PUP Senator Jacqui Lambie no lap-dog

SO FAR, PUP Senator Jacqui Lambie has been her own worst enemy in politics.

She told the Prime Minister he needed to take a “bucket of cement and harden up”. She talked about a possible “Chinese invasion”. And she joked that she is looking for a man with “loads of cash and a package between their legs”.

Not surprisingly, Lambie has been lambasted by the city-centric media (including me, I should admit). But something else was happening out in the suburbs and towns. People were listening to Lambie, and they liked what they heard.

They wanted her to stop talking about whipper-snippering her bikini line and abusing the Prime Minister, but they also saw her as a very welcome breath of fresh air.

To many, this incredibly rough woman was interesting and authentic, compared to most politicians who are fake and boring.

They found her a great antidote to politicians who are so scripted and afraid of getting it wrong that half the time even when they are talking, they say nothing at all.

Then, in a game-changer, Lambie appeared on Australian Story on the ABC on Monday night. It’s a show that does much to humanise its subjects and present the private person behind the public face.

Australian Story’s portrayal of Lambie was as complex as the woman herself. It dealt with her injuries while training as a soldier, her subsequent depression and her drug and alcohol abuse. She spoke candidly about her seven-year-old son acting as her de facto carer during this period, and her shocking decision to try to take her own life when she was a single mother-of-two.

By the time the half-hour show ended, Lambie seemed more like a punching bag than a punchline. It was hard not to like her, and admire her for all she has been through. However, having a hard life doesn’t necessarily make you a good politician.

What the show also revealed is that Lambie appears to have more political nous than previously thought. For instance, we also saw her willingness to speak up about PUP leader Clive Palmer’s failings — such as the fact that he needs to be more honest in his dealings with her and stop eating Tim Tams.

Clearly, Lambie is now either more comfortable in the spotlight, or she’s getting better advice from those around her. When she said things like: “I don’t back down to Clive Palmer and I shouldn’t have to,” you could hear cheers ringing out around the country. Even better, she also said: “Clive Palmer might be my leader but Clive Palmer’s not my boss. The Tasmanian people are my boss and that’s it, full stop.”

Supporters flooded her Facebook page with congratulatory comments after the show aired.

The fact that some people want Lambie to be “the next Don Chipp” (founder of the left-leaning, progressive Democrats) show they care less about her politics than her passion.

Part of Lambie’s character is explained, no doubt, by her background.

It’s hard to imagine too many of the other current MPs — most of whom have uni degrees and went through private schools — have such colourful, complex and difficult early lives.

Not only is she the daughter of a truck-driver father and factory shift-worker mother, but she didn’t finish high school. She also claims Aboriginal ancestry, has a son who turned to drugs at 13, and she grew up in public housing.

While these things could be seen as a disadvantage in political life, to many voters they are a benefit. They are a sign that Lambie’s life is closer to their own than anyone who got a Rhodes Scholarship at Oxford.

However, none of this matters if Lambie doesn’t back it up with solid action standing up for constituents in a state struggling with the highest unemployment rate in Australia.

Yes, we want politicians to have more diverse backgrounds, and to talk and act like the rest of us, but they must be able to do the job.

I’m willing to bet Lambie, who clearly doesn’t suffer fools lightly, will leave the PUP party during her six-year Senate term. At this stage, she is looking like she may outgrow her leader, who is colourful, but who continues to “clown around”.

Palmer would do well to listen to Lambie, not just about Tim Tams, but about politics as well.


Susie O’Brien SA Weekend September 12, 2014