Contrasting populisms: Lambie’s labourism and Hanson’s opportunism

Contrasting populisms: Lambie’s labourism and Hanson’s opportunism

The Australian Left are keen to conflate the anti-politics offered by Jacqui Lambie and Pauline Hanson. While they share similar cultural prejudices, they could not be further apart in their material solutions.

Submitted by Is There No Al… on February 14, 2017

I mean, here’s this guy, [Richard] Di Natale, does his own photoshoot for a magazine [GQ] wearing a skivvy and suit worth thousands of dollars...what’s that say to the battlers? That’s bullshit.” - Jacqui Lambie [1]

At a parliamentary lunch break I attended last year after the passage of the Steel Industry Protection Bill in the NSW Legislative Council, Greens MLC David Shoebridge made a snide comment about Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie’s Islamophobic comments. An Australian Workers Union job delegate immediately retorted Shoebridge, defending Lambie as "good quality."

Why bother being clued in to such observations? It is important to analyse the appropriated political expressions of the working class so that revolutionaries can identify how the masses relate to their own material situation and why certain figures, like Lambie and One Nation's leader, Pauline Hanson, have assumed the mantle of the working class’ representation (the ‘working class’ being meant in the expansive sense, which includes lumpenised surplus population, unwaged domestic labourers and the precariously underemployed).

Comparisons between Lambie and Hanson are rife in the liberal media establishment, with similarities usually being drawn between their shared cultural prejudices of Islamophobia and homophobia. On the question of economic policy though, they sit on vastly opposed poles. While Lambie holds true to the 1950s tripartite, Hanson clings to the dictates of trickle-down economics.

Jacqui Lambie, a sincere manifestation of the archaic values of the militaristic nation-state, echoes the golden nostalgia of Ben Chifley’s post-war reconstruction. Her vision for Australia is wrapped up in the whiteness of the nuclear family, Fordist employment, suburban tract-housing and commodity unionism.

Lambie spent her childhood in a public housing estate raised by her single mother before joining the Australian Army. After her service, she became embroiled in a dispute with the bureaucratic, inept Department of Veterans’ Affairs in 2001. She was placed under intensified surveillance and had her military pension cancelled and public coverage of her medical care withdrawn. The dispute cast her into a depressive spiral in which she became addicted to painkillers and attempted suicide by walking out into open traffic. She eventually received compensation from Veterans’ Affairs in 2006, triggering the catalyst for her entry into Australian politics. [2]

The left unions like the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union [3], Maritime Union of Australia [4] and Electrician Trades Union [5] have given Lambie more than tacit endorsements. Her anti-ABCC stance (at least on the precondition of a Independent Commission Against Corruption), support for government procurement of manufacturing industries, international finance regulations and the proposed institution of an estate tax (which she nicknames a "super rich death tax") [6] arguably establish her as one of Australia's most economically left-wing federal senators (probably running a close second to the Greens’ Lee Rhiannon). Her Listian approach to finance and trade and her proud reprisal of nationalism position her as Rosa Luxemburg's binary opposite.

As a petite-bourgeois small capitalist, on the other hand, Hanson’s demonisation of unions is reminiscent of her homestate's former premier Joh Bjekle-Petersen circa the 1985 SEQEB dispute. Not withstanding their similar reactionary tendencies, Lambie by no means shares Hanson’s anti-unionism. Lambie’s coalition between conservative cultural values and trade unionism is not incompatible and bares historical precedent. After all, the leadership of the Australian trade unions initially fought for the White Australia policy by pitting the ‘yellow peril’ of Chinese migrant workers against their Anglo-Celtic, rank-and-file counterparts. [7] Especially in Queensland, the trafficking of Kanaka slave labour initiated in the mid-to-late 19th century lowered the domestic wage of white sugar workers, engendering backlash from the new Labor parties and trade unions against the imported flow of ‘coolie’ labour. The Australian capitalist class funnelled this discontent-from-below within a chauvinistic, racialised framework, as opposed to a materialist one, which the self-appointed facilitators of the working class followed. Thus national loyalty won over class unity as the white union officers argued against forming solidaristic bonds with the striking Kanakas, suggesting it would ‘pollute the freedom’ of the union movement. [8]

