Rex Patrick, accidental senator: ‘I do cause problems. But it’s community fascination trouble’ | Australian politics

“They’ll say I’m a soreness in the arse,” the South Australian senator Rex Patrick declares, when he finds out a profile is in the works.

“And I am.”

That precise phrase does not come up whilst garnering people’s viewpoints of Patrick. “Obsessive” will come up a few of instances. “Like a pet with a bone” is recurring. “Highly bold,” one observes, wryly.

He is absolutely producing the federal authorities some pain at the second. This month he won a independence of information fight by arguing that cabinet confidentiality did not lengthen to primary minister Scott Morrison’s national cupboard.

He is also on a mission to pressure the government to reveal top secret documents about its negotiations with Timor-Leste. Patrick has been a constant critic of the federal government’s pursuit of the whistleblower and former spy Witness K and his law firm Bernard Collaery about their alleged roles in exposing Australia’s bugging of its poorer neighbour.

And he is also driving an ongoing bid to publish a list of businesses who acquired jobkeeper and the amount of money they acquired, as strain mounts for gain-producing companies to repay the funds they claimed.

Everyone realized Patrick’s predecessor, the SA senator Nick Xenophon. Xenophon went from working on a “no pokies” platform for point out parliament to placing alongside one another a federal workforce that outgunned Labor at the 2013 election. He was the grasp of just one-liners, of stunts, of finding up a preferred challenge and running with it.

But Rex Patrick? Number of would have listened to of Patrick before he stepped into Xenophon’s spot in 2017 just after Xenophon abdicated his place for an unwell-fated tilt at point out politics. It may well be that the general public obtain him a small tougher to location because of his convoluted political origin story.

He worked for the Nick Xenophon Staff even though Xenophon, Stirling Griff and Skye Kakoschke-Moore have been in the Senate and Rebekha Sharkie was the member for Mayo. When Xenophon still left Patrick took his place and the occasion altered its title to Centre Alliance. Very last August Patrick blindsided his colleagues and remaining the party altogether to run as an independent, the sole agent of the Rex Patrick Staff.

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At the time Griff appeared unsurprised, declaring Patrick experienced been “managing his own race for some time”.

“It’s no surprise that he is having the step to divorce himself from the occasion that picked him,” he explained.

Xenophon himself continue to expresses disappointment right now, while he needs Patrick effectively personally: like Sharkie and Stirling, he states, the unbiased is effective hard, “but naturally I’m let down that Rex broke away from a very highly effective voting bloc that stood up and got results for SA”.

Patrick explains it like this: in the Senate, there are both effectively-branded functions – like the Greens – or perfectly-branded folks – like Jacqui Lambie, and he didn’t feel the Centre Alliance manufacturer would function. “I was seeking at the chilly, tough specifics of no matter if or not Stirling or I would get re-elected, and in my look at neither of us would,” he says.

In advance of moving into politics Patrick was effectively-regarded in defence circles. The former navy submariner worked in the defence marketplace and wrote for the Australian Strategic Plan Institute about Australia’s planned new submarine fleet.

He caught the ear of the then defence minister David Johnston, had dinner with him, and informed him what he seriously considered about the issues that were plaguing the present Collins Course fleet at the time.

He says he was offered a formal advisory gig in Johnston’s office but refused mainly because he felt that unelected people today in the primary minister Tony Abbott’s office at the time (he names the overseas policy adviser Andrew Shearer and Abbott’s main of team, Peta Credlin) experienced much too significantly influence. And he appreciated the slice of Xenophon’s jib.

Even though the key parties have to contemplate the celebration line and their vocation paths before fixing a challenge, he claims, “Nick did not have to do that.

“He just stated, ‘Right, what instruments do I use? Do I use media? Do I use a speech? Do I use an inquiry?’”

As with other individuals who rating a Senate spot without having likely to the polls, Patrick is usually referred to as an “accidental” senator. The bureaucrats who have confronted his relentless grilling in estimates could be surprised to listen to that he has not normally been so headstrong.

‘He’s clearly, from his actions, a highly bold particular person.’ Photograph: Mike Bowers/The Guardian

He joined the navy because someone said it would be a excellent plan. Then he wished to function as a radar plotter, monitoring aircraft and protecting missiles. But another person else recommended he do electronics, so he did, and ended up on submarines.

“I’m an accidental senator,” he says. “An accidental submariner.”

He’s the youngest of 4, the little one of the family. “Yeah, I feel I was an incident there, far too,” he says.

Born in New Zealand (so he was between these facing concerns through the twin citizenship crisis of 2017, questions he confronted down), he moved to Whyalla as a younger boy with his moms and dads and three more mature siblings.

