Some people see Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews as the odd couple of Australian politics. Photo opportunities — like shovel-ready infrastructure pictures — often act as the glue for these otherwise polar opposites in national affairs. But the seriously weird pair in politics right now is Pauline Hanson and Jacqui Lambie.
These renegade senators are instantly recognisable by their first names, and their visceral approach to politics. It’s an approach that’s unique in a world of white-bread MPs who have otherwise emerged through the ranks of the political class — either as unionists, staffers, or lawyers.
In the current Parliament, Hanson, the Queensland leader of her eponymous Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party, and Lambie, the Tasmanian maverick who is enjoying her third outing on the national stage, hold key positions in the Senate. As votes in the upper house get to the sharp end, Lambie and Hanson become particularly important. Either could be important hold-outs and the last woman standing.
Both senators entered politics fuelled by anger. Lambie was furious at the treatment she received from Veterans’ Affairs (VA), after being discharged from the army on medical grounds and denied compensation; Pauline was just angry with a world she saw as tilted towards the less deserving.
Lambie was full of vengeance, wanting to prove the VA wrong and, if she could, change the system. Hanson’s anger was fuelled by grievance, which was all too obvious in the springboard for her initial political success — a letter to The Queensland Times complaining about money spent on local Indigenous people in her adopted home of Ipswich.
Lambie is still fighting the VA, but is doing so in a more ordered, focused way — chasing change through determination and persistence. Hanson is still moaning about the way the First Peoples “cut in line” by receiving privileges she claims are not available to white Australians. Her latest stunt to make this point was a genuinely gormless attempt to climb Uluru, which the local custodians, the Anangu people, say will be prohibited from late next month.
Hanson has a very limited armoury when it comes to political tactics. She either takes sharp aim at minorities — shouting, 20 years ago, that Australia will be “swamped by Asians” — or pulls cheap stunts, like wearing a burqa into the Senate in August 2017.
Now, Hanson is prejudging an inquiry into family law in Australia, repeating the line that women in these fraught processes tell lies — a view she freely admits is rooted in the experience of her son Adam who had a bad time in the Family Court. More anger fuelled by grievance.
The government gave Hanson a bully pulpit on the issue by making her co-chair of the inquiry — a move many believe is payback for funnelling preferences towards the LNP in Queensland at the May election.
Meanwhile, Lambie is boxing smart in the way she approaches most political issues. She can be unpredictable but, unlike Hanson, she is focused more on outcomes. In order to overcome the government’s intransigence on lifting the Newstart allowance, she suggested increasing the hours recipients can work before they lose part of their payment. She is also staunchly uncompromising — as seen in her “quit or suffer the consequences” ultimatum to CFMMEU boss John Setka.
Notably, Lambie has a personal story that includes an attempted suicide, depression and chronic back pain; she also nursed her son through an ugly addiction to methamphetamine. All of this informs her political approach. In a profile in The Saturday Paper last weekend, her policy adviser Cameron Amos listed three things essential to understanding Lambie: “Jacqui backs the underdog. Jacqui believes in fairness. Jacqui is suspicious of power.”
If you were performing a political ultrasound on Hanson, you’d probably stop at one thing: Pauline believes she’s hard done by.
To paraphrase that genuine odd couple of the musical world — Mick Jagger and Keith Richards (AKA the Glimmer Twins) — Pauline might get what she wants, but Jacqui gets what she needs.