One Nation Wars: Operation Rissole Rodney

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Pauline Hanson betrayed Rodney Culleton to the LNP, writes Ross Jones (Image via The Reportrs / ‏@theReportrs)

In derailing Rodney Culleton's bid for a banking royal commission, Pauline Hanson has sold out farmers and proven herself to be no more than an LNP lapdog. Sydney bureau chief Ross Jones reports.

It’s fair to say the election of Rodney Culleton as a WA One Nation senator didn’t go down all that well among some of WA’s farming community.

Local farmer and Shire of Wagin President Phillip Blight said Mr Culleton’s election had left a bitter taste in the mouths of many local farmers and their families and the general community.

Do a search on "Rodney Culleton Farmers" and a litany of bitterness towards the "maverick" pours forth. Allegations of bad debts and missing funds are not hard to find.

I have never met Rodney, but I have held several telephone conversations with him and do know this: wind him up and he’s pretty hard to stop.

Rodney’s pet beef (or maybe wheat in his case) is against the banks. Get him going on forced farm foreclosures and stand back.

Rodney threatened to use his senate megaphone to push hard for a royal commission into the banking sector and its darker activities. His colourful rustic language, coupled with serious allegations of bank impropriety made under senate protection, would be media gold and pour high octane fuel on public demand for a bank RC.

The Coalition and its donors most definitely do not want a banking royal commission.

Ergo the Coalition needed to be rid of Rodney. And in the guise of Senators Brandis and Parry, it is trying to do just that.

Operation Rissole Rodney (ORR; classification: Need to Know) is a messy plot with many strands, but the LNP have a solid track-record in this regard. I give you Ashbygate.

In fact, Ashby himself has been playing a vital role in ORR.

It went like this:

Everyone, including Rodney, was surprised at his election.

Pauline picked Rodney, he did not choose her, she knew what he was a man with a tough farming background and a way with words. She assured him he would have the freedom to do what he thought was right for his constituents providing he stuck to One Nation policy.

Back then, a banking royal commission was One Nation policy (or at least, they let everyone think it was).

That is, until August 2016, when Rod and Pauline had a meeting with Turnbull. Rod explained to Malcolm, while proffering reams of evidence, that the banks were committing crimes against the farming community and this needed to be both exposed and stopped.

Pauline, apparently, looked at Malcolm, then back to Rod, pursed her lips and explained, as you might to a child, that royal commissions were expensive and, well, no-one wanted that.

Malcolm agreed.

It was at this point Rod knew he had been shafted.

He knew Pauline had betrayed him to the LNP. Thrown him into the hay-baler.

But why?

Because, with Ashby at the helm, One Nation had already become inextricably intertwined with the nastier side of the LNP.

And, most certainly, that nasty side does not want a banking royal commission. There was a deal: One Nation would give the LNP no grief on the banks and the LNP would give One Nation the inside running on hate. And maybe a few Queensland seats.

As a plus, it would keep that pest Cory at bay.

But there is now a sense of urgency.

Rodney is a thorn that needs to be got rid of before the 2017 Parliamentary session begins, before he has a chance to stand in the senate and get things off his chest, i.e., dump on the banks.

How do you get rid of a duly elected senator?

The LNP/One Nation axis saw two main chances:

The first, Rodney’s possible inability to stand because he had a criminal conviction for theft at the time of his election. This turned out to be a fizzer.

The conviction resulted from a full-on barney at a mates’ farm when the bank’s agents moved in to foreclose. Rodney and his mates stuck hay bales around the agent’s Commodore, forcing them to walk away. Rodney was charged and convicted of stealing the agent’s car keys.

Had the full narrative of this enthralling rural confrontation become widely known, it would have made a classic Aussie vs The Odds story with much colour and therefore much publicity, none of it good for the bank, its mercantile agents or the WA police.

The Land ran a good description of the day’s events, but the story was not really picked up at the time

Rodney’s conviction for theft was subsequently annulled. Whether the conviction rendered his election invalid will be decided by the Disputed Returns later this year.

