What’s wrong inside One Nation?

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(Image via abc.net.au)

Questions have been raised about the financial dealings of Pauline Hanson's One Nation since the party's inception, writes Patrick Keane.

LAST MONDAY (22 May 2017), a recording of One Nation chief of staff/director James Ashby was released in which he proposed making money out of One Nation candidates and volunteers.

The next day, One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts’ adviser, Sean Black, was arrested on charges of assault.

One Nation may be investigated by the Australian Federal Police (AFP), Queensland Police, the Australian Electoral Commission, the Queensland Crime and Corruption Commission, Attorney-General George Brandis, Justice Minister Michael Keenan, Special Minister of State Scott Ryan and the Electoral Commission of Queensland.

One Nation has been here before. So when Hanson said this week she would “ride it out”, she has some reason to be confident.

The membership list used to first register One Nation was found to be fraudulent in 2000 and the party was de-registered. Pauline Hanson and David Ettridge were convicted of fraud in Queensland District Court three years later, but the conviction was quashed on appeal.

David Ettridge was alleged to have been a fraudster when he was brought on board One Nation in 1997 by the man who became the party director and senior advisor, David Oldfield. The role James Ashby plays now.

Earlier this year, it was revealed the party had either purchased James Ashby a plane, or had been given one by a Party donor.

Jim Pembroke provided an example in IA of how Ashby may try to spin his way out of this current predicament in 'Chill Out: It’s just James Ashby’s innovative One Nation merchandising'.

And this is not the first time One Nation’s executive has been accused of illegality.

Before Ashby joined One Nation, he was the media advisor of former Speaker of the House of Representatives Peter Slipper. Slipper alleged Ashby illegally copied pages of his diary in March 2012 at the suggestion of former Liberal minister and enemy of Slipper, Mal Brough. Ashby and Brough prepared to pursue a sexual harassment claim against Slipper. Ashby sought advice about his case from another (now former) Liberal MP Wyatt Roy. Ashby subsequently dropped the case and the AFP did not pursue the investigation further.

When David Oldfield first met Pauline Hanson he was a member of the Liberal Party and research officer for (then) Health Minister Tony Abbott. There is little doubt that Oldfield was working for both politicians and parties simultaneously, just as Ashby appeared to work for both Brough and Slipper at the same time.

Hanson blamed the Labor Party and the preference deal with the Liberal Party for One Nation's poor performance at the 2017 Western Australian State Election because One Nation’s executive is attempting to conceal the subsequent internal challenges. 

One Nation's internal problems are inevitable without a transparent structure based on rules rather than the discretion of an unaccountable executive.

There were leaked One Nation candidate emails at the Western Australian election. One Nation expelled members for being "too old". One candidate, Margaret Dodd, quit on the eve of the election, saying Pauline Hanson’s party was more like a "dictatorship than a democratic organisation".

A member of the public on Channel Nine News in Queensland said Pauline Hanson is "just another politician”

The 1997 biography of Pauline Hanson written by Helen Dodd was the only explication of One Nation's organisation and structure until 1999 when a constitution was finally ratified. One Nation not only left no records, but access to information about its resources was kept from the membership — deliberately, according to Ettridge. Hanson was the president and leader, David Ettridge was the national director, and David Oldfield was the senior advisor. They comprised the executive. There was reported to be a memorandum of understanding between the executive of One Nation that the removal of one required the consent of the other two.

Branch meetings of One Nation, at least in the 1990s, were run in a way that didn’t resemble a functional or transparent organisation. The former "webmaster" of One Nation, Scott Balson, donated the ephemera and insights he collected over his time with One Nation to the Fryer Library at the University of Queensland. The minutes of the Gold Coast branch and the Southport branch are within the collection. The minutes are poorly kept and have pages removed. One Nation began to have internal problems early on and at the meeting of the Southport branch on the 16 March 1998, Paul Trewartha, the chairman of the branch, announced that meetings would be recorded on tape (Balson, One Nation Southport/Gold Coast Branch Minutes, Box 1, folders 4 & 5, UQFL 366). But these tapes are not within the Balson collection.

According to One Nation's constitution, power is exercised through the State executive which appoints those positions of authority and influence such as party director. In turn, the State executive is elected by State conference. Delegates to the State conference are elected members of branches. Membership of One Nation is $50.

According to One Nation's constitution (Section 8.13) the State executive has power over policy, the constitution and the leadership of the party. 

Compared to the major parties, One Nation has few checks and balances on the power of its executive and, through them, the party director, James Ashby. In the Australian Labor Party, power is shared between conference and executive and each checks the other. The Liberal Party have a council and an executive, which play similar roles.

If a member of One Nation wanted to investigate the party internally one would need to call a State conference, which requires a majority of branches. A branch requires ten members.

After the 2015 Queensland State Election, I rang One Nation and the Queensland secretary told me there were about 700 members in Queensland. The secretary didn’t tell me how many branches there were but there couldn’t be more than 70. The party’s membership would need sufficient numbers to call a State conference and at that conference change the constitution so that the control of the executive is shared with the party to make the director accountable to the membership.

Patrick Keane completed an honours thesis on Pauline Hanson's One Nation and the 1998 Queensland State Election in 2010 and was an advisor to a Labor Senator. You can follow Patrick on Twitter @pckeane2014.

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