SYDNEY (Reuters) - The political party headed by Australian mining magnate Clive Palmer, which holds the balance of power in parliament, is in danger of imploding thanks to a public spat among its lawmakers.
Palmer said on Wednesday that outspoken Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie had been removed from her position as deputy leader of the Palmer United Party and was barred from all parliamentary party meetings.
Lambie’s exclusion follows her decision to split from her party on key votes on social services and anti-doping bills, partly as a lever in a personal crusade to pressure the government to increase the pay of defence force personnel.
The Palmer United Party has been a thorn in the side of Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s government since it won three seats in Australia’s upper house at last year’s elections.
Palmer held the new senate hostage over the repeal of Australia’s controversial carbon tax for weeks as he haggled for concessions, before threatening to block the budget.
Palmer said on Wednesday that Lambie had not been expelled from the party but would remain excluded “until such time she gives an undertaking to cease personal attacks on party members and to follow major decisions of the party room.”
She had also been demoted from “deputy whip”, a position that ensures party members vote correctly in the house.
Lambie’s chief of staff, Rob Messenger, was expelled from the party last week, with Palmer accusing him of spreading lies via Lambie and attempting to start his own political party.
Lambie, 43, a former Australian Army corporal, has become one of the country’s most recognisable and colourful politicians in her short time in office. She has garnered headlines for a range of controversial comments, including her belief that China could invade Australia and applauding Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “very strong leadership”.
Aboriginal elders disputed a claim in her maiden speech to parliament that she was an indigenous Australian.
Editing by Richard Pullin