Jacqui Lambie’s former chief of staff details ‘vile, profane, vulgar’ tirades in unfair dismissal case

Senator Jacqui Lambie’s former chief of staff has told a court staff members were subject to “profane and vulgar language” on a daily basis and feared for their safety after a well-publicised terrorist threat.

Rob Messenger, and his wife Fern, who was Ms Lambie’s office manager, claim they were unfairly dismissed by the senator in May 2017 following complaints about workplace health and safety.

Mr Messenger, a former Queensland state MP for the National Party, first met Senator Lambie in 2013 when she was running for the Senate as a member of Clive Palmer’s Palmer United Party.

He and his wife Fern joined Senator Lambie when she was elected to parliament and stayed with her as she broke away from Mr Palmer’s party to become an independent — at which point Mr Messenger said the workload significantly increased.

They worked with Senator Lambie until they were dismissed in 2017.

The cause of that dismissal is the subject of a Fair Work complaint dating back to that year.

Three years later, the case is now before Justice John Snaden in the Federal Court, where the Messengers are representing themselves.

Court told of ‘vile, profane, vulgar language’ in workplace

In his evidence, Mr Messenger told the court a number of staff had complained to him about Senator Lambie’s language.

“It became wearing. Many of the comments had sexual connotations, were inappropriate and gross.”

He said that during a meeting with the senator he told her she was being inappropriate.

“I said, ‘Jac, the staff have complained to us … there are certain swear words you used that could be sexual harassment if a complaint was made,'” he said.

Rob Messenger with Clive Palmer in 2014, when Mr Messenger stood as a federal PUP candidate.(ABC Open: Brad Marsellos)

Mr Messenger detailed a time when Senator Lambie “made sensational comments” on radio about “her sex life and her personal hygiene”.

“As a result of that radio interview, the office then became the focal point for a lot of angry community feedback,” he said.

He said he complained to her about the phone calls and abuse the office was dealing with.

“[I told her] the best way to mitigate her public reputation was to issue an apology,” he said.

Mr Messenger also said he’d spoken to the senator about discussing her sex life in the office.

“‘I said, ‘Jacqui, you can’t come into the workplace being grumpy and then announcing to all the staff that you haven’t got laid in a long time,'” he said.

“You can’t come into the workplace saying, ‘I desperately need a root.'”

Staff member found death threat, court told

Mr Messenger said at times he felt like he was Senator Lambie’s personal bodyguard, particularly during an interaction with “angry” high school students in which he feared for both his and the senator’s safety.

He told the court he had raised the issue of a lack of personal protection on a regular basis.

He also told the court he and other staff would work extremely long hours, saying they averaged 100 hours per week.

“We were expected to work during our time off. There wasn’t a time we had recreational leave during [our] time with [Senator] Lambie that we didn’t work,” he said.

He also alleged Senator Lambie had excessively bullied a staff member, who he claimed resigned, citing mental health.

Rob Messenger and his wife Fern arrive at court
Former Jacqui Lambie staffer Rob Messenger and his wife Fern are claiming unfair dismissal.(ABC News: Laura Beavis)

Mr Messenger said this same staff member had opened a death threat meant for Senator Lambie.

He told the court the letter said that if Senator Lambie did not convert to sharia law, the authors would attack her office when she least expected it and behead her.

Mr Messenger took the complaint to Senator Lambie and the office was temporarily closed until Tasmanian police arrived.

Mr Messenger said staff wanted to keep the office closed, but Senator Lambie insisted on reopening it.

He also claimed Senator Lambie refused to take steps to upgrade security at the electoral office despite the threat and complaints.

Mr Messenger’s evidence to the hearing was regularly interrupted by both Nick Harrington, the counsel for Ms Lambie, and Judge Snaden.

Both called him out for entering irrelevant evidence and straying from the statement of claim, and asked him to be more specific.

The hearing is expected to continue until the end of the month.

Senator Lambie has yet to tell her side of the story and is expected to give evidence at a later date.

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Teddy Sheean VC battle rages on with PM in Lambie’s sights after honours tribunal rebuke for Defence Minister

The head of a tribunal that recommended Tasmanian war hero Edward “Teddy” Sheean receive a posthumous Victoria Cross has accused the Defence Minister of “misrepresenting” the tribunal.

Tasmanian senator Jacqui Lambie also took aim at Prime Minister Scott Morrison over the affair following last week’s announcement the Government had decided Australia’s highest wartime honour would not be awarded to Sheean.

Defence Honours and Awards Appeals Tribunal chairman Mark Sullivan AO wrote to Linda Reynolds saying she had misled the Senate, in a stunning rebuke of the Coalition’s handling of Sheean’s case.

