Jacqui Lambie mixes battler politics with populism to make her swing vote count



Jacqui Lambie has signalled she will play hardball on a number of key issues to get what she wants in exchange for her vote.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Mark Kenny, Australian National University

In the hit biopic Rocket Man, the ambitious young Reginald Dwight is counselled to hide his working-class roots if he wants to make it in “showbiz”:

You gotta kill the person you were born to be in order to become the person you want to be.

Arriving in Canberra in 2013, Jacqui Lambie carried just that kind of baggage – the burden of tough starts, frequent setbacks, of being a fish out of water.
The former soldier is now back in the Senate for a second stint.

Her parliamentary reprise was not just something of a surprise, it lent the May 18 federal election a sense of restorative justice after her admittedly gaffe-prone first term was cut short in 2017 by a Section 44 citizenship hitch.




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She’d arrived in 2013 as a total unknown under Clive Palmer’s eponymous PUP.
Impulsive, frequently angry and clearly ill-prepared, Lambie soon cut ties with the irascible mining magnate, leaving him muttering about her ingratitude and a breach of promise.

Yet in 2019, when the eccentric millionaire ploughed upwards of A$60 million into a gaudy, winless nationwide campaign, Lambie triumphed on a shoestring, boosted by Tasmanians to fill the last available Senate spot.

But there was no Elton John-style artifice involved. Forming the Jacqui Lambie Network, she would defiantly trumpet her own name and working-class roots, parading herself as the real deal, pure battler, core-Apple Isle.

It was an exercise characterised by a brutal frankness about her past. Disarmingly so.

“I was a bloody wrecking ball,” she recently told Nine Newspapers, about why she was so controversial and had flamed out in her first period in Canberra.

I just had no idea what idea what I was doing. I’d come from ten years, basically between the bed, the couch and a couple of years in the psych ward.

Now she’s back. Better, stronger and wiser for the journey.

Already, the proudly rough-edged advocate for the battler state has had a significant impact while signalling to Prime Minister Scott Morrison that her vote for future government bills will carry a price.

How much? A fortnight ago, it was A$230 million to be forgiven for the state’s social housing debt.

The concession followed Lambie’s swift post-election support for the Morrison government’s signature A$158 billion election pledge of income tax cuts for low, middle and high-income earners.

The housing debt waiver was a solid victory for the frail Tasmanian economy. It was reminiscent of the fiercely parochial Brian Harradine – a conservative Catholic independent who used his pivotal vote through the Howard years to get special deals for the smallest state.




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View from The Hill: Jacqui Lambie plays the Harradine game


But Lambie’s response in the moment of victory betrayed her continuing lack of political polish.

Rather than hammer home the full weight of her achievement, she remarked that she should have asked for more, driven a harder bargain. Is this a harbinger of her approach in future fights? Probably.

What is clear is that the government’s concession, and the intent in her response, together underscore the importance of Lambie’s so-called swing vote.

With 35 senators and Cory Bernardi more or less in the bag also, Team Morrison needs a further three to reach the required majority of 39 votes in the Senate – assuming Labor and the Greens are offside.

That is, three out of the five crossbench votes comprising either the two Pauline Hanson votes plus Lambie, or the two Centre Alliance votes plus Lambie. A number of crucial bills loom.

Eager to scrape together a third-term agenda from the parched policy landscape of its unexpected victory, the Coalition is reheating ideas proposed and defeated in previous terms.

Two of them are the Ensuring Integrity Bill, which seeks to impose harsh new restrictions on unions and give the government unprecedented executive power to deregister them, and the expansion of drug testing for welfare recipients.

Lambie’s support is likely to be pivotal – depending on what the other two micro-parties do.

Another issue is the proposal to expand the cashless welfare card to reduce the incidence of welfare being spent on non-necessities.

All are controversial.

On drug testing for Newstart and Youth Allowance recipients, Lambie is playing hardball.

After initially signalling some sympathy for the plan – having seen her own son descend into ice addiction – she has since made it clear she will not support the measure unless, first, politicians agree to random drug and alcohol testing, and second, there are adequate rehabilitation facilities on the ground.

Ministers have raised no objections to being drug-tested, but rolling out enough beds for an estimated half-a-million Australians with drug-dependency issues (many of whom would not be on welfare it must be noted) is no small thing, especially as Lambie has said she wants the beds in place before she supports the testing.

Lambie’s abrasive style is such that predicting her attitude to legislation is not straightforward. This is because it is a mixture of working-class battler politics (not unlike traditional Labor values), tinged with a resentful outsider populism that tends to be more right-leaning.

Overlaid on that is Lambie’s adoption of Harradine’s successful Tasmania-first model.

Her emergence as a swing vote in the Senate puts her in a direct contest with Pauline Hanson, who already owns the populist right.

Either woman can potentially hold the whip hand on government legislation depending on the issue, but Lambie has more room to move.

For the government, that means treading carefully, keeping the lines of communication open, copping the odd spray, and hoping for no dramatic changes of opinion. This is never easy with Hanson, and even less predictable with Lambie.

Politics is often derided as show business for ugly people. Lambie seems intent on making it real business for real people – but with a touch of show business for good measure.The Conversation

Mark Kenny, Senior Fellow, Australian Studies Institute, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Morrison’s $158 billion tax plan set to sail through Senate after deals with crossbenchers


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The Morrison government will finish the first week of the new parliament with its election centrepiece – the $158 billion, three-stage tax package – passed into law.

