Jacqui Lambie: when the ordinary is extraordinary

Since her election as a Federal PUP Senator for Tasmania last September, Jacqui Lambie has not so much polarised opinion as hit it with a hammer, pumped it full of lead, trussed it up in a sack and hoicked it unceremoniously into the Derwent.


Lambie’s interactions with the media have been uncensored, unscripted, and unapologetic. There have been car crash interviews, such as this one with Sarah Ferguson on the 7:30 Report, in which she floats a thought bubble banking tax idea and defends her description of the Abbott Government as “uncaring psychopaths”. There have been quotes that might compel your average cleanskin political staffer to self-harm, such as her colourful comments on radio about her preference for men with a “good package between their legs”, and her tin-foil hat warnings of a future Chinese invasion. The latter intervention prompted the Courier Mail to christen the Senator “Lambo”, and based on her trail of destruction through the Australian political landscape in just 12 months, momentum may soon gather for her to win a red-blooded cameo role in The Expendables IV.

Lambie, the Deputy Leader of the Palmer United Party in the Senate, gave her maiden parliamentary speech in the Senate a fortnight ago. God, she contends, performed a miracle to somehow put her in this place. Her heartfelt feelings about the systemic disadvantage suffered by Tasmanians were plain for all to see:

Every Tasmanian senator clearly understands the unbearable level of social and economic misery that the extra cost of shipping goods, vehicles, machinery, food, fuel and people 420 kilometres over the ocean has caused Tasmanians—rather than driving 420 kilometres on a national highway. But what I cannot understand is why every Tasmanian senator, especially those who have been in power or are in power now, has chosen to do nothing. In fact, even worse than doing nothing, every Tasmanian senator has turned a blind eye to this outrageous, stinking, filthy injustice.

The solution is clear: if the powers that control the treasury bench do not want an army of Jacqui Lambies in this place, speaking uncomfortable truths and challenging them in the future—then fix the Bass Strait Transport cost crisis.

As we all know, there is little chance that “an army” of Jacqui Lambies will be elected to Australia’s Parliament. The brutal truth of it is that despite the media sneers, the cringing, and yes, the occasional stupidity Lambie has brought to the table since her election, she is one of the most ordinary Australians currently holding elected public office in the nation’s capital. She is a real person: an actual, bonafide everyday Aussie, representing the likely hundreds of thousands or millions of men and women that share some or much of her world-view. The shock to the system that we all get when we see the Senator speaking colloquially on television, making it up as bit as she goes along, or dropping an embarrassing clanger is actually the shock of seeing an average Australian with average communication skills democratically represent us. This is where we are in Australia in 2014: looking down our noses, tut-tutting with contempt when our electoral system has the temerity to deliver us a member of parliament who is actually representative of Australian society at large rather than of quasi-democratic managerialville.

It is hard to reflect about the Jacqui Lambie phenomenon so far – if we can call it that – without reflecting on the experience of another remarkably ordinary Australian parliamentarian, a certain fish and chip shop owner from Ipswich in Queensland. History is recorded by the victors in the manner they choose, and the simplistic version of the Pauline Hanson fable is that a nasty, stupid, racist woman from Queensland was put back in her box where she belonged by a coalition of the broader Australian community and by voters. Racism was rejected. One Nation was defeated. The chattering media and political classes cheered as one.

Hanson’s racism may have fostered the most public enmity, but in reality, of course, it was never just about the racism – here was another instance where fairly well-off, fairly well-educated people living in metropolitan areas caught a glimpse of an average woman representing thousands of fairly average Australians in Canberra and didn’t like what they saw. The cultural cringe kicked in, big time. Good sense may have triumphed when Pauline Hanson lost her seat, but scant attention was paid to what else was crushed in that process: racism in Australia didn’t just disappear when Australian voters “shot” the messenger. The legitimate economic concerns and fears of people living in the outer suburbs of our cities and regional areas didn’t just disappear in a puff of righteous smoke. What did disappear was a little bit more of the dwindling faith that many Australians have in our political process and the genuineness of the people who represent them in our nation’s parliaments. These outsiders see a lot of people with crisp suits and good haircuts who can rattle on pretty well, but they don’t see many of their own in Canberra.

