Driving with Jacqui: an afternoon with Senator Lambie

Dana Morse is studying a Bachelor of Media and Communications at Deakin University. Originally from Tasmania, she recently spent time with Senator Jacqui Lambie.


Waiting at my family farmhouse for one of Australia’s most notorious politicians to swing by is not something I planned for on my quick trip home to Tasmania. I recently started as an intern with the Footy Almanac, and in a conversation with John about what I’d find interesting to write about, Jacqui’s name came up. We are both intrigued by her approach to politics, and the magnetic effect she has had on some Tasmanian voters – certainly enough to get elected to the Upper House.


John said he would make a call to try to set an interview up, but I was honestly doubtful. I am an unpublished, unaccomplished university student and aspiring writer, so I couldn’t see Jacqui agreeing to be interviewed by me. But, after a fluke conversation with Jacqui’s office in Burnie, I was all set to interview her that very weekend.


The Saturday morning I was set to interview Jacqui was a typical Tasmanian autumn day – absolutely pouring with rain. My Mum and Dad were wandering the paddocks herding our small flock of goats when Jacqui Lambie’s huge white four-wheel drive tracked up our muddy driveway, the JLN branding emblazoned across it.


Jacqui chatted briefly to my Mum about the trouble with livestock and promised to have me home mid-afternoon. Then we started on the winding roads to Sheffield. I don’t think I had been in the car with her five minutes before she had dropped a few colourful words, for which I was surprisingly grateful. She made me relax.



I asked her why she agreed to be interviewed. “Well I knew I would be driving past your house,” she said, “and I just thought it’d be a good day for it. I like to help people out.”



I had a list of prepared questions as long as my arm, and had spent the two days since the interview had been confirmed practising them in the mirror, on my mother, and to the dog. However, I barely needed them as Jacqui possesses a rare talent for unbridled conversation, and over the day my questions would be answered – and then some.



Before this road trip I had found Jacqui Lambie to be one of the most intriguing politicians in Australia. She is unconstrained by a major political party, so she is free to evaluate every issue as she views it, and as her constituents view it, and she can give her honest opinions without the fear of backlash. Other than from voters.



However, the most important thing about understanding Jacqui is understanding where she comes from. Burnie is not a wealthy area, and Jacqui has seen firsthand the struggle of the everyday Tasmanians, both as a child when she was growing up and as an unemployed single mother with an addiction to prescription pharmaceuticals. She is an imperfect politician, which is a breath of fresh air for most Tasmanians who feel they aren’t recognised or represented by the slick, clean-cut, smooth-talking, white collar political establishment in Canberra. Jacqui Lambie is real to locals Tasmanians. They identify with her; they relate to her.



I found it surprising how open and kind she was to me and the people around her, especially given that she is often represented as intolerant in the media. When talking to her about how she has been represented in the media in the past, she said:


“I think the media are waking up to themselves and giving me a fairer go. I don’t think I helped myself out with the media [in the beginning], but I’ve learned a lot. I like to be self-taught and go and work it out Jacqui Lambie style.”


“You can try and script me and do whatever you like, but there’s no point. I don’t have the memory for it because of my addiction to pharmaceuticals. I need to understand the topics I am talking about and talk about it my way and how I see it.”


While winding our way along the road to Sheffield, I began by asking her about her military service, and how her experiences with the Department of Veterans Affairs and her subsequent addiction to painkillers and attempted suicide had shaped her political career. People – especially in public life – often shy away from these types of uncomfortable questions, but Jacqui lent into them. She is unashamed and unafraid to use these dark times in her life to try to create better outcomes for other veterans.


Unsurprisingly, it is her military career that has spurred Jacqui on to a life in politics, after she admitted “feeling guilty” about never seeing active service due to her back injury. She feels that, although she couldn’t help her fellow soldiers out in service, she can try to make things better for them once they return home.



We arrived in Sheffield amidst the hubbub of the Mural Fest on its last day. Sheffield is the kind of town that travel guides say has “old-school charm” and locals say is just plain “old-school”. It’s a sleepy little place around an hour’s drive from Cradle Mountain, nestled in the foothills of Mount Roland with some of the most picturesque views in the state. The locals are mostly farmers, or tradespeople, and while Sheffield is beautiful there are tell-tale signs of economic decline. More shop facades are closed than open, and the only booming businesses are the general store and some local cafes. There is very little opportunity for young people here, which is why most of them leave.


