PUP Senator Jacqui Lambie entered the Senate as a political nobody on half a party quota and virtually no personal votes. In her short time there she has become one of our most talked-about politicians: the ignorance, the unveiled hostility to minorities, the unapologetic refusal to acknowledge when she’s stuffed up and the unfiltered relay of whatever is in her head to the outside world are all great fodder for a media used to dealing with constipated restraint.
Pauline Hanson is the obvious, if unsubtle, comparison. Like with Hanson, seeing journalists and commentators running rings around Lambie with their complicated questions like “what do you understand sharia law to mean?” is unlikely to harm her image among some sections of the electorate, the sections who saw in Hanson’s inarticulacy not ignorance and bigotry but an endearing authenticity unavailable elsewhere in politics.
The more the media piled in on Hanson, the more some voters loved her. The same will be true of Lambie.
But there is another parallel that makes the comparison more stark. Lambie’s role in Abbott’s war on terror is remarkably similar to the role that Hanson played in John Howard’s war on asylum seekers. Just like Hanson’s racism was a boon for Howard, Lambie’s outbursts are a positive for the Abbott government — allowing it to cast itself as sensible and moderate compared to the extremist Islamophobia on offer from other, more fringe political players.
But despite what Abbott would have us believe, Lambie’s bigotry (and that of Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi, a man with a genuinely weird obsession with Muslim women) is not some opportunistic hijacking of national security for the purposes of pursuing social policy fixations. It is latent in the narrative of Abbott’s war on terror.