Nick Xenophon has been quietly preparing to expand his political empire across the country, ahead of the upcoming swathe of state elections.
The former federal senator – currently favourite to win the balance of power at the South Australian election in March – has registered business names for a string of state based parties, spin offs to his South Australian party SA-BEST.
Business names were registered for NSW-BEST, NT-BEST, QLD-BEST and VIC-BEST by the Nick Xenophon Team Incorporated in October last year.
BuzzFeed News understands the state-based names were registered by Nick Xenophon Team senator Stirling Griff. The four new parties have yet to be registered with their relevant state electoral commissions.
Four states are preparing for elections in the next 14 months — South Australia in March, Tasmania by May, Victoria in November, and NSW in March 2019.
The deadline for party registration in Victoria is October 30. If parties aren't registered by the deadline they can still run candidates, but the party name won't be listed next to candidates on ballot papers, or above the line for upper house voting. They also won’t be eligible for certain electoral funding.
This isn't Xenophon's first foray outside South Australia. The Nick Xenophon Team ran candidates in all state and territories at the last federal election.
By registering additional parties it increases earning potential, with candidates given taxpayer funds for the percentage of the vote they garner. Xenophon-related groups and parties have earned over $1.5 million in electoral funding in the past 10 years.
Upon leaving the Senate in October last year Xenophon announced the federal party’s name would change from the “Nick Xenophon Team” to “SA-BEST (Federal)” and he would remain at the helm.
The party has yet to officially change its name with the AEC and its federal members are still listed as "Nick Xenophon Team" politicians.
But in June, the business "Nick Xenophon's SA-Best Incorporated" also registered the name “Australia Best Party”.
The potential new federal name was registered by long-time Xenophon staffer turned SA-BEST candidate Connie Bonaros. Bonaros holds the number one spot on the SA-BEST upper house ticket.
Registering the business name allows Xenophon to copyright "Australia Best" and prevent any other future party from using the name. "Australia Best" is not currently registered with the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC).
A Xenophon spokesperson confirmed to BuzzFeed News that the federal party will be formally changing its name in coming months. They would not confirm what the party’s new name was, citing a pending application with the AEC.
NXT blames the name change delay on the AEC, which has been busy running the New England and Bennelong by-elections.
A source within SA-BEST told BuzzFeed News the state party names were registered as part of “normal procedure” when starting a new business, to protect copyright.
A Labor source told BuzzFeed News they aren't concerned by Xenophon's state expansion, as his party tends to attract Liberal and conservative voters.
"Behind all the stunts and his man of the people act, Xenophon’s always been and always will be a Lib," a source said.
"In the parliament he voted with the Libs two times out of every three, including voting for cuts to schools, cuts to family payments, voting to put young people on $4-an-hour internships and voting for tax cuts for big business."
The Victorian Greens aren't concerned about Xenophon entering state politics across the border because they don't believe NXT's policies align with the electorate.
"Getting the best deal for South Australia probably won't do well across the border," Victorian Greens leader Samantha Ratnam told BuzzFeed News.