It seemed inevitable, and in the end it took less than five months to happen: Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie has left the Palmer United Party.

In July, Clive Palmer bestrode Australian politics. His bloc of four Senate votes gave him huge power to determine whether the government’s agenda was implemented or not. His polling was consistently strong, suggesting voters enjoyed his ostentatious style. He effortlessly set the political agenda, with a quip here, an insult there, always moving on to another theatrical announcement.

Back then, Crikey suggested Palmer might burn out and his party might fracture — and that’s exactly what’s happened, albeit more quickly than anyone expected. Before the year has finished, the PUP languishes in the polls even in Queensland, Palmer’s voting bloc is down to three — and perhaps not even that, depending on Victorian Senator Ricky Muir’s mood — and Palmer appears to have run out of stunts.

As for Lambie, she now faces a far more difficult environment, in which she will become a key vote for every single bill contested between the major parties and the Greens, pursued endlessly by the government, the opposition, lobbyists and industry groups.

Some politicians, like Nick Xenophon, cope successfully with this workload and attention. Others, like Steve Fielding, never do. Lambie proposes that the interests of Tasmanians will be her guide — giving voice to the quaint notion that what was intended to be “the states’ house” should indeed be used thus. If Lambie can free herself from the urge to regularly offer a Hansonesque commentary on race and religious relations in Australia, her role in Australian politics could become as significant as that of Brian Harradine, another Tasmanian independent.

Peter Fray

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