The rebuttal has also drawn the ire of the Tasmanian Liberal Government, Tasmanian Liberal senators, federal Labor MPs and Sheean’s descendants.

Despite the 11-member tribunal unanimously recommending Sheean receive a Victoria Cross after examining his bravery in 1942 in a special review last year, Senator Reynolds said the tribunal “did not present any new evidence that might support reconsideration of the valour inquiries recommendation”.

“It is a very difficult decision, but I believe in the circumstance, the right decision,” Senator Reynolds said at the time.

Senator Reynolds pointed to the findings of a 2013 inquiry that recommended against posthumously awarding the Lower Barrington-born sailor Australia’s highest military honour.

Mr Sullivan has written to Senator Reynolds demanding she “correct the record”, noting the Valour Inquiry had different terms of reference to last year’s merit review.

“The tribunal conducted a review of the decision of the Chief of Navy and its report does not review what occurred in the Valour Inquiry nor seek to overturn its recommendations,” the letter said.

“Any reading of the tribunal’s recommendation would confirm this critical point.”

World War II ship.
HMAS Armidale at sea in Port Moresby.(Australian War Memorial)

Mr Sullivan added finding new evidence about Sheean’s bravery was outside the tribunal’s remit for the 2019 review, but that new accounts had emerged anyway.

He also said Coalition MPs were incorrect when they argued there had to be new evidence or a display of manifest injustice for Sheean to receive the Victoria Cross.

“The act, in outlining how a decision must be reviewed, contains no such prescription,” Mr Sullivan said.

“[The recommendation] was presented to the Minister for Defence Personnel (Darren Chester) in July 2019.

“Shortly after, the Minister advised me that he was comfortable with the recommendations and that he would be communicating with senior ministers including yourself and the Prime Minister.”

Senator Reynolds has been contacted for comment.

Tasmanian Liberal wants ‘justice’ for Teddy

Last week’s rejection of the tribunal’s recommendation marked the latest blow in the long fight to have Sheean’s actions recognised beyond his Mention in Dispatches.

WWII ordinary seaman Teddy Sheean of Tasmania has been rejected for a Victoria Cross.
Tasmanian WWII ordinary seaman Teddy Sheean has been rejected for a Victoria Cross.(Australian War Memorial)

The sailor was just 18 when he died aboard HMAS Armidale, ignoring orders to abandon the sinking ship to instead stay and fire his anti-aircraft battery at Japanese aircraft that were strafing his shipmates as they floundered in the water.

His actions were credited with helping save the lives of 49 crew.

Tasmanian Veterans Affairs Minister Guy Barnett welcomed the tribunal’s letter to Senator Reynolds — described by Mr Sullivan as the first time he had made a public statement relating to a government decision.

“It was a breach of process, a denial of natural justice and provides further impetus of the opportunity for the Federal Government to review the decision, and in fact to correct the decision and provide a Victoria Cross for Teddy Sheean,” Mr Barnett said.

The tribunal is made up of 11 members including Mr Sullivan, with Major General Simone Wilkie (retired), Air Vice-Marshal John Quaife (retired), Lieutenant Colonel (Army Reserves) Naida Isenberg, Rear Admiral James Goldrick (retired), Brigadier Mark Bornholt (retired), and former Regimental Sergeant Major David Ashley AM (retired) also sitting as members.


Lambie broadside at Prime Minister

Last week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison defended the decision, saying that while Sheean was an “extraordinary Australian, no case has been made … Sheean was denied a VC because of manifest injustice”.

He said the knockback in “no way detracts from the service, dedication and sacrifice of Ordinary Seaman Edward ‘Teddy’ Sheean, for which our nation remains eternally grateful”.

In a statement, Tasmanian senator Ms Lambie described Mr Sullivan’s letter as an “extraordinary intervention … and it shows that they’ve been called out”.

“There’s nowhere to hide for the PM anymore. He can’t hide behind Defence, he can’t hide behind the minister [Ms Reynolds], he can’t hide behind the Governor-General or the Queen, he can’t even hide behind the independent Defence Awards Tribunal,” she said.

Senator Lambie said the letter was “proof we’re winning this, and this isn’t going away”.

“All it takes is for the PM to please reconsider and do the right thing.

“Lest we forget.”

Dale Marsh's painting of Ordinary Seaman Teddy Sheean depicting him strapped to a gun on HMAS Armidale.
Dale Marsh’s painting of Teddy Sheean hangs in the Australian War Memorial.(Australian War Memorial)

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