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The Jacqui Lambie conundrum

  • 17 September 2019


Serendipity is defined as the gift of finding valuable things in unexpected places by sheer luck. It is a good description of Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie in Australian politics.

She is fortunate to be in the Senate and doubly fortunate to find herself in a position where she can influence the outcome of government legislation. We are fortunate that she has the personal character and history which makes her a welcome presence and that she possesses the values which she applies to the legislation which comes before her.

But there is a sting in the tail. The community is unfortunate that the outcome of crucial legislation, like Newstart, Medevac, cashless welfare cards and much more, is determined by serendipity or sheer luck. What if the deciding vote was held by someone else but Lambie, someone with different values? Should our system put so much power in the hands of one person?

Senator Lambie has had a roller-coaster ride as characterised by Fairfax journalist David Crowe in his portrait 'Lambie 3.0: Psych ward to Senator' (14-15September 2019). She was first elected in September 2013 with a start date of July 2014 as a member of Palmer United. She quickly became an Independent, was re-elected in 2016 and served until her eligibility for British citizenship meant Section 44 of the constitution forced her out of Parliament in November 2017. After 18 months she was re-elected in May 2019.

Her personal and family circumstances have been trying and her manner is unpolished. She calls on her past life experience in the Army and as a single mother with troubled children. She can be abrupt and sometimes even crude, but she is learning on the job. She is a distinctive presence among the many faceless senators representing the major parties. In the modern jargon she is authentic because she speaks her mind.

She is now one of six crossbench senators, with the others being the two One Nation senators from Queensland, led by Pauline Hanson, the two Centre Alliance senators from South Australia, Rex Patrick and Stirling Griff, and the conservative former Liberal from South Australia, Cory Bernardi. Notably all six come from three of the smaller states.

The dynamic varies among the six so others play a role too. The government needs four of these six votes to pass its legislation. One Nation and Bernardi tend to stick with the Morrison government, leaving Centre Alliance and Lambie to do