It was the trade union bureaucracy that historically aided the establishment of the White Australia policy, granting a nationalist smokescreen to Bjekle-Petersen and the surge of the New Right in the future. Therefore it is ironic that it was folks like Sir Joh and the Liberal-Nationals Coalition, backed by a coterie of international finance, fossil fuels transnationals and middling small business owners, that cracked-down on any type of industrial disputes. From SEQEB to Mudginberri, from Dollar Sweets to Pilbara, the limited agency of rank-and-file militancy, still held in the wings of the commodity-union apparatus, was atrophied. This diminishment was initially achieved by Sir Joh through enforcing no-strike clauses and by legislating the Essential Services Act after the Queensland energy bubble collapsed in 1984. [9] On a federal level in the same year, Labor Prime Minister Bob Hawke established the Prices and Incomes Accord which neutralised the potential class antagonisms of trade unions, consolidating the ‘power-without-glory’ bureaucratic leadership and capitulating the union rank-and-file to the free market. [10]

Hanson invokes the rhetoric of the social contract under Liberal Prime Minister, Robert Menzies, and makes comparative appeals to the ‘forgotten people’ of Australia; this projection of faux-nostalgia enables the concealment of what lurks behind her vision of rugged individualism in Australia; the implementation of hard-line economic rationalism through austerity cuts to social security [11], union-busting industrial relations policy [12] and support for negative gearing and capital gains tax discounts. [13] Hanson provides the proletariat with an illusory platform to vicariously express the most morbid myths of the Australian settler-colonial state, diverting consciousness from the concrete exploitation of underlying class relations.

While Hanson’s opportunistic co-option of working class nostalgia represents the interests of austerity-ridden Poujadism, Lambie is the authentically reactionary expression of the state-labour-capital tripartite. Lambie’s neo-assimilationist, retrograde social policy is supplementary to her nativist protection of the material wage. For instance, she wants to jubilee $200 million in public housing debts from tenants, but she doesn’t want refugees settled in public housing units. [14]

Though Hanson may be a petite-bourgeois opportunist, while Lambie is of the working class, Rosa Luxemburg criticised states-people like Lambie who are dependent on trade tariffs and military Keynesianism as a populist crutch. Jacqui Lambie has even proposed reintroducing voluntary national service to combat youth unemployment. [15] In Luxemburg’s 1899 diatribe, ‘The Militia and Militarism,’ she observes that in the process of securing job stability for the working class under economic nationalism, the worker expends their labour power “...into an instrument with which the capitalist state can contain, and if necessary suppress bloodily, any move [the worker] makes to improve [their] situation,” such as strikes, occupations and blockades. Luxemburg criticised militarism for marginalising the militant workers’ movement, and instead favouring “momentary gain” and a “harmony of interests between capital and labour.” [16]

Many on the Left seem to find amnesia regarding the political elements almost inherent to social democracy. For all the internal discussion within the Labor Party's Socialist Left faction about bringing the party back to its roots, Lambie is the most pronounced expression of such a revival (with all the White Australia baggage included). Many in the Labor seem to have caught on by endorsing Labor opposition leader, Bill Shorten’s calls to dismantle 457 visas under the communiqué of “Aussies jobs for Aussie workers.”

It’s vital to relate these opportunistic appeals to the working class within the underlying reality of their material circumstances. The Western proletariat in the neoliberal era has been reduced to stagnant labour surplus — the unemployed and underemployed. The neo-Tayloristic, algorithmic management of the material substructure has expanded to the services-sector (retail, hospitality, transport, call centres) and white collar employment (education, insurance, management consultancy, information technology). Newly displaced workers from manufacturing industries are atomised by the nature of their ‘bullshit jobs’ and have trouble exhibiting serious industrial muscle by collectively withdrawing their bullshit labour. The proletariat is removed from a historically- materialist class consciousness, whilst simultaneously self-aware of the poverty of traditional politics. This has led to the alienated masses adopting the ‘anti-politics’ of Lambie-like figures, rejecting the liberal centrist consensus, while still indebted to the reactionary remnants of the superstructure (e.g. a decent material wage paired with retrograde social policy). [17]

