By Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra
JACQUI Lambie has finally quit the Palmer United Party but vowed to continue her opposition to government proposals for university fee deregulation, a Medicare co-payment and welfare measures that “hit the underdog”.
Lambie formalised the bitter break in a statement to the Senate this morning and a media conference later.
The Tasmanian senator said she was now free to negotiate with the government and others in the parliament on the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, the Renewable Energy Target and the unfair costs of transporting people and freight across Bass Strait.
She was free to vote in the Senate in the best interests of Tasmania. Being a member of PUP had prevented her from voting in a way that gave her state the best chance of becoming prosperous again.
She also issued a fresh appeal to Tony Abbott to reconsider the government’s “unfair pay offer” to Defence personnel.
Lambie has threatened to vote against all government legislation while it holds to its line on the pay issue – which, as the government shows no sign of moving, sits in contradiction to her saying she is free to negotiate on items.
Asked how she would achieve anything for Tasmania if she voted against every piece of legislation, she said: “I haven’t had anything come up so far that is going to have a positive effect for Tasmania that the Coalition has brought to the table. I’m quite sure they realise now that I am a vote and that my vote will count and I hope they come to common sense about it.”
Her quitting PUP means the party no longer has the numbers in its own right to block legislation in the Senate. That weakens Clive Palmer’s power considerably.
At the weekend Palmer accused her of having been planted in PUP to disrupt it, although he did not know by whom. He also labelled her dishonest.
Lambie said she did not “have the time or the energy to be drawn into a political mud-slinging contest”.
“Mr Palmer has been blessed and graced with great wealth and power by God. He has a wonderful opportunity to use that great wealth and power to do a lot of good for many Australians.
“After these political matters settle, there will be many opportunities for us to work together in the national interest. I wish Clive and his beautiful family, staff and friends all the best.”
She said the crucial factor in her decision to leave PUP was “because there was an overwhelming support from Tasmanians to do that and Tasmanians are my boss”.
She ruled out starting her own party or joining another – “once bitten, twice shy”.
The fragmentation of PUP and Lambie’s current stand against government legislation make the Senate situation even more difficult for the Coalition.
Asked how she got on with the government Senate leader, Eric Abetz, Lambie said: “We don’t get on, full stop.”
Abetz told the ABC every senator should bear in mind that there was a task to be done on behalf of the Australian people and “whether they like somebody or don’t like somebody should not come into the equation”.
Abetz gave no ground on the defence pay issue. In relation to the difference Lambie’s defection would make, he said: “As far as I’m concerned, it is business as usual. We will deal professionally with each and every individual crossbench senator…”
Michelle Grattan does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.