South Australian senator Cory Bernardi confirmed to the Senate on Tuesday that he had made the "most difficult decision" of his political life and resigned from the Liberal Party.
"After a membership spanning my entire adult life... this has been a very difficult decision for me. Perhaps the most difficult one of my political life," he told the Senate within minutes of parliament opening for 2017.
Bernardi said he was leaving the Liberal Party because it was failing the people of Australia and "we need to find a better way".
He cited the growing discontent with the government, which on Monday recorded its lowest popularity since Malcolm Turnbull became prime minister in September 2015.
"When as a younger man I joined the ship of state, I was in awe of its traditions and the great captains that guided us on our way, but now as the seas through which we sail become ever more challenging, the respect for the values and principles that have served us well seem to have been set aside for expedient, self-serving, short-term ends."
Bernardi said he hoped any of his colleagues who felt "truly concerned for the future of our nation" would join him in defecting.
"The journey ahead will not be for the faint of heart, but worthwhile ventures rarely are."
Bernardi made the speech from his old seat within the government benches. In closing he asked the president of the Senate to reconsider the seating arrangements and left the chamber.
At a press conference after the speech, Bernardi said he wanted to create a credible and principled alternative for conservative voters who had become disillusioned with the major parties.
"There is a growing disconnect between what happens in the Canberra bubble and what happens in the everyday lives of so many Australians," he said.
He said a million voters had deserted the Liberals at last year's federal election and gone to minor parties because the party wasn't representing conservative values.
He said he had warned his party against copying Labor's foolish "revolving door of prime ministers" because the party was still dealing with the fallout of dumping Tony Abbott a year and a half later.
His new party, Australian Conservatives, would aim to reconnect with Australians who had "left the tent" and to restore faith in the party system and politicians.
When asked if mining billionaire Gina Rinehart would fund his new party, Bernardi said he didn't know.
The leader of the government in the Senate, attorney general George Brandis, said he and the government were "disappointed" by Bernardi's decision.
He said the government would treat Bernardi in a professional, courteous and respectful way on the crossbench, but that he did not condone what Bernardi had done.
"What senator Bernardi has done today is not a conservative thing to do because breaking faith with the electorate, breaking faith with the people who voted for you, breaking faith with the people who have supported you through thick and thin for years and, indeed, decades is not a conservative thing to do," Brandis said.
Labor leader in the Senate Penny Wong described Bernardi's defection as "extraordinary".
She said his decision to leave shows the government is bitterly divided and "more focussed on their own issues than what matter most to Australians".
Greens leader Richard Di Natale described Bernardi as having "6.5 foot of ego but not an inch of integrity".
"We have a divided government where the right hand doesn't know what the far right hand is doing anymore," he said.
It took less than an hour for Bernardi’s Wikipedia page to be updated with the new nickname given to him by today's papers.
Alice Workman is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Canberra.
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