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Questions loom over One Nation's finances

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Pauline Hanson and her backroom dealer, James Ashby (screenshot via YouTube).

Investigations editor Ross Jones looks into One Nation's finances and unearths some very tangled dealings.

ON 26 JUNE 2017, Bill McNee, head of the Melbourne-based property developer Vicland, completed and signed a Donor to Political Party return as mandated by AEC rules.

McNee attested Vicland Business Pty Ltd, ATF Vicland Business Trust, had, in the financial year 2015-2016, donated $10,000 to Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Queensland Division.

Vicland could be an organisation beset with ineptitude when it comes to basic financial record keeping because, just nine months later, on 20 March 2018, McNee signed a Request for Amendment Donor to Political Party Disclosure, attesting Vicland had in fact handed over $118,175.

McNee felt the need to pen a hand-written annotation the amended return:

‘Please find attached amended return which is submitted without any admission of liability. I do not believe that I should be required to amend any previous disclosures however I have decided to err on the side of caution in doing so. BMc.’

McNee needn’t have worried. Vicland didn’t actually donate any money to Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Queensland Division because that entity did not exist.

There was once an entity called Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Ltd, but that has been deregistered.

There is an entity called One Nation Queensland Division Inc, but that wasn’t registered until November 2016, meaning McNee couldn't have given it a small aeroplane’s worth of cash in the year to June 2016.

So where did the money go?

The only mention of any Vicland donation in One Nation’s Political Party Disclosure Returns came in March 2018 as an amendment to a previous return. It retrospectively records Vicland as having donated $57, 270 back in 2014/15.

Which still leaves $60,905 unaccounted for.

Disappeared into the bottomless money pit that is One Nation.

The One Nation brand anyway, because One Nation is a many-headed Hydra.

An ASIC search for One Nation shows up more than a score of entities, most now either deregistered or, if it was a business name, cancelled.

Back in April 2017, The Guardian reported:

One Nation has undertaken a restructure that solidifies the power of federal leader, Pauline Hanson, and her chief of staff, James Ashby, making them president and secretary of a new incorporated entity.

 

The restructure, completed late last year, creates a host of legal consequences including giving members of the party new rights under Queensland legislation to ask for financial records or enforce the party’s rules and natural justice requirements in court.

Unhelpfully, The Guardian did not specify the name if this new entity and, when it comes to One Nation, detail is important.

The article reads like it is referring to the formation of One Nation Queensland Division Inc which was registered on 16/11/16 in Queensland and therefore subject to Fair Trading Queensland.

Reporting requirements are not particularly onerous for an incorporated entity and they are easy to set up as you can see.

One Nation is registered in all other states and territories but only as a business name, such as  Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Tasmania, Pauline Hanson’s One Nation NT and so on. These operate under the umbrella of One Nation Queensland Division Inc.

The exception is WA, where two entities exist – One Nation Western Australia Incorporated, registered in September 2006 and Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party (WA) Inc, registered exactly 10 years later in September 2016.

But there was another One Nation entity established in 2016, one kept from the public eye.

One Nation Legal Pty Ltd was incorporated in NSW on 2 December 2016.

Its sole director, who owns 100 of the 100 ordinary shares issued, is Sydney lawyer Danny Eid.

Eid is also Ashby’s personal lawyer. Demonstrably when it comes to things like fending off former Senator Brian Burston and probably, you’d have to think, a lot of other stuff as well.

Since Ashby took over One Nation in 2015 by capturing its queen, the group’s financial well-being has blossomed, no doubt about it.

Its receipts as declared on its initial 2014/15 Political Party Disclosure Return were $11,487.

By 2017/18, declared receipts (amended) had grown to $1,709,611.

One Nation’s electoral success drove this revenue growth, the Party pulling $1.03 from the AEC and a further $360,000 from the WAEC as a result of exceeding the 4 per cent vote threshold for payment.

A solid result by any measure.

Payments for the 2017/2018 year were reported as $1,750,142, implying (maybe) an operating loss of $40,531.

Lucky then that Adani and energy infrastructure owner APA Group each donated $15,000 (declared) to the cause.

In the same year, Pauline and James obviously gave up the austerity of a two-seater aeroplane and a Battler Bus for improved travel comfort, the party racking up a debt of $68,560 to aircraft charter hire company Jetcorp.

According to Jetcorp’s web site:

JetCorp Australia understands what you expect and appreciate about travelling in your own private aircraft. Whether it is an international charter flight for business, or a domestic flight to your favourite resort, we welcome the opportunity to have you on board.

The word maybe (above) is in parenthesis because it is impossible to rely on the accuracy of One Nation’s Disclosure Returns.

Not only have they been subject to amendments for numbers which should have been available when the return was submitted, but party amendments and donor returns also don’t always see eye-to-eye.

Additionally, and this counts, all Disclosure Returns since 2014 name the political party lodging the return as Pauline Hanson’s One Nation.

That entity, that exact title, as we have seen does not exist.

IA understands no financial matters were aired at the Party’s recent "Is it an AGM or isn’t it?" farce. No books opened, no questions answered.

Not even an answer to the question: where is the plane?

Last reported, by the way, departing Archerfield airport sans livery.

Ashby swore all the $150 per head conference attendees who managed to make it through the security to secrecy.

One Nation’s books are a locked box, with only Ashby and the captive queen having a key.

Maybe not the queen.

Investigations editor Ross Jones is a licensed private enquiry agent and the author of 'Ashbygate: The Plot to Destroy Australia's Speaker'. You can follow Ross on Twitter @RPZJones.

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