Lambie has thrown her support behind Premier Will Hodgman and the Liberal Party, a move that would appear to put an end to the former senator’s image as an even-handed player who would take each issue on its merits.

But Crikey believes that all signs point to Lambie having given up on running as a true independent days or even weeks ago, as her sprawling Jacqui Lambie Network campaign was all but decommissioned at the end of last week. 

Last Friday, Lambie told Crikey that she had told her candidates to cease campaigning by Sunday. Lambie herself jetted out of the state on a book tour. The move is one of several unusual strategic decisions taken by the popular leader and her team, made over the past few days. Today, Lambie told Crikey that her instruction to candidates had been to stop campaigning if they were fatigued, or if they felt continued approaches were turning off voters — but to continue if they felt it was doing good.

Speaking on the popular Tasmania Talks radio show on Tuesday, Lambie said that if it came down to a hung parliament, “probably the best thing to do is leave Will Hodgman in there and continue through that way”. The remark set off a wave of anguish on Twitter and Facebook from supporters of Lambie who are Labor-aligned, but disdainful of its green and globalist turn. 

She reacted angrily to Crikey’s query as to the wisdom of this move, saying that people were sick of politicians by now, and that she could do everything she needed to from there. “I’ve told my team to stop campaigning by Sunday, that’s it, it’s over.”

Slowing down a campaign in the last days in Tasmania is not unusual; but for minor parties dependent on small vote wins in the Hare-Clark system, final face-to-face campaigning evens up the odds against major parties.

The move has a strategic value, only if potential right-leaning voters could be held by the commitment to back Hodgman. But the JLN has ditched much of Lambie’s right wing baggage — on Muslim immigration, terror and Sharia law — and played strongly to a Tasmanian Labor base.

However the Hodgman promise does offer one big advantage to Lambie — giving her a relationship to the Liberals as she heads towards the Senate election of 2019, where she hopes to regain the seat lost due to her dual citizenship.

Lambie’s spot was taken by Steve Martin, the non-wild and not-crazy mayor of Devonport on the north coast. Martin was hoping for a six-year Senate term; instead he got a “special”, which only takes him to election 2019.

Popularly elected in Devonport, Martin is a business-oriented civic booster, a cheerful self-promoter, and a champion of the “Living City” development, a four-part civic and commercial buildings development, the contract for ghastly-looking new civic offices having been won by the locally powerful Fairbrother group.

Many see Martin’s determination to take on Lambie in 2019 as delusional; incorrectly so. He would have powerful backers, a political network, and he will presumably be photographed cutting ribbons across north Tasmania for the next 18 months, as the pork begins to flow from an attentive Coalition government.

He’s a natural for Liberal preferences. If he fell short, they’d have a chance to take the sixth seat, ahead of Lambie. 

By then, Lambie may have trashed her maverick brand with voters — especially with announcements such as Tuesday’s Hodgman endorsement.

In the state election, the Liberals are hoping to retain their unusual 2014 result in Braddon, in the state’s north and west, when they took four of the five seats. Keeping them would be their best bet to stave off a hung parliament — especially against the JLN’s working class candidates in the seat.

Whether a last minute barnstorming by Lambie of the large area — from Devonport to Strachan — would have sealed the deal is unknowable. But it surely couldn’t have hurt, to say the least. And some campaign decisions have been bizarre: as when Lambie and three of the five candidates spent a day and a night on King Island — with 800 voters — last week, in the final days of active campaigning.

The intent to reach rarely listened-to voters was noble; but it had the effect of taking 60% of the Braddon team away from the 70,000 other voters and 20,000 square kilometres of territory the seat covers.

Hours after the Tasmania Talks comments, Lambie tweeted a partial walkback, noting,

When we see who is elected, who survived the chopping block and can act like an adult at the table, and that the people of Tasmania finally have the courage to put in some political police then the JLN will determine who is best placed to lead Tasmania forward.

However, an almost identical statement was texted to Crikey by JLN candidate Gina Timms as a direct reply to questions, suggesting that the JLN is operating in a more hierarchical fashion than it claims to be.

Crikey understands that Lambie’s late afternoon walkback came after Electrical Trades Union Vic head Troy Gray expressed his fury at the announcement. The ETU and fellow Vic union AIMPE together donated nearly $50,000 of the JLN’s total $180,000 election budget.

The ETU should have looked more closely at a couple of the network’s nodes. In Lyons, across the centre and east coast of the state, the JLN’s best bet is Michael Kent, a former head of Woolworths in Tasmania and the mayor of Glamorgan-Spring Bay Council on the east coast. Kent’s Liberal leanings are not in doubt; nor is his position on pokies.

Today’s revelations by Andrew Wilkie, that Woolworths is instructing its staff to encourage gambling in the 400 hotels it owns, will only fuel doubts about the unity of the JLN on pokies, which Lambie, and other candidates want out of hotels.

Lambie told Crikey that she believes Labor won’t keep its promises on removing pokies. “They’ll find a way out of it, they don’t want to piss off the hoteliers. It wouldn’t happen until 2023, and there’s another election before that.” 

But the Liberal Party, the gaming industry, and Federal Group, the pokies’ monopoly holder, would be comfortable and relaxed about Michael Kent slipping onto the green benches for the Jacqui Lambie Network — which would, of course, dissolve immediately.

Last week, Lambie told the crowd assembled for the Hobart launch of her memoir, Rebel With a Cause, at Fuller’s Bookshop — Crikey could not find a single actual voter for her among the 80-strong inner-city audience, though many claimed to admire her — that she was never going to stand in the state election: “I want to be back in the Senate, that’s where I belong”.

She may have got a little closer yesterday. Meanwhile, one can’t help but feel that her working-class candidates’ and supporters’ hopes may have been jettisoned somewhere over the Strait.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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