The first stage of the tax relief – in the form of an offset for low- and middle-income earners when people submit their returns – will be available as soon as the Tax Office makes the necessary arrangements over the next few days. Getting the legislation through this week means there is only minimal slippage from the July 1 start date that was promised in the budget.

The numbers fell into place with Tasmanian crossbench senator Jacqui Lambie declaring she would vote for the package. She had negotiated with the government on her demand that it forgive the $157 million social housing debt her state owes the Commonwealth. This would save Tasmania $15 million a year, which Lambie wants used to deal with issues of homelessness and social housing.

Lambie said: “The good will is there and they know that we’ve got housing problems down there.”




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View from The Hill: Jacqui Lambie plays the Harradine game


While Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, who had said there would be no horse-trading over the package, was publicly coy about the deal, Lambie is confident it will be delivered.

She said some details still had to be sorted out.

What I don’t want to be doing is rushing out saying here’s the money and that’s it. We want to make sure that that money is targeted […] we’re still dealing on good faith. And I look very forward to that over the next four to six weeks.

Cormann told Sky News: “Senator Lambie has been a very forceful advocate.

She has raised issues with us. We are very happy to work through these issues with her. When we are in a position to make further announcements down the track we will.




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The other crossbench votes needed for the package come from independent Cory Bernardi and the two Centre Alliance senators.

Centre Alliance extracted a deal over action on gas prices.

It said in a Thursday statement that it had “worked with the government on both short- and long-term reforms to deal with gas market concerns.”

The government would announce the full package in coming weeks, it said.

It would include

changes to the Australian Domestic Gas Security Mechanism (ADGSM) to deal with current pricing, market transparency measures, measures to deal with the monopoly nature of East Coast gas pipelines and longer term measures to ensure future gas projects deliver surplus supply to the Australian market.

The gas agreement, canvassed publicly in recent days, has caused some blow-back from the industry.

Faced with the inevitability of the tax package passing, Labor said it would continue to pursue its attempt to split the package and then consider its options.

It is likely not to oppose in the final vote.




Read more:
Lambie’s vote key if government wants to have medevac repealed


Eyes are now on Lambie’s position on the government’s bid to repeal the medevac act. Home Affairs minister Peter Dutton on Thursday introduced legislation for the repeal. Lambie said she was still making up her mind on how she will vote when the legislation arrives in the Senate. She is set to be the crucial vote.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

View from The Hill: Jacqui Lambie plays the Harradine game


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

In an intervention that would resonate with the late Brian Harradine, who was legendary for extracting concessions for Tasmania in return for his Senate vote, Jacqui Lambie has demanded the federal government forgive the state’s housing debt.

The Tasmanian senator – who has returned to the parliament after being disqualified in the citizenship crisis – is the last vital vote if the government is to rely on the crossbench, rather than Labor, to pass its tax package intact on Thursday.

Lambie refused to be drawn publicly until this week, although she’s had plenty of attention. For example the two Centre Alliance senators, Stirling Griff and Rex Patrick, journeyed to Devonport to see her. She and they agreed to keep in touch as issues came up.

In the last couple of days, sources have been sure Lambie was in the government’s tax cart.

But on the eve of the vote, she issued a strong statement and video, saying she had “yet to arrive at a final position”. (She supports the first and second stage of the package but is arguing over the final one, delivered years on.)

She condemned homelessness in Tasmania, linking it to the $157 million the state owes the federal government in social housing debt (involving payments of some $15 million a year).




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These debts are from funds borrowed by the states and territories from the federal government between 1945 and 1989 to build new housing, maintain existing stock and provide housing assistance.

“Tasmania is paying 50c in every dollar of our state housing budget back to the federal government in interest and debt repayments. That means we are building half as many homes, helping half as many people,” Lambie said.

“This debt is holding Tasmania back and denying shelter to thousands of Tasmanian families. The Commonwealth coffers don’t need $15 million a year from the Tasmanian budget,” she said.

“It’s only by having the balance of power for Tasmania in the Senate that real debt relief is going to happen and that’s what I am here to fight for.

“There is no way in good conscience I can vote for substantial tax cuts without making sure that the people who so desperately need a roof over their heads aren’t left to go without.”

The Tasmanian Liberal government has been pressing the federal government to forgive the debt, although Tasmanian Liberal senator Eric Abetz has opposed that, saying it would lead to demands from other states.

The Morrison government has claimed it won’t do any deals in its push to get the tax package through. In fact, this has not been true – Centre Alliance is confident, following detailed negotiations, there will be measures on gas policy to help smooth the way for its votes.

But Lambie’s demand is a very direct quid pro quo.

Senate leader Mathias Cormann, the government’s negotiator on the tax package, declared on Wednesday: “We are always happy to engage with senators in relation to issues of concern to them and their constituents”.




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There is a general expectation the tax package with its three stages intact will be passed this week. It’s just a matter of who is blinking.

Does the government throw some money at Lambie, not just to secure her support on this measure but to keep her on side for the future?

Would Lambie retreat from her stand if she was not accommodated and still vote with the government on the package – or would she have a long-lasting hissy fit?

According to some sources, a fix was likely already in with Lambie on Wednesday.

Anyway, Labor is there as a fallback. Despite its objections to stage three, it can’t afford to be endlessly blamed for blocking tax relief.

Regardless, it was clear that every which way Pauline Hanson’s One Nation had been left out in the cold.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.