In any other week, Senator Jacqui Lambie’s resignation address to Parliament would have made front page news. Her record proves her to be a divisive, sensational and important parliamentarian. Yet, due to an over-saturation of political heavyweights leaving office in light of citizenship revelations, and amidst anticipation of a resounding yes in the same sex marriage postal survey, her sentimental and impassioned speech on Tuesday was lost.
This overshadowing comes with an edge of schadenfreude considering she readily admitted to supporting the No campaign during the survey. In her farewell speech, she assured the Senate that the Jacqui Lambie Network would hold to their promise of voting on the side of their constituents. With Tasmania serving the third highest percentage of Yes votes in Australia’s states and territories, this should mean an emphatic yes from Lambie’s team.
It was evident in her final address that what Lambie cared about most in her career was serving her community directly, and in particular, the people she considers vulnerable within it. This includes welfare recipients, veterans, pensioners and the working class, all of whom she refers to lovingly as “Aussie battlers”.
“I worked hard to be a voice for those who don’t often get much of a voice in this chamber” she told Senate. “I couldn’t help everyone who needed my help, it’s my greatest disappointment in my time here.”
She has experience of a hardship that the majority of her colleagues would not comprehend, having spent much of her life as a single mother on welfare. In her words, it was a life of choosing between spending welfare payments on “either school uniforms or school lunches”. In her first question to Parliament, back in 2014, she asked fellow Tasmanian senator Eric Abetz if he agreed it was his “incompetence” that has led to record unemployment rates in their constituency. This signaled a career of successfully undermining Government welfare cuts, and consistently voting in favour of industry growth.
Lambie’s legacy as a crusader against disadvantage was further emphasised on Tuesday in Senator Patrick Dodson’s “Galiya” or “we’ll see you when we see you” speech, in which he spoke to Lambie’s heritage, and how their collective work in representing the interests of First Nations Peoples must continue.
Dodson reminded the Senate that the deficiencies in Australia’s constitution extend well beyond this citizenship mess, describing a recognition of First Nations Peoples as an imperative for healthy governance. “Today it’s a reminder that [the Indigenous] side of Jacqui’s heritage is also being denied,” he said, “as well as her rights as an Australian who fought for this country.”
There is a remarkable irony in this citizenship debacle, as it seems to have most affected those “closed borders” policy makers and anti-Islamists, who have worked tirelessly in an attempt to impede immigration rights. Lambie was among fellow dual-citizens Fiona Nash, Stephen Parry and Malcolm Roberts to vote against closing offshore detention centres in Manus and Nauru. And like Roberts, she pushed for anti-Islamic policy such as a burqa ban, and a senate inquiry into “radicalisation”.
Lambie has been described as a darling of democracy in her non-partisan voting habits. But her negative fixation on migrant communities underscores the problems in independent members holding the balance of power. Her Islamophobic rhetoric has been so impassioned, her comments on Chinese and Indonesian “invasion” so indigestible, that it has cut a fatal wound into her objectives. One cannot claim to fight against injustices for the disadvantaged while simultaneously fighting to disadvantage some of our most vulnerable communities.
Even so, at her departure, her colleagues were near unanimous in their admiration of the former senator’s “authenticity”. Labor Senator Penny Wong said she was sorry Lambie had to go, tweeting “you’ve brought spark and passion to the chamber.” Despite Lambie’s outspoken anti-Greens sentiments, Greens Party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young wrote of Lambie that “she’s always been upfront about what she believes, passionate and is a fighter for her community. That’s what we need in politicians.”
Indeed, the general consensus seems to be that Lambie’s strength as a politician was in her very singular ideology, one that is tribalistic, centred in her own life experience.
In her farewell address, she indicates plans to return to the senate after renouncing her UK citizenship. “There’s so much more I wanted to do here,” she told parliament, “and I hope to get another chance.”
But if what she wants to do is encourage hyper nationalism through anti-migrant sentiment, there remains a question of whether her appointment in parliament might be more damaging than constructive. There is hope, however, that during this time away she has the impetus to further explore experiences outside her own.