Nick Xenophon is seen at during a media event at the Consumer Action Law Centre in Melbourne, Friday, June 3, 2016. Source AAP
Nick Xenophon is seen at during a media event at the Consumer Action Law Centre in Melbourne, Friday, June 3, 2016. Source AAP

Why Nick Xenophon should be careful what he wishes for

COPY Nick Xenophon should be careful what he wishes for.

With his eligibility to be in the Senate currently before the High Court, he's making the jump back to state politics and the polls have welcomed him with open arms.

A Galaxy poll has him as South Australia's preferred Premier by a mile and the state is almost split three ways between Xenophon's SA Best, Labor and the Liberals.

It's an extraordinary show of strength, but not one that comes without problems.

For almost 20 years Xenophon has built a reputation as 'the man in the middle', despite some policies that are far from the centre. But he's never been called out, because he has played the media perfectly. He gives them a show, not just the stunts, but the drama of the negotiation.

Xenophon won't commit to anything until virtually the last minute and with three crucial votes in the Senate, he can keep everyone waiting and watching him.

He's refined the art of thumbs up, thumbs down and getting a few dollars for pet projects along the way. But if the polls are right he won't be able to pull that off when he heads back to Adelaide.

To form a government he's going to have a pick a side, he has to offer supply, confidence, and like Winston Peters in New Zealand, he'll own a cobbled together government because it would be HIS government too.

He wouldn't be an observer any more, he'd be a participant and directly responsible for the good, bad and ugly of government

Xenophon would have to come up with ideas rather than just pass judgment on everyone else's.

This is where the endless limitations and compromises of government inevitably chip away at that new government smell.

As Premier or a minister you have to pick real winners and losers, something Xenophon has never had to do.

I love that we are living in the times of the minor parties. In Queensland One Nation is about to become kingmaker, SA Best is about to surge, the Liberal Democrats are attracting huge names like Mark Latham, Bernardi's Australian Conservatives is building a phenomenal machine away from the press gallery gaze and Hinch's Justice Party is going to run hard at the Victorian poll.

For more and more voters, minor parties are like taking out insurance against the excesses of government and the bureaucracy.

But Xenophon, the media who give him a free ride and his voters should understand the beast of expectations changes the closer you get to running the show.

If he wants real power, he can't avoid it.

It will be fascinating to see just how small a target Xenophon will be in the campaign; so far his big promise is to cut the number of politicians. Yeah, but what about jobs, investment, infrastructure, schools, hospitals, law and order?

Xenophon has led a charmed public life -- pick your fights and chose your stunts. But when you are in charge, everyone picks a fight with YOU.

*Joining Paul on the program this Monday are Graham Richardson, Ross Cameron and Janine Perrett.