The Mural Fest is a week-long competition where local and international artists attempt to finish an entire mural in one week, which are then auctioned off to members of the public. It is one of the big events that draw people the world over up into the mountains for the chance to peruse some potentially famous art, and this year Jacqui is the ambassador for the event which is why we are stopping by.


We wandered through the galleries and marketplace, with Jacqui snapping photos of every mural and artwork we passed. It became very easy to talk to her – when I could get a word in between the locals sidling up for a chat. It has been a long hard road to political success for Jacqui, having to sell her house to fund her campaign, and then, after being picked up by the notorious Clive Palmer, striking out on her own as an independent. I asked her about her experiences with Clive. “I still have a great relationship with Clive,” she explained. “We talk now and again. Just because I didn’t agree with him politically doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate everything that he did for me and everything that I learnt from him.”


Walking into a popular local café, Fudge ‘n’ Good Coffee, Jacqui ordered us coffees and some of their world-famous fudge before sitting at a table in the corner of the room. A local couple began talking to Jacqui about their daughter who had recently moved away to go to university.


“Good on her,” Jacqui congratulated them warmly.  “What an amazing opportunity. She’s just putting herself right out there.”


This was one of the most surprising parts of my day with her, the way that locals would strike up a conversation with her as if they’d known her their whole lives, and the genuine warm-heartedness with which Jacqui talked to them.


I wanted to take the opportunity to quiz Jacqui on some of the more sensitive topics on my list as a morning of listening to the trademark raw Lambie honesty had buoyed my confidence, and I figured if strangers on the street could approach her so could I.



We chatted about feminism, a term she has said she “doesn’t like” in the past. I pointed out that some of her life experiences were intrinsically feminist, like being a woman in the military and raising her two sons alone, and she pointed out that coming from a military background meant she had been taught to work hard and do the best that you could – and opportunities would be given to you regardless of gender. She applies the same principles to her politics, which is why she is constantly on the road.


After our coffee, as we were walking the main street of Sheffield, I asked Jacqui what her vision was for Tasmania in the future. “I think we can have sustainable forestry in Tasmania,” she said, “but I think that we’re underselling ourselves. We can be more than chipped wood…There are so many different opinions about forestry. You would have seen it [growing up], so many people have lost their jobs. It has been just horrific. We need to be doing more to create opportunities down here for young people and give them a reason to stay.”


That resonated with me. The lack of opportunities in Tasmania is what led me to move to the Melbourne. Having seen her own son Dylan become hooked on the drug ice and struggle to break free from his addiction, Jacqui believes that creating more opportunity for young people in Tasmania to live and work in the place they call home is an important part of eradicating the drug from our society. While Dylan is now in recovery from his addiction, thanks to the work done by Teen Challenge, Jacqui believes there is much more that the government could be doing to help young people stay away from drugs by providing them with opportunities.


“There is a lot of pressure on them and you have to ask where that is coming from. When I was growing up if you didn’t go to university it was no big deal, you moved on and you got a job. Those jobs aren’t around anymore, and we have all these kids going onto university that aren’t going to do any good at it. You’ve got to make sure there are jobs available for them, because they’re still trying to figure out where they fit.”


Her passion for providing young people with these opportunities is admirable but, she says, largely unsupported by the current government.


The more questions I asked Jacqui, the more I realized that all her political decisions come from a place of empathy and compassion. This may be hard to rationalize with the Jacqui we see on television sometimes, shouting down questions about Muslims and Sharia Law, but Jacqui is the sum of her experiences. Unfortunately, she hasn’t always experienced Muslims in a positive light, and while it doesn’t make her views on some subjects excusable, it does make them explainable. She was a solider, so she fights for veterans, the mother of an addict, so she fights against drugs. At the heart of it all she is a Tasmanian, fighting for Tasmanians who rarely get the representation on the national stage they deserve, and to me that explains the allure of Jacqui. That is the reason people earnestly approach her in the street, wanting to shake her hand and tell her she is “the best bloody politician this state has got”. She is one of them, and proud to be so.


