“What did I have to lose by trying?”
Former Tasmanian senator Jacqui Lambie’s life had taken a very dark turn before politics came into the picture. Now, in her own words, she opens up about her years battling alcohol, pain and depression
Former Tasmanian senator Jacqui Lambie reveals how one of her life’s lowest points took her on an unexpected path that led to Canberra and a dream career in Federal Parliament.
Some people might be excused f for asking ki how the hell did Jacqui Lambie become a politician, or even why she wanted to become one. For the political diehards out there, here is the answer: the idea first came to me while watching Parliamentary Question Time on the ABC, which I would come across every now and again while channel-surfing.
At that time, in 2006, I was off my head on medication a lot of the time (or even all the time, every day). I got lost between fantasy and reality. In between getting married to someone rich, loving and famous (or even without the famous bit), I started thinking in a real way about politics to do something about the treatment of injured veterans.
There I was, a single mum in Devonport with a buggered back and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) on my tail, watching Question Time and praying to God that one day I’d get elected. Good grief! It was one way to get through the day. My imagination could run wild and free, and I let it do just that.
What did I have to lose by trying? I dared to dream I could get into Federal Parliament and change laws regarding military compensation and rehabilitation. I had no idea about politics, but suddenly I was gunning for it.
While the DVA was looking for an admin job for me, I picked up the courage to go around offices in the town on my own. I approached all kinds of businesses; I couldn’t just set my eye on political offices, as there weren’t many of those in Devonport.
Well, no-one was interested in an ex-army bird who had been on compo for years. My life was in a haze. In 2007, I was caught driving while over the limit, and had my licence suspended for 13 months.
I blew 0.16. I guess I was doing that on a foundation of painkillers and other drugs, and must have thought I was invincible. It was another embarrassing detour in my life.
Then I plucked up the courage to go and see [then] Tasmanian Labor Senator Nick Sherry about making an application to access my superannuation. He listened to my story and my dream, and was able to get me the help I needed. I was also able to strike up a friendship with Mike, his office manager. One day, Mike said to me, “You know what? I’ve had family in the military. I want you to get a job, so I’m going to fly down the chief of staff. I’d love you to do your rehabilitation and return-to-work here.”
Following an interview, Nick Sherry’s office gave me work experience, which provided the opportunity of gainful employment in the future. So, you know who’s to blame! I checked emails, organised the mail, answered the phone, read the papers and cut out anything relating to Nick to send to Canberra that day. It kept me busy and I saw how a political office worked and ticked.
My work experience, and my budding career as an office girl, came to an end when my return-to-work program finished. I felt sad and I felt like sh*t. My back was not handling it. The pain was nine out of 10 most days and seven out of 10 after relief. The reality hit me that perhaps this was as good as it was going to get. I was beginning to see my future as not amounting to much at all, if anything.
I could not find a job. I asked the DVA if I could do more study after Nick’s office. DVA said “No”. Every way I turned, the outcome was the same: negative and rejected. Emptiness and numbness consumed me once again. The 12 months leading up to the fateful night in August 2009 [when I attempted suicide] was the absolute worst. Life revolved around watching TV – I went from bed to couch to bottle, to bed to couch to bottle, to bed, and so it repeated. Red wine was my favourite mate. My true mate. Yeah, some mate it is. It never argued (it never agreed, either), but at least for a short period of time it made me feel half human.
I would start with a glass of wine at 5 or 5.30pm, while I made dinner for the kids. At least I was still focused on healthy meals from one day to the next. My God, did I become creative in the kitchen! I’d make a good appetiser to brighten up the crap life I was leading.
I’d been dealing with serious depression and random panic attacks for the last two years. Most of the time, I was inside the house and did not suffer. But going to any place where there were lots of people, like a supermarket, it took off.
Medically I was standing still like some figure in Madame Tussauds wax museum. The only way I was showing I was alive was by popping pills that saw me stuck in time. I had no pain management specialist. I was drowning in my own self-pity and a complete failure. No matter how hard I tried or screamed or cried, it just wasn’t enough. I needed more or I needed out.
Fast-forward a few years to election day: September 7, 2013. I’d never had a plan to be a politician – no plan at all, to be honest – but here I was, my pain and my mind under control, a candidate for the Tasmanian Senate, voting at Council Chambers at 10am.
Not many people thought I could do it. The encouragement was always there, though Mum and Dad were especially concerned for my welfare if I didn’t get in. I was worried too – what job would I go for if I didn’t get elected? I had no qualifications – ironic given how I had rehabilitated myself with a political campaign. My gut feeling was the DVA would give me hell if I went back to them. They had already made it clear they didn’t think I was smart enough to go back to study, so I was stuck either way.
Then the Palmer United Party came out of the count with 5.6 per cent of the national vote. This gave the party – my party – one seat in the House of Reps, Clive Palmer’s seat in Fairfax, and three senators – including me. I was going to Canberra.