It’s a sad truth, but the word politician isn’t synonymous with integrity.
When we turn on our tvs or radios or pick up the paper, we’re more likely to be faced with another partisan scandal or tale of corruption than anything that makes us truly proud of our elected representatives.
But sometimes, rarely, there are notable and surprise exceptions.
When Jacqui Lambie entered politics as a member of the now derailed Palmer United Party in 2013, she was quickly dismissed as an unruly outsider. Prone to angry outbursts, Lambie was impulsive and seemingly ill-prepared for the rigours of political life.
By her own admission she was a “bloody wrecking ball”- perhaps symptomatic of how badly she sought to propel change and shape fairer policy in Australia.
As a single mother from a gravely disadvantaged background, Lambie’s perspective was markedly different from most others sitting atop Canberra’s Capital Hill.
Her openness in speaking about her story- her struggles with mental health, her son’s ice addiction, her troubled marriage- was a refreshing and sometimes disarming change from the overly manufactured responses we come to expect from politicians.
But she was also unpredictable, volatile- the risk of implosion never far from anyone’s minds.
When she was forced to depart politics in 2017 after being caught up in the citizenship scandal, she acknowledged and took accountability for such public perception.
“I just had no idea what I was doing. I’d come from 10 years, basically, between the bed and the couch and a couple of years in a psych unit. I thought I was fine. When I look back, I think: ‘well, actually, you weren’t bloody fine'”.
Her stint out of Parliament however, was potentially her biggest saving grace.
It’s hard to imagine that any of the major parties expected Lambie to make the comeback she did. But when she re-entered the Senate earlier this year, there’s no denying a new resolve was clear. Lambie’s mission was to hold colleagues to account while acting on her own agenda.
Unlike others sitting in the chambers, Lambie is deeply reflective about the pitfalls of her past. “If there’s one thing I’ve learned in life it’s that you need to keep the doors open,” she said earlier this year.
Certainly, in recent policy debates, she’s held to that line.
Open-minded and strategic in her negotiations with all major parties, Lambie has secured some momentous wins in just a short timeframe.
In September for instance, the Federal Housing Minister, Michael Sukkar agreed to write-off Tasmania’s public housing debt of roughly $230 million after Lambie agreed to support the Government’s income tax cuts package in the Senate in return.
She also held firm on her rejection of drug testing for all Newstart applicants- a controversial policy proposed initially by the Turnbull government.
Now, her latest play, regarding the proposal to scrap Medevac legislation, shows just how far Lambie has come as an effective and measured politician.
On Wednesday afternoon she publicly recognised the government’s objections to Medevac laws which give doctors greater autonomy in deciding whether refugees from offshore detention be moved to Australia for medical treatment.
But in a press release, the Senator stressed she would refrain from backing a repeal of Medevac if other conditions (currently not stipulated) weren’t met.
“I support the government’s position on Operation Sovereign Borders”, it read.
“I do not believe this position is undermined by the presence of medevac. But the government has made clear to me that it has concerns with the way that medevac is functioning. I recognise those concerns.
In recognition, I have proposed to the Government the only condition on which I will support the repeal of the Medevac legislation.
If that condition is met, I will vote in favour of the repeal of Medevac.
If that condition is not met, I will oppose the repeal of Medevac.”
STATEMENT ON MEDEVAC
In light of considerable community interest in my position on the Government’s legislation to repeal the Medevac provision, including the thousands of Australians who have petitioned me directly, I wish to outline my final position on the bill.#auspol pic.twitter.com/Ink1iBU4cn
— Jacqui Lambie (@JacquiLambie) November 27, 2019
While she’s yet to reveal what her condition is, most speculate that it’s to have the government accept New Zealand’s resettlement offer of taking 150 refugees currently languishing on Nauru. It’s an option so far rejected by the Coalition Government despite wide public support.
Clearly rattled, the government has remained quiet over Lambie’s ultimatum, with Peter Dutton telling 2GB Radio, it wasn’t something he could “comment on publicly at the moment.”
“I think Jacqui can support the bill and I think she should support the bill,” he added.
But clearly, the ball is very much in Jacqui Lambie’s court.
Irrespective of political persuasion, there’s no denying the evolution of Lambie over the past six years. When she entered parliament, she was ridiculed- perhaps fairly so. Now however, she’s consulting widely, negotiating expertly and putting pressure on those at the top to do the same. In my eyes, that can only be viewed as positive.