Palmer United Party leader Clive Palmer has publicly labelled Senator Jacqui Lambie a “drama queen”, with internal tensions within the party appearing to be at breaking point.
The pair have been at loggerheads over the past week: Senator Lambie has threatened to vote down all government legislation until defence personnel are given a bigger pay rise, telling Mr Palmer to stop “sitting on the fence”.
“I am amazed why Jacqui Lambie is being such a drama queen when the Palmer United Party unanimously supports the ADF and opposes the government’s proposed pay structure,” Mr Palmer said in a statement.
“If what she says about being unhappy with her party’s leadership is true, she should make a challenge, otherwise get on with the job of representing the people who voted for her.”
After days of conflict, Mr Palmer moved on Thursday to expel Senator Lambie’s chief of staff, former MP Rob Messenger, saying everything she said was “really coming from her chief of staff”.
“Senator Lambie is simply Rob Messenger’s mouthpiece,” Mr Palmer said.
“Last night our executive met and we have agreed to expel Rob Messenger from the party on the grounds of making false and misleading statements about our senators.”
Mr Palmer also accused Mr Messenger of trying to start his own political party.
Mr Messenger has been working as Senator Lambie’s chief of staff since her election, but was previously a member of the Liberal National Party and an independent MP.
He also ran as a PUP candidate at the last federal election in the seat of Hinkler.
Mr Messenger said he was disappointed by the “personal attacks” on himself, but would continue to help Senator Lambie do her job.
“Jacqui’s my boss, the people of Tasmania are her boss, [and] I’m here to help her,” Mr Messenger told reporters in north-west Tasmania, as Senator Lambie watched on.
Senator Lambie said she did not realise Mr Messenger was still a member of the Palmer United Party, and it is better for him not to be.
She also fired back at Mr Palmer, saying he should speak directly with her if he has a problem.
“What I find insulting from Clive Palmer is now he’s starting to go at staff,” she said.
“If Clive wants to have a shot, let him have it at me.
“To go at staff – that’s a whole new low for Clive Palmer.”
Speaking with the ABC’s 7.30 Report on Monday night, Senator Lambie said she was unable to endorse Mr Palmer’s performance or that of her fellow PUP senators.
“One thing I won’t do is lie to the Australian people and I’m not going to sit here and make my PUP senators or Clive Palmer look good when I’m not feeling that way about them,” Senator Lambie said.
Former rugby league player Glenn Lazarus is the leader of the Palmer United Party in the Senate, while Dio Wang – a former CEO of Palmer-owned Australian Resources – hold’s the party’s third seat in the upper house.
Mr Lazarus said he was disappointed with Senator Lambie’s criticism of her colleagues.
Asked if he thought she would leave the party, he replied: “I don’t know, to be honest.”
“She hasn’t made any contact with me.
“Until we speak and sort out what’s going on, there’s not much I can do at this present time.”
Lambie wishes she never joined PUP
Senator Lambie said she does not intend to challenge for the leadership, but remained critical of how Mr Palmer was running the party.
“I have no doubts I could be a better leader than Clive Palmer,” she said.
“I’m just not sure that being a leader of Palmer United Party would be in my best interest.”
Senator Lambie said she now regrets her decision to join the party, and wishes she had campaigned as an independent candidate at the last election.
She said she “doesn’t have a choice” about staying, because she made a verbal agreement to remain a member of the team.
However, if Mr Palmer asked her to leave the party, she would.
“I’m actually surprised Clive hasn’t asked me to leave – let’s be honest,” she said.
Bookmakers are getting in the act, offering $1.58 on Senator Lambie resigning from PUP and $2.25 on her sacking
– with ABC