Will the Jacqui Lambie story borrow chapters from Pauline Hanson and Julia Gillard’s stories, as another controversial woman in public life chewed up and spat out somewhat misogynistically by our political system? We will have to wait and see, but there may yet be a few twists in the tale: in the last couple of days, the Senator has publicly backed a rough diamond of an idea: the introduction of some dedicated Indigenous seats in Parliament. If there is anything that our struggling First Australians need, it is some gaming of our electoral system to help ensure that their voices can be heard in the nation’s capital, across the nation’s airwaves and in all our lounge rooms. Lambie’s authenticity could win support for such decent, left-field ideas from people who wouldn’t give it a second’s serious consideration if it spilled from the mouth of someone sitting on the Government or Opposition front benches.

We don’t all have to agree with her, we don’t all have to like her, and we certainly shouldn’t trust anybody politically wedded to Clive Palmer, as she is. But perhaps we should all “check our privilege” and reflect just a wee bit on the disenfranchised Australians Jacqui Lambie speaks on behalf of more truly than most other parliamentarians, before we trip over each other’s feet rushing to condemn her.

Jason Morrison on freedom of religion

Jason Morrison is a presenter for Sydney radio station 2GB, and he has a regular slot on the Sunrise program with Neil Mitchell. On Wednesday morning, he expressed his view on Pauline Hanson’s intention to not sell her house to a Muslim buyer. Note that this transcript was taken from a dodgy online clip, so may not be completely verbatim:

JASON MORRISON: I do care about who moves in, I care like anyone in a neighbourhood who ends up in the place that I’m at. And look I imagine if we substitute the word that she’s chosen there – “Muslim” for “developer”, people would say “oh, good for her, she’s stopping”…

Look she can make her own judgements – I don’t necessarily agree with that, but hey uh, this woman has principles.

NEIL MITCHELL: [starts interjecting]

JASON MORRISON: They might be obnoxious principles, they might be things that Neil you find despicable or whatever else, but at least she’s putting her- not just her heart where it is but she’s actually saying here, look “money where the mouth is” – she’s actually saying I wouldn’t sell. If the offer is there, I wouldn’t sell. I mean I think its silly, but that’s- she’s got the money and everything to do it.

NEIL MITCHELL: But if you’re refusing to sell to a developer, it’s because of what they’re going to do on that block – to build something. How can you disqualify someone on the basis of their religion? It’s immoral. You can’t do it – its just wrong.

JASON MORRISON: But, but, see- Neil, you miss it. It’s her house. I- I find what she is suggesting to be wrong – I wouldn’t have that kind of level of principle, but it’s her house. She can make that choice. I mean-

NEIL MITCHELL: It will be interesting to see whether she can. Theoretically, you might be right, but is she in fact liable for some sort of action under anti-discrimination legislation – I don’t know if anybody would want her house, but-

JASON MORRISON: She could reject the offer.

What a load of uninformed flim-flam dressed up as reasoned argument.

For the record, Mitchell’s rejoinder towards the end appears on the money. Acting Queensland Anti-Discrimination Commissioner Neroli Holmes has confirmed her view that any discrimination against buyers on religious grounds would put Hanson at risk of breaching the state’s anti-discrimination legislation.

In other words, it is highly likely that Morrison’s purported position, as expressed above, is not only discriminatory, but at odds with Queensland law.

So does Jason Morrison believe in freedom of religion, or not?

Messages from Queensland

In the past few weeks I have not touched at all on the Queensland state election, deferring instead in authority (and proximity!) to folks like Mark Bahnisch and Possum over at Crikey. Since the election result, however, I have found myself wondering a little bit about what it all might mean. On the one hand, at least from where I am sitting well south of the border (with NSW let alone Queensland), Lawrence Springborg seemed a more credible Opposition Leader than Ted Bailileu and certainly a candidate more likely to lead his party to victory than Peter Debnam, the last failed Opposition Leader in New South Wales. Anna Bligh’s government did seem a little vulnerable, and Bligh did not at all times seem comfortable and in control as Premier since Peter Beattie’s resignation.

