News & Current Affairs
14 January 2015
Jacqui Lambie ponders formation of political party
Senator Jacqui Lambie defected from the Palmer United Party in November.
Jacqui Lambie is considering launching her own political party, saying Tasmanians, Defence personnel, veterans and Australians from other states "keep asking" for a Lambie brand in politics.
Fairfax Media has learnt the firebrand Tasmanian independent has sought advice on forming a party and how to get candidates elected.
Asked whether she was actively working towards forming a party, Senator Lambie said: "Not this week, however it's a question that many Tasmanians and Australians from other states keep asking me.
"Many ADF members and veterans have asked me to form a party to help them, but I'll continue to advocate on their behalf for a fair pay rise as an independent," she said.
Senator Lambie, who defected from Palmer United in November, stressed that she "likes being an independent and putting Tasmania first" but conceded she has taken "lots of advice on a broad range of issues" when asked about the prospect of forming a party.
"For the moment I'm too busy with Tasmanian crises in unfair renewable energy costs for our high energy users and manufacturers, record youth unemployment, health services, education and Bass Strait travel and freight costs – to put energy into any new political party.
A political insider predicted a future Lambie Party would likely involve a name like "Tasmania First", reflecting Senator Lambie's strong local appeal, particularly in the north of Tasmania.
Glenn Kefford, a lecturer in political science at the University of Tasmania, said the notion of "Tasmania v the centre" would be a future Lambie party's greatest strength, but it would struggle to get a second senator elected at next year's election.
"There definitely seems to be something idiosyncratic about Tasmania when it comes to support for independents who play Tasmania off against the centre, people like Brian Harradine [the former balance of power senator in the Howard era]," Dr Kefford said.
A PUP source said the announcement of a Lambie party had been expected since she walked away.
Lower house Tasmanian independent Andrew Wilkie cautioned Senator Lambie on moving to form a party based on approaches from the community.
"I do not know if Jacqui Lambie has any interest in starting a party and I don't know what her level of support in Tasmania is. I do know that a high-profile independent will inevitably be approached by members of the community, locally and nationally about starting a party," he said.
"It's important for that person to keep their feet on the ground because a dozen or even a hundred approaches do not make a party."
As a member of Parliament, Senator Lambie is able to form a party without going through the process of proving 500 members and being approved by the Australian Electoral Commission like other grassroots parties.
Her crossbench ally since defecting from PUP, Nick Xenophon, announced he had formed the Nick Xenophon Team – to be known as NXT – at the stroke of a pen in December.
But Senator Lambie, who has referred to Prime Minister Tony Abbott as a "bare-faced, uncaring liar", is also understood to be wary of voting reforms being pushed by a parliamentary committee dominated by the major parties and an alternative option proposed by Senator Xenophon.
Both would end the controversial process of "preference harvesting" that has seen the rise of minor parties under the current voting system, including Motoring Enthusiast Ricky Muir, who won a seat after attracting just 0.5 per cent of the primary vote in Victoria.
Ms Lambie, whose profile has risen on controversial comments about Sharia law and calls to ban the wearing of the burqa in Australia, pulled a little over 6.5 per cent of votes in Tasmania and had to rely on preferences to hold off the Sex Party's Robbie Swan to get elected in 2013.
She said she will meet Senator Xenophon to discuss his threshold voting proposal, which would force voters to make their own preferences, eroding the influence of backroom deals pioneered by "preference whisperers" like consultant Glenn Druery.
"It's an issue that I'm considering. I'll form an opinion after I've had further face-to-face meetings with Nick and other crossbench senators," Senator Lambie said.
"I want an electoral system which will allow a fair go for ordinary, independent Australians to be elected to Parliament – not just those people backed by the big union or big business leaders."