'Unorthodox': end nears in dispute between Lambie, former staffers

Tasmanian independent senator Jacqui Lambie is locked in a Federal Court dispute with two former staffers who allege they were unfairly dismissed.
Tasmanian independent senator Jacqui Lambie is locked in a Federal Court dispute with two former staffers who allege they were unfairly dismissed.

A Federal Court stoush between Tasmanian independent Senator Jacqui Lambie and two of her former staffers is nearing an end, with the presiding judge acknowledging elements of the case had been "a little unorthodox".

Rob Messenger was Senator Lambie's former chief of staff, while his wife, Fern Messenger, was the senator's former office manager. They were employed in Senator Lambie's office from 2014 until May 2017.

The pair have brought an unfair dismissal case against their one-time boss and the Commonwealth, saying they were sacked after complaining about health and safety issues in their workplace.

Mr and Mrs Messenger wrote to then-prime minister Malcolm Turnbull in March 2017, alleging that Senator Lambie swore and consumed alcohol excessively in the office and generally behaved poorly. However, lawyers for Senator Lambie and the Commonwealth say this Public Interest Diclosure was sent in bad faith.

The Messengers, who have represented themselves, said they had a meeting with Senator Lambie after she was reelected following the 2016 federal election, where they told her about the effect her alleged behaviour was having on staff.

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"That was a moment where our relationship fundamentally changed with Senator Lambie because of the complaints that we made to Senator Lambie," Mr Messenger told the court on Tuesday.

He said Senator Lambie had "relied" on him and his wife to help her win reeleciton in 2016.

"Once she got the six-year tenure and the guarantee of six years' work, we then say the, if you like, the bitterness she experienced in the first term which she suppressed, then grew into a greater sense of hostility and malevolence," Mr Messenger said.

But Senator Lambie's counsel, Nick Harrington, strongly rejected this argument.

"The assertion that from that second term initial complaint - the mid-2016 meeting - that Senator Lambie had designed a course and was effectively cloak-and-dagger, lying in wake in a malevolent fashion - that's a complete nonsense," he said.

Justice John Snaden said he would inform the parties to the case of when he was in a position to hand down his judgement.

"I know there have been some elements of this trial that were a little unorthodox," he said. "But it's a credit to all of you that we were able to work through those issues in the way that we were."

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