Perils of Pauline: her breach of 'club' rules was technical rather

than deceit

The Hanson case has little to do with laws on internal party democracy,

for there aren't many, writes Antony Green

Sydney Morning Herald

August 22, 2003


THE jailing of former One Nation leaders Pauline Hanson and David

Ettridge on Wednesday has understandably dominated talkback radio

airwaves ever since. Hanson's supporters have been outraged at the

three-year sentence, while her more vocal opponents have struggled to

contain their glee.

The majority in-between have been astonished at this turn in the Hanson

phenomenon, with general concern at the harshness of the penalty imposed.

It is important to remember that Hanson and Ettridge have not been

convicted of offences under the electoral law. The charges were of fraud

under the Queensland Criminal Code, including dishonestly inducing

registration of a political party and dishonestly obtaining benefit in

electoral funding. No offence of falsely registering a political party


Legislation governing political parties did not exist until the 1980s,

and even now provides only a bare framework. Registration was introduced

to facilitate the inclusion of party names on ballot papers, to allow

the central nomination of candidates, and to regulate the payment of

public funding and associated donation disclosure laws.

There are no rules on preselection, on the process of forming party

policy, or indeed any requirement for internal democracy. Before the

case that deregistered One Nation, the view was that almost any

structure was valid for the registration of a political party.

Hanson's criminal charges came about as a result of a civil action by

an ex-One Nation candidate, Terry Sharpes. In August 1999 the courts

backed his claim that One Nation had not had the required 500 members

when registered, merely the triumvirate of Hanson, Ettridge and David

Oldfield as members. The members' names put forward had been part of a

Hanson support group. After the civil finding of fraud, a criminal case

on who perpetrated the fraud was always bound to follow. The Sharples

case had been defended by the Commissioner Des O'Shea for the Electoral

Commission Queensland (ECQ). One Nation had submitted 1000 members for

registration. The ECQ verified 530 as being on the electoral roll, wrote

to 250 of them to verify they were members of the party, and 21V replied

that they were. On that basis, the commissioner ruled the party had the

required number of members.

The finding in the Sharples case acknowledges that the constitution put

forward for registration was in fact the one used earlier to obtain

federal registration from the Australian Electoral Commission. As Hanson

was a federal MP then, the federal registration was valid even though

the members had no say in the party. Indeed, had either Hanson or

Ettridge been state MPs, the registration in Queensland would also have

been valid. In other words, the rules greatly favour parties with MPs in

Parliament, but make it harder for outsiders to gain entry to the club.

So this case has nothing to do with any requirement in legislation for

internal democracy in political parties. One Nation's party structure

was Byzantine, but perfectly acceptable for anyone who is an MP. True,

Hanson and Ettridge should have known the structure they were putting

forward was suspect. But their breach of the rules does tend to look

technical rather than deceit, and there is no doubt One Nation existed

as a structure seeking to achieve political office. At the 1998

Queensland election One Nation polled 439,121 votes or 22.7 per cent,

more than either the Liberal or National parties, with 11 MPs elected,

several of whom were unknown in their electorates. They were elected

entirely on the back of endorsement by Hanson. Whatever the structure of

the party, there is no doubt that One Nation existed, there is no doubt

those involved thought they were members, and it is equally clear that

votes were won by the association of One Nation candidates with the name

Pauline Hanson. In the end, Hanson and Ettridge received little

financial benefit from claiming public funding. Perhaps they received

inflated public standing thanks to being satraps of their own political

party. But if self-aggrandisement is to be a crime in Australian

politics, then there are marly more politicians than just Hanson likely

to find themselves in jail.

[Antony Green is an election analyst with the Australian Broadcasting


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