No Silence for this Lamb-ie

Whether it’s for cheaper uni degrees or to get you into a job, this Tasmanian Senator is waging a war: and it’s for us.

The room is busy, crowded and full of important people, but Senator Jacqui Lambie gives me her undivided attention. The focus of widespread attention herself, I jumped at the chance to sit down with a home-grown controversial political figure. And here at the State Budget Briefing cocktail party, she’s activating that love for Tasmania she so consistently talks about. Though sceptical, I was keen to see how this political caricature responded to issues that mattered not just to me – a 17 year old who cannot yet vote – but to young people across the board.

I was half way through asking about the university deregulation measures that were proposed in the Federal Government’s 2014 budget, when she cut me off.

“Uni deregulation will stay blocked”, she says defiantly, “I made a pact, I’m sticking to it”. Her passion for the issue was evident as Ms. Lambie continued.

“I need that $370 million to go to the Launceston UTAS campus for new buildings and accommodation and $30 million for up here, so I want that done as soon as possible and I will be bargaining to get that. It’s open slather.” Quickly, her words became journalistic gold as her abrupt, but refreshingly honest views on higher education extended to the cost of associate degrees.

“I want them uncapped and free. If people can come to Tasmania for two years of free education, I say go for it.”

But what about our universities when compared to the rest of the world? The countries of Sweden and Finland are acceding us academically as they thrive under a free education system, and these are statements I made to Ms Lambie. I was certainly preaching to the converted.

“Education standards are higher [and] kids are coming out smarter. Follow those nordic countries because they’re leaving us behind and putting us to shame.”

Even if you’re part of the 21% of young people on the north-west coast who can’t get a job and don’t want a university pathway, it may help your cause, albeit indirectly. Ms. Lambie says the UTAS redevelopments would grow the economy in more areas than just the education sector.

“[The UTAS redevelopment] will make a lot of jobs: apprenticeships and traineeships. That’s great for the kids.” She also encourages the State Government to axe pay-roll tax, telling me,

“The best thing they could have done here in Tasmania is made it all pay-roll tax free. It would encourage business to come to Tasmania, creating more jobs.”

Finally, she assures me that above all, she is always listening.

“I actively try to make time for students. Whether its a school project or having a chat I try to get them in to my office and have a listen. It’s nothing for me to go to kids events or even over 18’s in a nightclub and hear their feedback.”

So as a self-confessed Lambie cynic, I emerged with a new sense of respect for a woman who didn’t bother with a pre-rehearsed spiel and never treated me as anything but her equal. In this battle to keep the price of university degrees low and to grab that elusive job, Jacqui Lambie stands for us, and she can be relied upon to do that in every unconventional way imaginable.

This piece was published for a youth audience in The Advocate’s Ignite 2015 Youth Publication. You can find the full publication here:

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