In any case, here I think are the key outcomes worth pondering:

  • Anna Bligh’s victory represents a victory also for Peter Beattie and the matter in which he handled his transition out of state politics. In transitioning to Bligh, I do believe that Beattie has proven himself to have done a better job at managing the transition than Bob Carr in New South Wales. Personally, I thought Beattie still had some juice in the tank when he resigned. One wonders whether he will now turn his eye to federal politics now that his exit from Queensland politics has been vindicated by the voters?
  • Phillip Coorey suggests a bit cheekily for SMH that even Nathan Rees should hold out some hope for victory in 2011 after Anna Bligh’s result. Unfortunately it’s only a throwaway line. Queensland and New South Wales are not necessarily on the similar trajectories they might seem to be after the departures of Messrs Beattie and Carr. Rees is currently not commanding the authority he needs to as leader in order to be a real chance at the next poll.
  • Was there a “Rudd effect” at play? How many votes is Kevin09 worth at a state level?
  • Is the shambling hybrid Liberal National Party, having lost a supposedly unlosable election, ready to fall back apart into its rotting constituent pieces once again?
  • Pauline Hanson’s defeat yet again – this time in the seat of Beaudesert – will hopefully signal the end of her political career. In a democratic sense I do think that there might be a need out there for someone with an approximation of her views to be represented, but I don’t think she is the right person, in more ways than one. Her treatment at the hands of the media over the past few weeks should nevertheless serve to further galvanise support for people with anti-elitist, anti-city political views.
  • Ronan Lee’s defeat in the seat of Indooroopilly calls into question the value of his defection to the Greens and whether this was tactically the right thing to do for him, based upon his views. Could he have done more for his supporters as a member of the Queensland Labor party room lead by a Premier with a fresh mandate?
  • Now that Anna Bligh has stepped out from under Peter Beattie’s shadow, what kind of leader will she be? Will she do better than Morris Iemma did after his post-handover election victory?

Your thoughts?

Pictures, Pauline Hanson and the media

Books have already been written about the curious relationship that Pauline Hanson enjoys with the media, but her latest foray into politics, a tilt at the Queensland seat of Beaudesert, looks set to provide ample fodder for future updated editions. The latest furore her candidacy has brought into the limelight concerns someone named John Johnson, some twenty year-old photos, and what seems to be a rather gung-ho approach to the business of newspaper editorial at the Sunday Telegraph. Unless you are blind, deaf and dumb or overseas you have probably heard about the story thirty-two and a half times already, but for mine the key contribution to the debate is this:

Sunday Telegraph editor Neil Breen said the newspaper was standing by the story and the pictures. The newspaper’s photograph experts had checked the images using computer software before they were published.

“You can see changes in the pixels … if they’ve been doctored, and they weren’t doctored,” he said.

He said the paper had given Hanson every opportunity to comment on the pictures before they were published, but she did not do so.

“It’s now a battle of he-said she-said,” Mr Breen said.

Well if the photos have been put through “something called Photoshop”, as Breen has painfully asserted, then that’s all right then, eh? Whether the photos are indeed shots of Hanson or not is one question. The fact that a stinking morass of doubt exists about their authenticity, however, raises some serious concerns about how this has unfolded. Hanson denies that the woman in Johnson’s photos is her, and has made a few decent points in the public domain supporting her case. Unless the Tele has some further information that not been aired yet in the public domain, it has published these photos on the word of just one man, and stunningly circumstantial evidence. The woman looks like she could be Hanson, and Johnson recalls the woman’s name to be “Pauline”. Is that really all they are going on? A name and a likeness? Could it in anyway be fair or just for a newspaper to publish photos of someone in a state of undress without proving beyond reasonable doubt that the photos feature who they think they do?

It is currently unclear whether Neil Breen and the Tele have been played like fiddles, John Johnson is just plain mistaken, or, in fact, the photos do feature Hanson and the controversial belle from Ipswich has purposefully or absent-mindedly put the whole episode behind her. What is clear is that regardless of her political views, Pauline Hanson has been needlessly burnt at the stake in the media once again, and it is looking likely that she will collect a swag of votes from a sympathetic electorate when this episode is finally done and dusted.

For once I am with Tim Blair and Andrew Bolt – whether they feature Hanson or not (and there is a decent chance they do not) publishing these photos was a mistake of diabolical proportions. The pursuit of a lurid exclusive has landed the Tele knee deep in excrement.