“People either say she’s (Jacqui Lambie) totally awesome or f—ed in the head, sometimes on the same day,” said a panelist on a recent news and politics television show. Her former party leader Clive Palmer might be feeling the latter right now, though given he also believes she could have been a plant to destabilize his nascent political ambitions it is hard to say. What is certain, however, is that even before Lambie split from her party she was a divisive figure criticizing her boss on national television and threatening to go her own way no matter what. Now, she has.
Lambie, who announced her split from the Palmer United Party (PUP) yesterday, will now serve as an independent senator for her home state of Tasmania. The spats between the leader and his senator from a minor party who have, respectively, been referred to as a “Bogan Berlusconi” and “Australia’s Sarah Palin” (the former by Booker Award winning Richard Flanagan) may seem endearingly pointless to those outside Australia; however, PUP more or less held the balance of power in the Senate and with its small coalition (which includes independents such as Ricky Muir of the Motoring Enthusiasts Party) was able to decide on whether or not legislation passed that chamber. Palmer earlier this year made himself something of a headache to the government, disagreeing with large sections of the budget put forward. Without Lambie, Palmer’s power has been downgraded, changing the structure of government.
The makeup of Australia’s upper house has been the subject of much scrutiny, both by the media and public and by wonks and men such as “preference whisperer” Glenn Druery, who has advised inexperienced independents such as Muir. It has made for a possibly fractious Senate and there have been worries that an independent Lambie will further slow proceedings. An editorial in the Sydney Morning Herald does not think so: “Even though parliament has a number of senators in debt to the donkey vote, cynical preference deals, vote harvesting and suspect party names, their role remains crucial to our democracy.” Lambie may in fact do better were she to receive advice from outsiders with greater experience than the billionaire, the paper argues.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
Though some of her causes have been laudable – better pay for the defense forces – Lambie’s way of going about achieving them would have seemed a little gauche to the average half-smart toddler. Essentially she threatened to oppose all legislation until she got her way. As the Herald pointed out three Senators are needed for this; one cannot do it alone. She also, understandably, wants her island state of Tasmania to fare better. Despite its reputation for culture and good food, Tasmania has the highest unemployment and youth unemployment rates in the country. Lambie also wants the costs of importing goods or transporting people to be lower. Her stance on Islam has not been well received by many and her calls to “ban the burqa” are silly considering the blue Afghan garb is not worn in Australia. The niqab is but banning that lacks the alliterative sloganeering. Her attacks on China and suggestions that it, or Indonesia, may invade have meanwhile been greeted with quiet sighs.
Palmer is not faring entirely well himself. Despite attempting a more measured public persona (no more unwieldy twerking on breakfast television), with pieces in the Australian edition of the Guardian on the lack of humanity shown by the recent budget, his center-right populist statesmen act is under fire not just from Lambie but also from a recent inquiry launched in Western Australia over long running allegations he used A$12 million ($10.2 million) of Chinese investors’ money to fund his campaign. It is this spat that prompted a recent outburst on national television against China. It seems that Palmer is on the back foot and his political ambitions and power have diminished, for now at least.
Helen Clark was based in Hanoi for six years as a reporter and magazine editor. She has written for two dozen publications including The Diplomat (as Bridget O’Flaherty), Time, The Economist, the Asia Times Online and the Australian Associated Press.