Nick Xenophon will be looking at the maths and the promises from Labor and the Liberals should he find himself kingmaker in the next South Australian parliament.
But the federal senator insists he only wants to make things better for his home state and doesn’t have eyes on the top job.
Senator Xenophon announced on Friday his intention to quit the Senate and stand for the state’s lower house in the March election, hoping to return to SA politics after a decade in federal parliament.
His SA-Best party intends to stand candidates in up to 20 of the 47 lower house seats as well as in the upper house.
ABC election analyst Antony Green suspects the party will do well.
“There’s also deep discontent with the major parties and I don’t think anyone could discount the fact that he may do spectacularly well and his party could finish in second place or even equal to one of the other parties,” Mr Green told ABC TV on Sunday.
“I don’t want to make people think it is a real possibility he could be premier but it is the sort of thing you shouldn’t discount.”
Asked directly if he was running to be premier, Senator Xenophon insisted he was only seeking to hold the balance of power.
“Just to make this clear to both the premier and opposition leader: I’m running because I don’t think either side offers a clear vision and a good path forward for South Australia,” he told Sky News.
Should SA-Best win enough seats to be in a position to decide which party forms government, it would consider who won the popular vote and the most seats as well as “which side will be fair dinkum on issues of transparency” such as reforming freedom of information laws and strengthening the powers of the auditor-general and the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption.
The party would not seek any cabinet positions.
Mr Green said recent history had shown Labor around the country had been able to do deals with smaller parties to govern, while the SA Liberals had already ruled out any coalition with Senator Xenophon’s team.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop went on the attack on Sunday, saying it appeared to her Senator Xenophon would inevitably back Labor.
“It’s quite clear in the upcoming state election that if you want to get rid of an incompetent Labor government … then don’t vote for Senator Xenophon,” she told reporters in Brisbane.
SA-Best has already hit a road bump, with Senator Xenophon on Saturday sacking one of his candidates, Rhys Adams, within minutes of a Facebook photo emerging of the man holding his fist up to a wax model of pop star Rihanna.
Senator Xenophon insisted the party had good vetting procedures – including extensive interviews, police checks, psychometric testing and social media vetting – but the photos had been missed in this case.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull believes his government will be able to work with whoever replaces Senator Xenophon on the Senate crossbench.
However, Mr Turnbull’s Senate team might find it is still dealing with Senator Xenophon, even if he is not in Canberra, with the departing senator saying he still expects to be involved in federal policy decision-making.