During my time with Jacqui I felt I had seen a very different side her – one you don’t see splashed across the pages of the Herald Sun because the Jacqui I got to know is not nearly as sensational as they want her to be.


Eventually Jacqui dropped me home, a little later than she had promised my mother. It had been a great day.


She stayed for a chat and a pat of my dog.




  1. Neil Anderson says:

    Really enjoyed reading about your time spent with Jacqui Lambie. Your article was informative and flowed very nicely. You are a good advertisement for Media and Communications at Deakin University. I will forward your article on to my wife who works in the Language and Learning area at Deakin and I’m sure she will agree that it was a fine piece of writing.

  2. Hi Dana
    I really enjoyed this so much. You have a really engaging writing style and a great eye for the little things that matter when writing a profile of someone. All the best for your future – say gday to your wonderful mentor JTH.
    All the best

  3. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says:

    Dana, this piece would sit comfortably in any weekend newspaper. Well played.

  4. Dave James says:

    As an expatriate that is still very interested in the lives of our political figures I find myself being drawn more and more toward those that are “real and genuine” like Jaquie. Thank you for writing a great article on her and giving an insight into the persona of a very dedicated and hard working senator.
    Keep up the great work and always report/write in your honest and readable style, well done.
    Dave J from Dubai

  5. David Squibb says:

    Well done Dana ,
    Your article was insightful about the “person” that Jacque is , and how she is portrayed as a politician.

    Congrats also on the internship , great to see a Latrobe girl going places.

    Regards David Squibb

  6. Elegant and thoughtful piece of writing Dana. More please. Having worked in different aspects of politics in Canberra in the 80’s and 90’s I was struck by how many “good blokes/folks” were on other sides of politics than my own. As you found the.”behind the scenes” views are nowhere near the sterile and fatuous positions that 30 second media grabs and polling based policy forces on otherwise decent and intelligent people.
    I came to think that there were 2 broad types of pollies – retail and wholesale. Good retail pollies like Jacquie readily empathise with the individual dilemmas of communities and people. They struggle with thinking through the consequences of systemic responses. They ignite flames that alert us but can turn into bushfires.
    Wholesale politicians can seem aloof or callous, but are aware that a broad response has flow on economic and social consequences. We need both types in a healthy polity.
    Onya Dana and Jacquie.

  7. Congratulations, Dana.
    Thought-provoking and empathic writing.
    We have probably all found that most people are fine people in a one-on-one setting.
    Agreeable, interested, engaging; and with their own story. Their own points of view, informed by their personal story and experiences. It makes sense.
    But this is not well portrayed in traditional media – with it’s consideration for sensationalism -to-lure-paying-eyeballs.

    Your piece could stand as a reminder to everyone that we should “Seek first to understand.”
    Keep up the writing.

  8. Once Paul Keating called the Senate “unrepresentative swill”. Indeed it intrigues me that my home town of Greater Newcastle NSW has more people than all of Tasmania, but no local Senators. Jacqui Lambie is the best illustration of the value of this side of Federation. She would never have emerged from either LibNat or Labor parties, she is too honest for the traditional political culture (“whatever it takes”). She has been though a difficult life, and it shows in her blunt attitude and real compassion. Thanks for a very readable and positive article. Maybe there is hope after all.

  9. You’re very lucky Dana. I find Jacqui Lambie one of the most refreshing politicians we have. Open, & honest, with an astute BS detector. And she suffers not fools. I suspect you passed the Lambie Test. Or at least your dog did.

  10. As an adopted coaster moving from Hobart, I always viewed the area in a positive light – ‘can’t be that bad up there’. Recently moving here has been pretty tough. The more I’ve listened to Jacqui and the more I’ve lived my life, I’ve grown a bit of admiration – more so than I had prior to moving to Burnie. I may not agree with some of the things she says, but she did the job she was elected to do better than most – and that’s stand up and represent her electorate.

  11. She’s honest; a rare thing i a politician. It should be celebrated.

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