Historically, the economically nationalist, social democracy of folks like Lambie depended on the passivity of the working class to accept specialised, reformist definitions of socialism that accept certain archaic values of the old superstructure. The trade union bureaucracy created officials who treat labour-power as a commodity during industrial disputes, usually siding on behalf of capital and the State against rank-and-file militant unionists. [18] Capitalism is tolerant of social democracy’s legalistic symbolism within the terrain of Realpolitick. The working class must possess complete faith in themselves and their own revolutionary efforts, and revolutionaries must seek to help build that self-faith by fighting the immiseration of working class alienation and capitalist ideology. Revolutionaries cannot attempt to forge associational power by attaching themselves and intervening within the populist, parliamentary bodies — the real power of the class can only be expressed within itself.


1. Daley, P 2016, ‘Jacqui Lambie on home turf: “I reckon I can do 20 more years”’, The Guardian, 27 June, viewed 25 January 2017,

2. Alcorn, G 2014, ‘The underdog bites back’, Sydney Morning Herald, 19 April viewed 25 January 2017,

3. Mott, D 2015, ‘You didn’t need to see our scars - you only needed to hear our stories’, CFMEU Worker, October, p. 29, viewed 25 January 2017,

4. Telford, A 2015, ‘Devonport Community Rallies in Devonport in Protest of Australian Jobs Being Offshored’, Maritime Union of Australia, 6 July, viewed 25 January 2017, devonport_community_rallies_in_devonport_in_protest_of_australian_jobs_being_offshored.

5. Electrical Trades Union of Australia, Victorian Branch 2016, Jacqui Lambie's CUB55 visit, photograph, Melbourne, viewed 25 January 2017,

6. Yaxley, L 2016, ‘Jacqui Lambie sets out her priorities for the next parliament’, ABC Radio National, 2 August, viewed 25 January 2017,

7. Griffiths, P 2013, ‘“This is a British Colony”: The Ruling Class Politics of the Seafarers’ Strike 1878-79’, Labor History, no. 105, p. 131-151.

8. Burgmann, V 1978, ‘Capital and Labor: Responses to Immigration in the Nineteenth Century’, in Who Are Our Enemies? Racism and the Working Class in Australia, ed. A. Curthoys & A. Markus, Hale and Iremonger, Sydney, p. 20-34.

9. Bramble, T 2008, Trade Unionism in Australia: A History from Flood to Ebb Tide, Cambridge University Press, Port Melbourne.

10. Humphrys, E & Cahill, D 2016, ‘How Labour Made Neoliberalism’, Critical Sociology, no. 1, p. 1-16.

11. Coorey, P 2016, ‘Pauline Hanson sounds budget warning, defends welfare cuts’, Australian Financial Review, 29 October, viewed 25 January 2017,

12. Gribbin, C 2016, ‘One Nation's four senators to vote for ABCC bill, Malcolm Roberts reveals’, ABC News, 22 October, viewed 25 January 2017,

13. They Vote For You 2016, ‘Pauline Hanson voted very strongly against increasing housing affordability’, OpenAustralia Foundation, 22 October, viewed 25 January 2017,

14. Clark, N 2016, ‘Senator Jacqui Lambie calls for halt to refugees and pushes for priority on public health and housing homeless’, The Mercury, 10 October, viewed 25 January 2017,

15. Lambie, J 2016, Voluntary National Service, online video, 21 June, viewed 25 January 2017,

16. Luxemburg, R 1899, The Militia or Militarism,, viewed 25 January 2017,

17. Humphrys, E & Tietze, T 2013, ‘Anti-Politics: Elephant in the Room’, Left Flank, 31 October, viewed 25 January 2017,

18. Annunziato, FR 1990, ‘Commodity Unionism’, Rethinking Marxism, vol. 3, no. 2, p. 8-33.