Clive Palmer has lashed out at his Palmer United Party senator Jacqui Lambie, calling her a “drama queen” and telling her to challenge his leadership or “get on with the job” of representing her voters.
After some time trying to avoid further inflaming tensions with the outspoken Tasmanian senator, Palmer today adopted a strategy of confrontation, issuing two statements attacking her.
The deepening row increases the prospect of Lambie splitting from PUP, which would make the dynamics of the Senate even more uncertain and volatile.
Palmer accused Lambie of being the mouthpiece of her chief of staff Rob Messenger, a one-time Queensland MP who defected from the LNP.
Palmer said the PUP executive had met in Wednesday and agreed to expel Messenger “on the grounds of making false and misleading statements about our senators”.
But in a statement this afternoon sent out by Messenger, Lambie defended Messenger and said she had asked all her staff not to be members of any party.
“I want a non-political office and Mr Palmer’s confirmation that Mr Messenger is no longer a member of the Palmer United Party saves him the trouble of resigning,” she said.
She was disappointed in Palmer’s personal criticism of Messenger, with whom she would continue working.
The crisis with Lambie has come after she threatened to vote against all government legislation unless it backs down on its intention of restricting the military pay rises to increases less than inflation.
She has also been critical of Palmer, telling the ABC this week “a party leader doesn’t always get it right” and “as soon as Clive Palmer is loyal to the men and women who wear the uniform for this country and is a little bit more loyal towards the people of Tasmania, then I guess I’ll meet him in the middle”.
Palmer retorted: “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”.
He said he was “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”. At no time had Lambie raised the ADF pay issue in the party’s proper forum, he said.
“Myself, Senator Wang and Senator Lazarus have all issued statements supporting increased conditions to our ADF – we have no disagreement on this matter,” he said. But “we aren’t prepared to give a blanket threat to vote against the Liberal government for the next five years. No such proposal has been considered in our party room,” he said.
Palmer said that “rational arguments rather than threats” were required from Lambie if she was serious about her party achieving the best outcomes for the ADF.
“Senators’ wages are paid with taxpayers’ funds and I would remind Jacqui Lambie that she was elected as a Palmer United Party candidate and she should simply follow party procedure. Her individual vote is insignificant unless she joins as a team in our bloc and, on the issue of ADF improvements, this can be achieved.”
Lambie seemed focused on her own quest from power rather than properly representing Tasmanians, Palmer said.
Her threats to vote against all government legislation over the defence pay deal were irresponsible. “One vote can’t block anything,” he said.
Lambie said on Wednesday that she had made a verbal deal with Palmer that she would not leave PUP unless she was asked to do so.
Pressed on how she would rate the performance of fellow PUP senators, Lambie said it was “probably a little bit early” to do so. “I guess we’ll see over the next few weeks,” she said. “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.”
She said if the party was going to survive “then they better come up with a bloody better plan of attack than what they’ve been using”.
In today’s statement Lambie said she would not be distracted by the internal row. “I’m disappointed that the political focus has been taken away from the Abbott government’s appalling management of the ADF pay and Xmas leave crisis – as well as the unfair financial deal my Tasmania has received in the mainland RET [renewable energy target] rip off and Bass Strait freight disaster.”
“Our critics will continue to attack my team personally, but they can’t attack the facts,” she said. She did not address in her statement Palmer’s challenge for her to run for leadership.