It has been a big year in the Australian Senate with crossbenchers holding the balance of power on several key pieces of legislation.
JACKSON WORTHINGTON sat down with independent Tasmanian senator Jacqui Lambie to discuss the year of 2020.
What follows is a transcript of the conversation lightly edited for space and clarity.
JW: Do you have a highlight for this year in the Senate?
JL: The whole highlight was Teddy Sheean - getting that across the line after 17 years. Being asked to come onboard in that last five or six weeks when they just couldn't get it over and being able to help the guys with that. I tell you what they were starting to look a bit tired. For me, it was Teddy Sheean finally getting his VC.
JW: How about a low light?
JL: The low light would have to be COVID. Just in general, how it has affected tourism, small businesses, the pubs, the clubs [and] god I only hope we don't get a second wave come back through.
People are still trying to pick up the pieces but you can see that if we get a second wave come through it is going to finish off those small businesses.
IN OTHER NEWS:
The other thing was watching the elderly, because they are already isolated enough especially on the North-West Coast, but also watching the university students not handling it very well.
The biggest let down for me was that [university fee changes] actually got through and were legislated. It was a very sad day in politics for that one. Especially when some of the politicians up there got their university fees paid for by taxpayers.
JW: You've had a lot of votes this year where you have held the balance of power. How is your relationship with the government at the moment?
JL: My relationship with the government, always with the government, it sits on very tender hooks. Trying to negotiate a deal with them, I find it quite difficult to be honest. They will do everything they possibly can to do you over and undercut you.
That is the problem with them, and it is not a smart way to play politics, and I'm not the only one saying that either you will get that out of the other crossbenchers as well.
Has there been a particular moment when you've been proud to be a crossbencher this year?
For me, it is just a matter of working with the crossbench, especially with Centre Alliance - with Sterling Griff and Rex Patrick. None of us have a good relationship with One Nation but the three of us have the crucial vote to knock anything back.
JW: And how about with Labor?
JL: In my whole time up there I have never had a problem with Labor at all. I have just never had a problem with them.
They have been really good on the Veterans Commissioner, they have held off, they don't want that they want a Royal Commission which is more than I can say for the government.
I have got the crossbenchers holding there so the government and One Nation they might as well be just one because that is exactly what they are.
JW: It must have been good to see that that National Commissioner legislation didn't get passed?
JL: The whole thing is that they are still employing her but she hasn't been legislated to do it. So they have just gone out there and big noted themselves because they could have done it anyway. It is quite shameful what they have done.
You have to ask what are you big-noting yourselves for when you were going to do it anyway and you didn't even need a bill for it. I just find it really shameful what they are doing to veterans out there.
JW: So can we expect veterans affairs to be something you keep advocating for next year?
It is my background so it is second nature to me and right now we have got no choice because the suicides are going through the roof. I guess everyone has their pets up there and that has been mine from the start. That and members of Defence that are psychologically and physically struggling.
When you have the knowledge that I do, and I have been on both sides, and what I have seen it do to my life, my kids and family and friends around me you nearly know it back to front so I will continue in that area.
The other one I will be watching is the bloody cashless debit card. I will be right on the tail of it because I don't trust them.
Even though I have withdrawn my support for it, I will be the one spending five or six weeks [visiting trial sites] next year because I do not believe they can pull it off.
I will also be going up to Cape York because what they are doing up there is very different and they are having a massive success rate.
So I want to go and spend some time up there and see what they are doing.
JW: Is there any piece of legislation that you are really hoping to get through next year?
JL: I will be watching the COVID. Right now the interest payment [relief] is going to stop over the next month or so, you've got JobKeeper which is going to be fully phased out in March and then you've got JobSeeker which it doesn't, still, look like they are going to give them extra money which is really, really bothering me because those guys just can not live on [the old rate].
Taking them back to $40 per day is just not feasible.
JW: Is there any bills that you might be introducing next year?
JL: Not at this stage. Even if we do put out a bill they can hold it up for years, so you can spend all this time doing a bill and then they can hold it back.
We did one this year on political donations because we can see what is going on, what it is buying, what lobbyists get and how it actually affects legislation.
Legislation seems to be done these days not for what suits the country but for what suits their lobbyists and political donors. That is not how we should be running the country and that is half the problem up there.
JW: Where do you stand on the review of the Environmental Protect and Biodiversity Conservation Act?
JL: [I oppose] that at the moment because we don't have the Samuel review and [the Environment Minister] still hasn't released that yet. So it must be a bloody great review if she is sitting on it.
The other thing is, and we still don't have any answers, are you giving the states any more money to beef them up in that department when you are passing all this over.
[The states] can't do it now so how are they going to do it by taking on extra and as far as what we know they are not getting any extra money out of it or anything like that so we are really going to have to keep an eye on that.
JW: The other major reform that the government tried to push through late in the year was the Industrial Relations Bill, do you support that Bill?
JL: We want to listen to all the players in the game [and] we haven't been able to do that yet because that was released in that last couple of days up there and we were pretty flat chat trying to get through all the other legislation.
So I will be spending January speaking to the stakeholders and everybody else out there.
JW: Lastly, you reached out for public comment on the refugee phone bill, do you think you will do something similar again?
JL: It was a really constructive way to do it, it is a lot to go through though because I think we had about 100,000 replies. But, it was good and I think people really appreciated having their say.
I would imagine we will be doing it in the future. I wouldn't be surprised to see us trying to do it with the EPBC. Through it out there and see what they come back with.
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