THE NIGHTLY 3-MINUTE BIOGRAPHY: Jacqui Lambie, Senator and straight shooter

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Malcolm Quekett
The Nightly
4 Min Read
Senator Jacqui Lambie. Mick Tsikas.
Senator Jacqui Lambie. Mick Tsikas. Credit: The Nightly/AAPIMAGE

How to describe Jacqui Lambie?

Maverick? Fighter? Rough diamond? Unpredictable? Driven? Unorthodox?

What about straight-shooter?

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It is a description that might as well have been invented for the Senator from Tasmania, especially given the military background that helped to mould her.

Senator Lambie is the embodiment of the quirky, no-bull...t type that Australia seems to specialise in throwing into the political arena from time to time.

And, especially away from the inner city cafes and beyond the EV charging stations, her go-right-at ‘em approach has made her voice heard — literally.

It’s a voice that booms across the Senate chamber, at full volume and going louder, fired by equal parts anger and passion as she nails what she sees as the latest outrage committed by a member of the political classes.

Senator Lambie has spoken proudly of her Aboriginal heritage and the Jacqui Lambie Network site describes her history in a way that you can almost hear coming out of her mouth.

“I was born in Ulverstone, on the north-west coast of Tasmania,” it says.

“Dad drove trucks. Mum trained at the TAFE in Devonport as a hairdresser.

“Growing up, we didn’t have much, but we made do. Money was tight. We lived in public housing for a while. We didn’t mind though. You meet some characters, that’s for sure.”

NITV’s Living Black program with Karla Grant told how Senator Lambie’s parents separated when she was 13 and that she was considered a wild child.

There were brushes with the law before a gap year in the Northern Territory was “a real eye-opener”.

She went back to Tasmania, had her first child and then seemingly out of the blue joined the army.

“There was an army bus outside,” Lambie told the program. “I signed up on the dotted line.

“I was really lucky to get ten years in there.”

But that time soured after she received a serious back injury in 2000.

“They didn’t treat it properly,” she said. “I like many others . . . was just shoving pills down my throat so I still had a career.

“That caused the next 10 years of my life to be completely out of control, towards alcohol abuse, I couldn’t work . . . I couldn’t leave the house to go to the supermarket.”

She had a medical discharge from the army and even considered suicide before — by then a mother of two boys — she asked for help and managed to climb out of the spiral.

Fired by anger at the government’s treatment of military veterans, she decided to do something about it by running for office.

Australian mining billionaire and leader of the Palmer United Party (PUP) Clive Palmer speaks as PUP senators Dio Wang (L), Jacqui Lambie (2nd L) and Glenn Lazarus (R) listen as Palmer announces he had signed a memorandum of understanding to work together and with intentions Australian Motoring Euthusiast Party (AMEP) senator Ricky Muir to vote with the Palmer United Party in the Senate, in Sydney on October 10, 2013.  Palmer brokered a crucial alliance giving him the balance of power in Australia's new parliament, warning of a "very cold winter" if the government tries to cross him.  AFP PHOTO/William WEST
Australian mining billionaire and leader of the Palmer United Party, Clive Palmer speaks as PUP senators Dio Wang (L), Jacqui Lambie (2nd L) and Glenn Lazarus (R) listen. October 10, 2013. AFP/William West Credit: William West/AFP

In 2013 Lambie was elected to the Senate as a member of the Palmer United Party.

But she resigned from the party in 2014 after a falling out, sat as an independent and then ­founded her Jacqui Lambie Network.

Her early days in Canberra included attacks on Islamic Sharia Law and the Chinese government — some of which she has subsequently said she regretted.

There was an emotional speech about her 21-year-old son’s battle with ice addiction and she also spoke tearfully in defence of welfare recipients, about what it felt like to be at the “bottom of the crap pile” and struggling on a disability support pension.

“There was a time when my fridge broke. And for three weeks we lived out of an Esky,” she said.

“I put the Esky under the house so the ice would last longer,” she said. “It is not a choice for many of us to be on welfare.”

Cutting government support would “shameful,” she said.

In 2017 Senator Lambie discovered that her grandfather had not renounced his British citizenship, and so she was deemed to be a dual citizen — and ineligible to sit in Parliament.

Gone from Canberra she was left devastated, but picked herself up again and decided her journey was not over.

With precious few resources she started again from scratch — and in 2019 won back her Senate spot.

The voice was back, and memorably, in 2021, was thundering against the idea that people unvaccinated against COVID were discriminated against.

“Being held accountable for your own actions isn’t called discrimination, it’s called being, you wouldn’t believe it — a goddamn bloody adult,” she thundered.

“It’s putting others before yourself. And that’s what this country is supposed to be about.”

Although Senator Lambie’s former office manager and ally Tammy Tyrrell — elected to the Senate in 2022 — quit the Jacqui Lambie Network just before Easter to sit as an independent, the network is set to be a key player in the Tasmanian Parliament after the recent elections.

And Senator Lambie’s fierce commitment to veterans — which saw her a driving force for the establishment of the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide — remains unshakeable.

As she declares on her site: “The work to make sure the royal commission delivers results starts now.”

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