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 claim they were unfairly dismissed by Jacqui Lambie in May 2017
- Mr Messenger alleges Senator Lambie subjected office staff to ‘gross’ sexual comments
- He said a staff member had opened a death threat meant for Senator Lambie
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.
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.
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.