Full disclosure: I am a lapsed foundation member of the Palmer United Party. I became a member on May 22, 2013. I had been seduced by the appeal of Clive Palmer’s intellect; his passionate views on immigration; the idea of a party not run by lobbyists; a major alternative that didn’t carry the stigma of The Greens. So I signed up; I debated and defended his views and controversies; I claimed his views had changed since the days of ‘Joh for PM’. Sure, his opposition to the mining and carbon taxes were sticking points, but I felt confident that he would come around to the science of climate change. And when he won Fairfax with 3 Senate seats to boot, I thought we would see a new era of politics. The dawn of the minor party, bucking the trend and saying it like it is, led by a man who can play the game without sacrificing integrity.
Yet, a year after the election, I found myself staring at my membership renewal letter wondering what had gone wrong. Palmer hadn’t changed, his wide-ranging oration on the issues with the Abbott government were bringing more and more people to his side. Sure, his Q&A appearance had finished with an attack on those “Chinese mongrels”, but everything before that had spoken volumes to anyone watching. Following that ill-fated appearance though, Palmer was maintaining his image as best he could. His potential as the puppet-master of the Senate was becoming clear, the carbon and mining taxes had been dropped but he was utilising the balance of power to keep the government in check. So why was I disheartened?
The answer lay to the south, in the scarf-wearing bigotry of Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie.
It started with her defence of Palmer’s China tirade, claiming the Communist Chinese military were poised to invade and that the threat to western world “is at an unprecedented and historical high”. She soon followed this with her war on Islam.
Following the largest anti-terror raids in Australian history, Lambie was vocal in backing renewed calls from the far right for a ban on the wearing of burqas in public. Of course, it didn’t stop there. She was soon attacking sharia law, appearing on ABC Insiders and telling Barrie Cassidy that sharia “obviously involves terrorism”. In parliament the following day, she backed away from her comments for about five minutes before proceeding to double down on her hardline attack,
“It’s about time we faced the fact that these maniacs and depraved humans will not stop committing their cold blooded butchery and rapes until every woman in Australia wears a burqa and is subservient to men.”
Eager to make a name for herself as the Pauline Hanson of the Apple Isle, Lambie felt the need to laud Vladimir Putin for his strong leadership and great values. There is no way that Jacqui Lambie could not be aware of the discrimination faced by the LGBTI community in Putin’s Russia, but Putin is a man after her own heart, a regressive, far-right, former military homophobe obsessed with power and restricting the rights of those he feels threatened by.
Yesterday, Lambie released her draft bill to ban “full face coverings in public places”. Within hours, Fairfax had released details of a confidential ASIO report that said a burqa ban would likely lead to negative consequences for national security:
Any move in this direction would likely have negative implications, including increased tensions and distrust between communities, and providing further fuel for extremist propaganda, recruitment, and radicalisation efforts.
Lambie’s proposed bill would see on-the-spot fines of up to $3400. Anyone Lambie believes to have forced a woman or girl to wear a burqa would face a maximum fine of $68,000 or 12 month prison sentence. This is of course a direct violation of section 116 of the Constitution of Australia:
The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.
But then, that’s not Senator Lambie’s concern. She’s a warrior for freedom and liberty. She’s been told that the Qur’an states that the burqa is not a religious covering. She is set in her belief that it’s a weapon of the oppressors, an instrument of the patriarchy, and she is the great feminist liberator. Women need her to save them from their own ignorance.
It is important to note at this point that Ms Lambie is fiercely Catholic, refusing to visit a mosque on religious grounds; she espouses patriotism and defers to a higher power in many of her speeches, many times confusing the two as being one and the same. For Lambie, being a member of Team Australian means adhering to the morality of the Christian God, for we are a nation built on Christian principles.
Never mind what that pesky constitution has to say.
Clive Palmer has been extraordinarily muted throughout this whole ordeal, speaking out on occasion to remind people that only he sets PUP policy and with regard to Lambie’s private member’s bill, well,
“I haven’t seen it, I don’t know what you’re talking about … I haven’t seen anything about it, I havent heard anything about it, I would have to know about it before I could comment on it … I wouldn’t comment on it until I saw the legislation.”
Powerful words from the man who used his maiden speech in parliament to proclaim:
“Leadership, not complacency, is our need today.”
Palmer’s relative silence on the issue of Lambie’s Islamophobia has been deafening. His refusal to censure her on this has cost him credibility and popularity.
He spoke to Triple J Hack yesterday about the plan for PUP to block Christopher Pyne’s plan for higher education reform in the Senate, stating that education should be free. While the sentiment is admirable, Palmer fails to educate his own Senator on the art of finesse in politics and leaving your racism at the door.
Clive Palmer is a very smart man. A master at manipulating the media, he can effortlessly bring people around with his carefully scripted yet pleasant vagaries about some hidden socialist ideology. Thrusting Lambie into the spotlight worked for a while, but he now must consider his next move as PUP national leader. Jacqui Lambie went off the deep end and has been dragging his party down ever since.
Palmer no longer represents a change that I could believe in. There’s a part of me hoping that he does have a plan for dealing with this, but somehow I don’t think he does. The country, the party and the voting public need him to step up and shut Lambie’s racist hyperbole down. The longer it is allowed to fester, the more Clive Palmer has to lose and at this stage, he has lost at least one loyal supporter.