SHE jumps in boots first and then uses her gut instinct and relentless passion to make things work.
This is the thread throughout Jacqui Lambie's recently released memoir, Rebel with A Cause, and it gives insight into the workings of an active and ferociously honest mind that at first bewildered and then amused the Australian political scene, and finally made it sit up and listen.
"Yes, I do tend to jump in,” Lambie said from her home in Burnie in Tasmania on the eve of the state election. "I wouldn't advise everybody to do that though. I do it because I don't have certain skills and the only way for me is to jump in if I need to be there and work it out from there.”
Lambie has never been the norm in Australian politics. During her time in Parliament she was the most genuine but spontaneous voice in the Senate, something disquieting but refreshing and something she admits to easily.
"When I first got up there I was a wrecking ball,” she said. "But I changed things. Normal people like me belong in the Senate. We have a place there.”
Lambie has always stood out, even in childhood and adolescence. The no-nonsense working-class Tassie girl left school in Year 11 and joined the Australian Army at just 17. The Army wasn't planned, just happened when she and a few girlfriends spotted an Army recruitment van in the carpark of their local Centrelink. They made a girly pact to join up together but when Lambie had completed and signed her forms, she discovered her friends had bolted. The recruitment officer would not let her backdown and so as a naïve teenager she found herself in the Australian Army, at first in the transport corps and then in the military police. For the first few months during drills, exercise and parades she threw herself into hard work. Without knowing she was pregnant.
After that shock she then spent two years in the Army as un unmarried mother, and in typical Lambie form, had many a run in with Army hierarchy (throwing a punch at an officer) before she fell in love with a sergeant who fathered her second son, Dylan and treated her first son, Brentyn as his own. Their relationship lasted five years.
It was on a military skills competition that Lambie suffered a horrendous back injury which eventually caused her to be discharged from the Army as unfit with spinal neuralgia.
The Department of Veterans' Affairs (DVA) refused to believe the military skills competition was the cause of her back injury and declined to pay for her treatment. This led to a bitter 10-year battle with the DVA which left Lambie depressed, addicted to pharmaceuticals and alcohol, which finally led to an attempted suicide.
"Pharmaceuticals only cover the pain, they don't get rid of it,” she said. "They don't help, they lead to other health ailments, and you can explode like a bomb. If you can avoid them, stay away. I went cold turkey off everything but that knocked my system around and I ended up with chronic fatigue.”
For a painful decade Lambie stumbled in a fog from doctor to hypnotherapist to psychiatrist to chiropractor, but never found permanent relief. She eventually took the DVA to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and was finally paid compensation.
It is this fighting and never-give-up spirit that eventually led to Lambie entering politics, mostly, she admits, with vengeance in her heart to get back at the DVA, but also with a determination to prevent others experiencing the bureaucratic-inflicted torment she was forced to survive.
"It was a long fight with DVA,” she said. "If they had done the right thing earlier on, we could have had this fixed within a couple of years.”
Lambie has been a tireless and effective campaigner for the things she passionately believes in, including the scourge of ice addiction which affected her son Brentyn (now rehabilitated.)
"When you've been through your own life experiences, you should use them as strengths and try and do everything you can,” she said. "The ice (scourge) is about kids. I am worried about where they are going, worried about the new batch of kids aged about 25. There is not the discipline today that we had. When we came home from school we were told to take off our uniforms, go out and play until dinner and then after that we did our homework for half an hour. That was structure.”
Surprisingly, Lambie still has a soft spot for Clive Palmer who she says saved her after the Liberal Party had rejected her and she had used all her savings to run for the Senate in 2013. A phone call from him resulted in her joining (briefly) the Palmer United Party.
"He gave me a lot of opportunity, I will be grateful to him,” she said. "But his advice is not always right. His way of dealing with things is different, he is used to throwing money out there, I don't have that, I walk on integrity.”
Her shock resignation from the Senate late last year after discovering her Scottish born father had not renounced his citizenship and she too had become a victim of the dual citizenship saga, was just one more devastating blow in a life filled with traumatic setbacks.
However, despite being almost penniless now, she sees this as just a blip, and she is determined to come back.
"I've sold my house before and I'll do it again if I have to,” she said. "I don't care about material stuff. I know what it is like to be broke. I'm doing a lot of (unpaid) work with the state election. The dual citizenship came out of left field. You can harden up and get on with it or not. I'll worry about money after the election, it doesn't need to be dealt with now. This is where I put my faith in God, although I could be swearing at Him later.”
Lambie's memoir is not a political book, it is the story of her life as an ordinary working-class girl from Tasmania, her journey through the Army, her enforced medical retirement, her fight to get adequate treatment and compensation, her battles with addiction and depression, her struggles to raise two boys as a single mother, the slow rebuilding of her life, and finally, her roller-coaster ride as a politician. Throughout the chapters in her book one thing is clear, Lambie has retained her spirt and sense of humour.
"I feel there is a fondness for me now around the country,” she said. "In the beginning I might not have had the right advisors. I had not worked for 13 years (before entering politics) and I was still taking some of the anger out on Veteran Affairs.”
As for the Barnaby Joyce affair, naturally, she has an opinion on that.
"That tap's been dripping for too long, not handled well,” she said. "He needs to step down, get to the back bench and sort out his personal life.”
Rebel with a Cause
By Jacqui Lambie is published b Allen & Unwin and in bookstores now.