Jacqui Lambie’s yellow Palmer United Party scarf is gone.
Its replacement is a more subdued pink, but her message is as subtle as a pit bull terrier’s bite.
“I hope they realise I am a vote and my vote will count.”
The resignation of the outspoken Tasmanian senator from the party that bankrolled her campaign and won her 22,000 votes above the line on the senate ticket has thrown the senate process into even more chaos.
The consequences for Clive Palmer are bad enough. A third of his senate presence has scarpered from his kennel.
He tries to deny its import: “There’s no disarray. There’s just one member, the rest of us are getting on with it.”
In fact, it leaves two PUPs in the red chamber – one less than it needs to play a balance of power role in defeating legislation.
The other member of the Palmer bloc, Ricky Muir from the Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party, is proving unreliable. Last week he joined Lambie in reversing a Palmer-engineered compromise on the Future of Financial Advice laws.
That mess infuriated the government but it is probably an omen of things to come.
Adding to the Coalition’s discomfort, its Senate leader Eric Abetz isn’t in the best position to act as the pooper scooper. Lambie can’t stand her fellow Tasmanian: “I think I’ve made that quite clear – we don’t get on, full stop.”
Abetz is somewhat miffed. “I don’t know why she would say that. Personalities ought to be left aside. We’re here to serve the Australian people.”
He says he is willing to accommodate her desire to be treated as an individual independent: “as far as I’m concerned it’s business as usual in the senate”.
If by “business as usual” he means chaos then he is probably right. The vagaries of the senate voting system have thrown up a ragtag bunch of unpredictable micro-party senators and independents. There are eight of them. When Labor and the Greens combine, the government needs six to get its bills through.
For a short while it looked like Clive Palmer could deliver four of them. No more. And with that goes any real claim to be a king maker for the remainder of this parliament.
Surely on the agenda now must be reform of the senate voting system. Not to advantage the major parties but to ensure the will of voters is better expressed in the results.
Of course, it is in the interests of the Liberals, Labor, the Greens and the Nationals for reform and they have the numbers to push change through.
But the government is not willing to pull on a stoush with the crossbench when it still has two years of its term to run.
The uncertainty will continue and it seems voters aren’t impressed. If you can believe a Galaxy poll in the Daily Telegraph, 67 per cent of voters want an election now to clean out the disruptive senate. A breakdown of the results has 68 per cent of Labor voters and 70 per cent coalition voters calling for a quick, purgative vote.
Their wishes won’t be granted even though Palmer welcomes the idea.
“We’re happy to have a snap poll because we’d get a lot more senators.”
What emerges from the Lambie soap opera is yet another example of small parties being prone to break up.
Already this term, senator John Madigan has split from the Democratic Labor Party. Clashing egos and impatience with party discipline play a big part.
But the other reality is, independents and micro parties prosper when the major parties lose credibility. On that front there’s not much joy for the government in opinion polling for most of its first 14 months in office.