His brother Wayne claims mainly because he was 6 a long time older, he does not have robust recollections of the senator as a smaller boy but he thought Patrick was “pretty brave” for joining the navy at 16.

“He’s pretty unbiased,” he says. “He’s constantly on the go. I simply cannot continue to keep up with him. He’s normally wanting for something new.”

The former submariner’s to start with large media splash – when he was continue to a Xenophon staffer – came when he was supplied a USB stick that had 22,400 internet pages of secret information and facts about a French-made submarine – just as Australia was thinking about signing a deal for France to style its submarines.

Right after telling Defence about it and listening to very little, he gave the tale to the Australian.

“Our French submarine builder in large leak scandal,” ran the headline.

It was the first of quite a few headlines that Patrick has been dependable for about Australia’s bumpy submarine plan. All those, and his advocacy for the Murray-Darling basin system, are his primary SA-unique battles – though some insiders say they will not be sufficient to see him re-elected at the following election (when Xenophon’s term would have been up).

Currently the 54-12 months-outdated is in lockdown in Canberra, his relaxed “I’m with Workforce Rex Patrick” T-shirt contrasting from the flags organized behind him – Australian, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander. He takes a simply call from Audrey, just one of his two daughters with his “amicably” estranged wife, who desires to know how substantially she can shell out on a friend’s birthday current. Audrey has him wrapped close to her very little finger, he suggests, rolling his eyes – just after he’s agreed to give her the requested money for the existing.

In his work life, there are a lot who desire he were so simply swayed. And people who work with him – as parliamentary colleagues or press gallery contacts – are hesitant to go on the file, with superior cause. People today will need him. Politicians will need him for his crossbench vote, and journalists have to have him for stories.

1 points to a tale in which Patrick mentioned splitting from Centre Alliance was a “marketing” move.

“He wasn’t elected and he arrived in, he obtained a Senate ticket … you can attract your possess conclusion,” they say. “He’s plainly, from his actions, a highly formidable individual.”

And one more: “I imagine he is exceptionally obsessive about a matter as soon as he will get fascinated in it. He’s like a pet dog with a bone. He’s very fearless in the way he ways factors.”

A further phone calls him a gadfly, flitting from issue to difficulty – “it’s from the Xenophon playbook, but it receives him publicity. I do imagine he’s genuinely fascinated in policy, more than Xenophon was … ”

(Patrick says if he senses he’s not likely to get anyplace, he’ll improve study course. “But if I have got a sniff … I will continue to keep heading with it. I will not give up just since there is a problem in front of me.”)

An additional details to the wins he’s had in getting paperwork the governing administration would desire have been saved key.

“He’ll be sorely missed if he does go,” they say. “He’s terrific to perform with. Completely energetic. Acquiring said that, I have hardly ever been on his poor side …

“There are a ton of stunts but he doesn’t produce. He talks big but really caves into the federal government all way too easily… there’s a great deal of posturing.”

Patrick enters the Senate in a submarine costume
Patrick demonstrates his support for SA’s submarine field at dilemma time in the Senate Photograph: Mike Bowers/The Guardian

Patrick claims his stunts (which includes wearing a submarine costume to problem time) are about drawing focus to distinct troubles, and says he is always operating in front of and driving the scenes to deliver about alter. He has been able to force the government to reveal files, efficiently amended laws, and set strain on the government to continue to keep submarine servicing work in South Australia.

“I really do not get them all, but I have had considerable wins,” he states. “There are lots of, several matters that I have carried out, and quite a few of them are very subtle … calling issues out in the chamber generates the political pressure that provides about modify.”

A number of evaluate him unfavourably with Xenophon: “I assume of him as a bad man’s variation of Nick,” one particular says. “He has the political shrewdness of Nick Xenophon but none of his affable appeal,” says another.

The way Patrick sees it, Xenophon would listen to another person and variety an emotional connection with them: “I’d be standing beside him … and I’d say to him, ‘Hey, mate, there’s only so quite a few matters we can do listed here.’

“I never consider I’m as charismatic as Nick.”

He’s not fussed that he has not attained Xenophon’s stratospheric ranges of acceptance. And anyway, he has a media strategy.

“I started off with executing print stuff very first … then I commenced performing radio, and now I’ve moved to tv. I’m in the media every single day now.

“I really do not have the exact same recognition as Nick … but I haven’t experienced as prolonged in the sport.”

There have been hints about the existence of a nude video clip of Patrick.

It may possibly be legitimate, he says, unconcerned. Soon after having a seaplane out to the Murray River to crash a houseboat party when he was more youthful, he went skinny dipping.

“I was 18 and handsome … and it was possibly on Betamax.”

Patrick also needs to explain his previously remark about getting a “pain in the arse”.

“I do result in difficulty,” he says. “But it’s general public fascination difficulties.”