For the vengeful and electorally rampaging Clive Palmer, disaffected disability pensioner Jacqui Lambie would have been little more than the means to an end when he coaxed her to run for the Palmer United Party before the 2013 federal election.
The born-and-bred Tasmanian nursed her own reasons for putting one up the establishment, and her outspoken vehemence dovetailed conveniently with Palmer’s own mangled sound grabs castigating the Coalition at federal and state levels.
But having been peremptorily preselected and then elected on a sweet preference deal, the PUP Senator for Tasmania is now fast outgrowing the kennel.
If the blossoming of Lambie’s political brand continues apace, and canny political operators can find the right enticements to unravel her ties to Palmer, Lambie could become an independent Senate champion for her embattled home state.
Such a turn of events would allow the unashamed champion of the underdog to deliver bounties to Tasmania not seen since the heyday of the late Brian Harradine.
If not for Palmer, Lambie would have been just another Australian downtrodden by bureaucracy.
She joined the army early in life, serving in transport and military policing roles and later losing a stripe for punching a colleague. Lambie finally left the army after 11 years due to a back injury sustained in 1997 from carrying a 40kg pack for a two-day bush skills course.
What does she stand for?
- Veterans Affairs: Concerned about misogyny in the Australian Defence Force and the high rate of suicide amongst former ADF personnel. Has demanded the Government extend the Defence Abuse Response Taskforce indefinitely, and called for a Royal Commission into the Veterans’ Affairs Department.
- National Security: Believes Australia’s national security is weak and that defence force spending should be bolstered. Advocates compulsory National Service for all young Australians.
- Tasmania: Wants an extra $5 billion over four years diverted from foreign aid to establish a special economic zone in Tasmania to help business employ more workers and lower the unemployment rate.
- Transport: Wants $180 million cut from mainland road and infrastructure to be invested immediately in the Tasmanian Freight Equalisation Scheme.
She battled the veterans’ affairs bureaucracy over the next 5 years, to overcome accusations of malingering and finally be allowed to draw a disability pension. These experiences awakened Lambie’s political awareness in 2008 when she was given work by former Labor senator Nick Sherry as part of her rehab. But in 2009 she attempted suicide, and then spent time in a psychiatric ward, following which she found God and lost 40 kilos. She then led an unsuccessful run for Liberal pre-selection in Braddon for the 2013 federal election.
After deciding to run as an independent anyway, Lambie accepted Palmer’s invitation to jump on the PUP bandwagon after realising she couldn’t afford to bankroll a decent campaign on her own.
Lambie’s and Palmer’s political relationship may be one of convenience, but it is nevertheless a fruitful one.
While the multi-millionaire Palmer may claim to be a man of the people, Lambie is genuinely representative of the underclass that most politicians would never encounter unless they visited the local dole office. Lambie shares the concerns and language of this under-represented segment of the Australian community, and unashamedly gives voice to the disdain they hold for the establishment they believe has abandoned them.
Through Lambie, Palmer has a direct line to these disgruntled voters and the opportunity to harvest their protest votes.
The problem for Palmer is that he needs Lambie more than she needs him. Whether she’s inside PUP’s yellow tent or out, Lambie wields one of the six votes needed by the Government from the eight crossbenchers to pass legislation when Labor and the Greens oppose it. Without Lambie, and on the occasions when Muir decides to vote with the Government, Palmer’s bloc is reduced to two and he no longer has the power of veto.
What does the future hold?
Lambie shares Palmer’s passion for political vengeance, but her future will be determined less by revenge than by ambition.
She has not been afraid to brandish the leadership baton kept in her knapsack, reportedly stating not long after the federal election that she would become Leader of PUP if Palmer was not successful in getting elected in Fairfax.
So it’s hardly surprising that other reports have emerged suggesting Lambie is unhappy with her colleague from Queensland, Glenn Lazarus, being unilaterally made Leader of the PUP in the Senate.
Such quibbles would be music to the ears of Government strategists looking for a way to cleave Lambie away from the PUP voting bloc. It would however be a mistake for the plotters to focus only on Lambie’s ambitions for herself.
More important by far appears to be the Senator’s ambitions for the state she represents and the disadvantaged people she’s determined to champion.
The spoils of victory will go to the party that can deliver on that ambition for her.
A multimedia version of this piece appears on the ABC’s tablet app The Brief, which can be downloaded here.