In late March, ex-Palmer United Party (PUP) Senator Jacqui Lambie applied to register the ‘Jacqui Lambie Network’ (JLN) with the Electoral Commission. Party status grants electoral benefits otherwise unavailable to ‘independents’ such as allowing supporters to vote ‘above the line’.
Alongside the defection of Senator Glenn Lazarus from the PUP, Lambie’s move marks a milestone in the rapid decline of Palmer’s parliamentary balance of power.
Lambie’s move to establish the JLN came just five months after leaving the PUP, nineteen months after being elected to the Senate, and days after Palmer’s anti-democratic threat to instigate legal action to recoup the $2 million spent on her election campaign. The PUP grouping is now reduced to one representative in each house of parliament from an initial five.
In November 2013, The Socialist wrote that “[t]he real agenda of Palmer is pro-profit tax cuts… to support his business interests… This will conflict with the interests and hopes of those who voted for him and undermine PUP support at a certain stage.”
In order to get his way Palmer ran a dictatorial internal regime and has engaged in secret government deals. In fact according to Lazarus Palmer had even prepared a detailed plan to essentially on-sell his two remaining assets (Senators) to the Liberal government!
Lambie’s main slogan is ‘Putting Tasmania First’ (‘and… country right next to that’). As if to emphasise the narrow-mindedness of such parochialism, the JLN logo includes a map of Tasmania but overlooks King and Flinders Islands. But it is the Southern Cross constellation tattooed across the logo that points to the right-wing nationalist flavour of Lambie’s populist politics.
These include standing against so-called ‘Islamisation by stealth’ and the ‘imposition’ of ‘Sharia law’. Lambie even buys into the conspiracy theory that Halal food certification funds terrorist organisations. Her policies reek of the xenophobic, anti-migrant, anti-refugee and militaristic positions adopted by Pauline Hanson in the 1990s.
Lambie’s populism is also expressed in her opposition to university fee deregulation and low pay increases for defence force personnel. She also back flipped on the Liberal’s financial advice deregulation, which she originally voted for in line with a secret government deal with Palmer.
Despite mish-mash opposition to some government policies, Lambie is ready to work with the Liberals on large parts of their right-wing agenda. One example is her support for huge chunks of the government’s pro-business climate change policy. Economically, Lambie is arguably to the right of the Liberals – proposing profit-boosting, low-company-tax ‘special economic zones’.
The JLN, just like the PUP, will be wracked by internal contradictions. It will face similar issues to the PUP, but will possibly be less stable due its lack of a billionaire benefactor. We can expect internal stoushes and splits, should JLN gather any momentum.
The establishment of another right-wing populist group highlights the urgent need for a new left-wing party in Australia. A mass left-wing party based on trade unionists, environmentalists, young people and community campaigners would not face the same contradictions as the PUP and JLN. If it had policies to challenge the rule of big business it would be in sync with its voter base.
Just as John Howard absorbed most of Hanson’s policies in the late 1990s, both the Liberals and Labor stand poised to use Lambie to shift their policies even further to the right. While the JLN is likely to flounder, its policies may cast a much longer shadow. The time to establish a genuine political alternative to the major parties is now.
By W. van Leeuwen