yes on the Motion, which was lost with 10 votes Yes to 36 votes No.[65][66]

Nuclear industrial developmentEdit

Bernardi supports the legalisation of nuclear fuel cycle activities in Australia which, as of November 2017, are prohibited under the EPBC Act and ARPANS Act. In November 2017, he presented the Nuclear Fuel Cycle (Facilitation) Bill in the Senate to repeal these prohibitions, effectively enabling future proposals for activities such as: nuclear waste importation, storage and disposal, nuclear power generation, further processing of uranium and the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel.[67]


In October 2015, Tony Jones, host of the television program Q&A on ABC, referred to "Cory Bernardi's Golden Dawn or something" in the context of the prospect of Bernardi forming his own political party. The Greek political party Golden Dawn has been characterised as neo-fascist. ABC later stated that the words were intended only as shorthand for a new conservative party and not to suggest that Bernardi shared the views of Golden Dawn.[68][69]

In February 2016, Labor Opposition Leader Bill Shorten labelled Bernardi a "homophobe".[70] In March, student protesters trashed Bernardi's Adelaide office and wrote slogans such as "stop homophobia" after Bernardi raised concerns about the content of the Safe Schools Program. Bernardi claimed the program was indoctrinating minors.[71][72]

Bernardi was criticised for comments regarding the role of women in the military.[73] Liberal Senator Linda Reynolds called Bernardi a 'disgrace' in response to Bernardi's condemnation of women seeking combat roles in the military.[74]


  1. ^ The Conservative Revolution. Ballarat: Connor Court Press. 2013.
  2. ^ Torrisi, Luke (12 January 2014). "First 'Shots Fired' in Australia's Culture War, 2014". SydneyTrads.
  3. ^ a b "Cory Bernardi quits the Liberal Party to establish Australian Conservatives". ABC News. 7 February 2017.
  4. ^ a b Coughlan, Matt (28 June 2019). "Australian Conservatives party scrapped". The Canberra Times. Retrieved 29 June 2019.
  5. ^ a b "Australian Conservatives Voluntary Deregistration" (PDF). Australian Electoral Commission. Retrieved 29 June 2019.
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  20. ^ Bernardi, Cory (15 July 2008). "Monkeying Around with Human Rights". Retrieved 8 December 2014.
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  34. ^ Peatling, Stephanie (4 September 2016). "Cory Bernardi says he won't be dissuaded on attempts to rewrite section of Racial Discrimination Act". The Age.
  35. ^ "Abbott and Bernardi trade barbs over conservative unrest". 30 December 2016.
  36. ^ "Turnbull frontbenchers brush off rebel backbenchers' threats". 22 December 2016.
  37. ^ "Cory Bernardi Rogue Senator defects to go it all alone". Daily Telegraph. 7 February 2017. Retrieved 7 February 2017.
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  41. ^ The Age, Gina McColl, 5 September 2016: Sam Dastyari's accuser Cory Bernardi has his own questionable fundraising body
  42. ^ The Age, Deborah Snow, 13 August 2016: Senator Cory Bernardi's conservative movement shares $1 million headquarters
  43. ^ McIlroy, Tom (2 August 2016). "Cory Bernardi's Australian Conservatives group signs up 50,000 people online". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 18 September 2016.
  44. ^ Cory Bernardi sacked from Coalition's junior shadow ministry, Telegraph. 19 February 2009
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  46. ^ Harvey, Michael, Lewis, Steve (19 February 2011). "Islam's the problems, not Muslims, says Senator Cory Bernardi". Herald Sun. Retrieved 21 April 2012.
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  48. ^ Bernardi, Cory (6 May 2010). "For Australia's sake, we need to ban the burqa". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 6 May 2010.
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  50. ^ "Islam's the problems, not Muslims, says Senator Cory Bernardi",; 19 February 2011.
  51. ^ Liberal death threat via email, Daily Telegraph, 19 February 2011.
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  59. ^ Kelly, Fran. "Cory Bernardi: ABC 'cannibalising' commercial online news". Radio National. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 6 January 2014.
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  64. ^ Harrison, Dan (6 January 2014). "Cory Bernardi calls for debate on abortion in controversial new book". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 14 January 2017.
  65. ^ Motions - Abortion - Gender grounds, 16 November 2017, Retrieved 4 March 2018.
  66. ^ Yaxley, Louise (16 November 2017). "Cory Bernardi is using provocative motions to make ideological points in the Senate". ABC News. Retrieved 4 March 2018.
  67. ^ Owen, Michael (13 November 2017). "Bernardi seeks to lift ban on nukes". The Australian. Retrieved 30 November 2017.
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  69. ^ QandA, Monday 5 October 2015, ABC TV
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  73. ^ "Women in combat dangerous: Cory Bernardi". SBS News. 5 February 2018. Retrieved 4 March 2018.
  74. ^ "'Disgrace': Bernardi lashed for women in combat roles comments". SBS News. 5 February 2018. Retrieved 4 March 2018.

External linksEdit