Last week Senator Jacqui Lambie rose to her feet in the red chamber and asked her first set of questions without notice. She was as wobbly as the wooden bike she would later be riding around the forecourt of Parliament, laughing just a little too much — but she wasn’t a disgrace, either, and there’s no reason she won’t get the hang of it. Yet she is rapidly proving to be the most visibly eccentric of the new crossbench senators, as her two PUP companions, Glenn Lazarus and Dio Wang, are relatively straightforward types, the staged victory hug at the carbon tax repeal notwithstanding.

Now she’s in hot water again for playing along with a Hobart breakfast DJ crew — isn’t that just about the most depressing phrase you’ve ever heard? — and telling them and their several listeners that her ideal man was one who was well-endowed financially and well endowe- oh for god’s sake, who had a big dick. After which, chaos erupted. For days it had become increasingly irritating that two stories — MH17 and Gaza — were crowding out all others.

That this became the only item worthy of adding to the roster, suggested that news selection had officially become insane. Lambie was slated for being a goose, for offending the dignity of blah blah, and — well, it wasn’t completely clear what the objection was.  Then inevitably, this being Australia, Sweden of the south, comment took a gender equalitarian turn, and Lambie was slammed for saying something that a man couldn’t say in the equivalent manner, and was it sexist to say this about a man, and was it encouraging sexism against women to say this about a man, and etc, etc. Every awful aspect of Australian cultural politics — the endless invitation to joyless self-censorship — was on display. The obvious answer to the conundrum was this: cultural power is not symmetrical, and a man saying he was on the lookout for a wife with an outstanding front bench fnarr fnarr, wouldn’t get away with it because women’s bodies are pre-objectified in our culture. It’s a little more complicated than that, since it’s about the straight gaze — I suspect Penny Wong could get away with some incorrect on-air musings if she were that type of person (which, of course, she isn’t).

“Cultural power is not symmetrical, and a man saying he was on the lookout for a wife with an outstanding front bench fnarr fnarr wouldn’t get away with it because women’s bodies are pre-objectified in our culture.”

But the main objection to Lambie, implicit though it was, was that she didn’t play the role of the politician in these situations, which is to be flustered. The breakfast FM appearance is a time-honoured enactment of the elite-popular split in Oz politics — having resigned ourselves to being ruled by a self-selecting caste, the mass of the population gets a taste of reverse power, of sorts, when pollies are embarrassed in pop culture situations. Lambie didn’t play that game, because she’s not from the political caste — she gave the answer a lot of listeners were probably giving back, jokingly, listening along in the car. The horror is not at the crudity of the remarks, the horror is that she didn’t see her role as being a stooge representative of Parliament, to the people it rules. For added giggles, the issue centred on a dick joke, and the phallus, as the locus of power, must be veiled at all times. Indeed the half-buried Parliament house is a veiled phallus. For $500, you can buy this topic for your cultural studies MA.

What it also shows is the way in which the arrival of the PUP senators and Ricky Muir has thrown the whole “elites” bullshit of the Right into sharp focus. For years, party and media members of the political caste have presented themselves as representatives of the masses against the elite, this line reaching its absurd heights with Nick Cater’s The Lucky Culture. The masses, we were told, were right-wing,  free-market, piously conservative and religious. And were happy to be represented by the likes of Miranda Devine.

Well, surprise. A few of the masses made it into Parliament, and they are nothing like the straw dogs that the Right had established. Their politics cleave to no simplistic Left or Right split, their manner is far from the petit-bourgeois fantasy of the Caters et al, and they don’t seem to be in a mood to conform to a deadened Australian political culture. So one cheer for them, however they got there, and whatever might happen. Anyone who really thinks that a senator giving a zoo crew as good as she gets hasn’t realised the degree to which they’ve internalised Australian political ideology.

Get Crikey for $1 a week.

Lockdowns are over and BBQs are back! At last, we get to talk to people in real life. But conversation topics outside COVID are so thin on the ground.

Join Crikey and we’ll give you something to talk about. Get your first 12 weeks for $12 to get stories, analysis and BBQ stoppers you won’t see anywhere else.

Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
12 weeks for just $12.