But that’s too late for LNP/One Nation if they want to head off the bank RC.

Anyway, it was the least best option, because if the Court of Disputed Returns decision is that Rodney had been ineligible to stand at the 2016 election, then the seat would go to a recount and Rodney’s brother-in-law, who is of a not dissimilar bent to Rodney, would simply take his place.

That would be square one for LNP/One Nation.

Enter chance two.

An undischarged bankrupt cannot be a senator. If found bankrupt, it’s out the door.

This was the preferred outcome for the LNP/One Nation axis because, under s44 of the Constitution, Rodney’s senate seat would be declared vacant, meaning One Nation would be able to select the next incumbent.

Pauline is on record as saying she had

“... already chosen a great person to replace him in the Senate."

Accordingly, via several machinations, on 23 December, the Federal Court declared Culleton bankrupt. But there was a lot of refutation from Rodney and an apparent lack of clarity on a few points, so Barker J ordered a stay of proceedings for 21 days. With holidays and weekends taken into account, that brought the hearing date to 27 January.

He was not yet officially bankrupt so could still claim the title of senator — at least until then.

Rodney told anyone who’d listen the whole bankruptcy thing was a stitch-up, that he is solvent and expected the 23 December decision to be overturned once the full facts were known to the court.

Not good enough for the bank protectors, they want him gone ASAP so there is some time to bed in his bank-loving replacement, whoever that would be. Maybe Ashby, but probably a bit soon for him and it would take him out of Queensland where the really nasty plots foment. A hitherto unknown bank-loving "battler" is the likely profile.

So the LNP/ON axis decided an early summary execution of Rodney was necessary and, just to make sure he did not get off the canvas, decided it would trash his reputation on the way through.

Accordingly, the LNP, in the guise of Tasmanian Liberal and Senate President Stephen Parry, decided to dispense with the niceties of Barker J’s decision and go straight for the jugular.

On 11 January, with weeks still to go, President Parry issued a statement:

I have informed Senator Culleton and notified the governor of Western Australia, her excellency the honourable Kerry Sanderson AC, in accordance with section 21 of the Constitution, that there is a vacancy in the representation of that state as a consequence of the disqualification of Senator Culleton.

I have also advised party leaders and independent senators of this development.

Rodney called his lawyers who wrote to Parry on 13 January, saying in part:

The next day, Rodney announced:

'Senator Culleton’s legal representatives have forwarded letters to the President of the Senate, Stephen Parry and others, disputing the actions taken yesterday and providing the court orders to confirm reasons for his dispute. They have also summoned Senator Brandis and Senator Parry to the High Court, to explain their actions.'

To date, neither Brandis nor Parry have responded.

Then Rodney had a win.

On 19 January his office issued a media release, which said in part:

Senate president Stephan Parry has a lot to answer for after a huge revelation at the Perth Federal Court this morning.

Senator Culleton has successfully got an appeal for his bankruptcy case and a further extended stay on all proceedings.

Today from a Sydney courtroom, Chief Justice Leslie Allsop, declared if Senator Culleton was to win the appeal, the bankruptcy conviction would be set aside which means it never happened.

“This shows that declaring my seat vacant was a premature move by Senator Parry and this now needs to be heard by the Senate,” Senator Culleton said.

“I believe the President of the Senate has usurped powers without consulting or getting approval from the Senate,” he said.

And that’s where we are — stalemate until 27 January.

If Rodney wins he will turn the screws on the axis of evil and be an unstoppable voice for a Bank Royal Commission.

If he loses it will be party time in bank boardrooms across the nation. They will then be untouchable.

But whether Rodney wins or loses one thing is for sure.

One Nation has betrayed the farmers of Australia and all those who depend on them — again.

They have proven themselves to be no more than LNP lapdogs.

Ross Jones is the author of 'Ashbygate: The Plot to Destroy Australia's Speaker'. 

You can follow Ross Jones on Twitter @RPZJones.

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