The Sordid Side of Australian Politics - judicial mugging of political opponents

A handful of male Queensland judges refused to accept the Hanson-Ettridge Brief, then

a young female judge saw her opportunity to make legal history, and thus began the saga ...


A comment on the jailing of Hanson and Ettridge in Australia
1 September 2003

The following letter was sent in response to "Australia: Jailing of One
Nation leaders sets anti-democratic precedent" published by the World
Socialist Web Site on 29 August 2003.

Former MP Pauline Hanson and a co-founder of her rightwing One Nation Party,
David Ettridge were each sentenced to three years' jail without parole under
the Queensland Criminal Code on August 20. They were convicted of trumped up
charges of fraud related to the registration of One Nation as a party under
Queensland's electoral laws in December 1997. The unprecedented sentence came
after a protracted political and legal witchhunt orchestrated by the Howard

Dear Editor,
I read with considerable interest your analysis of the political and legal
manoeuvring involved in the railroading to jail of the One Nation leaders. The
whole sinister affair is deeply disturbing in its implications for democratic
rights and due process of law.

There can be no doubt that Hanson and Ettridge are the victims of the grossest
manipulation of the legal system.

As a lawyer practising litigation for 15 years, including in the High Court, I
concur entirely with your assessment of the legal issues especially the abuse
of the legal system perpetrated and the criminal justice system in particular.
The following matters highlight the egregious nature of the prosecution and its
political character.

1. The very question of whether there was in fact a substantive breach of the
Queensland Electoral Act (the Act) in the registration of One Nation in
December 1997 is not beyond doubt. The registration, as you point out, was
initially approved by the Electoral Commissioner following his scrutiny of the

2. Even assuming a breach of the Act, there could be no doubt that
whether "supporters" or "members", the signatures were a genuine imprimatur for
registration of the party. Accordingly, it is hard to see that there was any
fraud in the legally understood sense, that is, deliberate dishonesty, for
example, by the submission of forged signatures. A reasonable conclusion must
therefore be that any breach must be considered of a technical kind, which may
indeed have been a reflection of the unusual structure and dynamics of the One
Nation grouping.

3. Hanson and Ettridge were, following the conferring of registration after
scrutiny, entitled to assume that the registration was valid and could properly
claim reimbursement of electoral expenses provided for under the law.

4. Again, even assuming a breach, the Act clearly stipulated what penalty
applied in the event of wrongful registration, namely, a maximum six months
jail or $1,500 fine. By such provision in the Act the legislature expressly
provided what result may follow a conviction (there was clearly discretion up
to six months). So the Act "covered the field". A citizen is entitled to expect
that they will be treated in accordance with the relevant law.

5. The Act also stipulated a 12-month time limit for the government to bring an
action for breach of the Act. That time limit had expired. The purpose of such
time limits in this kind of legislation is to prevent the bringing of an action
years after the event, placing a defendant at a significant disadvantage and to
prevent official abuse of power.

6. No legal action was taken for a period of three and a half years after the
alleged wrongful registration (apart from requiring repayment of the $500,000).
That was two and a half years after the expiry of the time limit in the Act (no
doubt because there was a view held by many amongst the decision makers that no
lawful step could any longer be taken against Hanson and Ettridge).

7. The use of the Queensland Criminal Code was clearly implemented to
circumvent the provisions of the Act. This is a particularly sinister and
obnoxious abuse of government power and has all the hallmarks of a malicious
prosecution. In fact, I am surprised that an application was not made to a
higher court for a stay of prosecution on the grounds of abuse of process.

8. The use of section 408c of the Criminal Code in a matter concerning the
registration of a political party is nothing short of extraordinary. That
provision, in slightly varying forms appears in the criminal codes of all
Australian states. It is a catch-all provision containing indeterminate
categories of reference for the purpose of catching unusual types of fraud that
do not come within definite established categories such as larceny or
However, the provision is one that is concerned with offences of property
involving deception. A good example is the use of a bogus valuation to obtain a
bank loan. The benefit or advantage is universally of a financial or property
nature. I am unaware of any precedent of the usage of this provision for
alleged electoral "fraud". The use of the criminal code in this instance is
extremely crude and cynical. It would be hardly surprising that the notorious
Queensland criminal justice system and its police were the first to use it in
this way.
9. As you point out even the judge was forced to concede that there was no
personal or financial benefit to Hanson or Ettridge. One is left with the
bewildering proposition that the advantage or benefit was the registration of
the party. That can hardly be said to be any more an advantage or benefit than
the right to vote. Rights under the law have never been considered an advantage
or benefit-they are simply rights.
10. Finally, there was the sentence of three years. Perhaps the sentence
highlights most of all the transparent political character of the entire sordid
episode. The Act stipulated a maximum penalty of six months imprisonment for
wrongful registration. For precisely that misconduct (but tried under different
legislation) the judge imposed a sentence of six times that maximum! It is hard
to imagine what kind of legal reasoning led to that outcome (if any).
All the major political parties are deeply implicated in the jailing of Hanson
and Ettridge. One Nation was viewed as an enormous threat by the established
parties and to the whole political set up. Clearly neither party had any
principled political opposition to the One Nation program. After all,
nationalism, racism and xenophobia have all featured prominently in the
histories of the Liberal/National and Labor parties.

The "fight" by the Liberals, led by Abbott and his fellow conspirators, against
One Nation has more in common with a gangland killing of a rival chief than a
political struggle.
One Nation is indeed a foul and repugnant reactionary grouping. But the issue
here is one of democratic rights and due process according to law. I agree that
Hanson and Ettridge should be released immediately and the charges dismissed
with compensation for malicious prosecution and wrongful imprisonment.
Yours faithfully,

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