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Abbott v Hanson

August 26th, 2003

Our legal system behaves in strange ways. Pauline Hanson was jailed for three years for a highly technical breach of the electoral registration rules. But apparently it’s OK for one political party to foment and fund legal disputes within another.

Update According to Ken Parish, Abbott may indeed be in legal difficulty over this.

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  1. Geoff
    August 26th, 2003 at 09:41 | #1

    Why was Hanson’s breach of the rules “highly technical”? The jury found that she *knowingly and dishonestly* committed fraud.

    She and David Ettridge knew that One Nation could not be registered as a political party in under Qld electoral laws, and then knowingly and dishonestly claimed that the names of 500 “supporters” were in fact members of the One Nation party.

    They did this to receive the benefits of party registration (party name on the ballot paper, and re-imbursment of electoral expenses), in full knowledge that such benefits were not legally available to them.

    Where’s the “technicality” in that?

  2. Greg
    August 26th, 2003 at 09:43 | #2

    Yes, John, I had been thinking along similar lines and speculating whether, in view of Abbot’s admission that his ‘self-set’ task involved the construction of “barriers to entry” to Hanson and One Nation, there was a case for the extension of competition policy to, and its integration within, our political system?

  3. August 26th, 2003 at 11:26 | #3

    Geoff,

    The technicality exists in the trivial difference between a “supporters group” and normal political party members. The requirement for 500 members is made to prevent bogus, branch stacked parties.
    The “supporters group” class of membership did reduce the transparency and accountability of internal party organisation, but all parties are guilty of that.
    There is no doubt that, as Pr Q has correctly pointed out, One Nation was an authentic aspirant for political office, had large numbers of formally registered members and represented millions of (poor, ill-educated) Australian voters.
    They have been disenfranchised by this action.
    Given this reality, ON’s claim for electoral funding did not seem unreasonable. It is hard to think of a party with fewer rich lobbyists or corrupt money backers.
    ON faced the problem of “entrism” from hostile elements who threatened to swamp the party and make it ungovernable. That is why they sought to immunise the party from grass roots insurrection.
    It turns out that the viper nestled rather closer to the bosom than Hanson thought. Abbott managed to penetrate the party executive and turn dissidents against the party.
    The treatment of Hanson/One Nation, whose party is no more than a recrudescence of the old Country Party, as a political criminal is morally obscene.
    Abbott is a scoundrel.

    (FWIW I disagree with Hanson’s general anti-global ideology.)

  4. Geoff
    August 26th, 2003 at 12:06 | #4

    Jack,

    I agree that the difference between a “supporter” and a “member” of the party may seem a trivial difference. And that a “supporter” may have believed (mistakenly, it turns out) themselves to be a “member”.

    However, the court heard that Hanson and Ettridge were aware that the structure they chose (for whatever reason) was insufficient to satisfy Qld electoral laws for registering as a party.

    Rather than change the One Nation structure to satisfy Qld electoral laws, they deliberately and dishonestly claimed that the “supporters” were in fact “members”. They did this to gain the benefits of party status, as I described in the previous post.

    It does not matter that One Nation could gain party status federally under such a structure, or that a million people voted for One Nation in the 1998 elections.

    What matters is (a) they knew that One Nation could not be registered as a political party in Qld under the then electoral laws, and (b) they took such actions to dishonestly mispresent their structure to the Qld electoral commisioner in order to obtain party status, and (c) this deliberate misrepresentation allowed them to claim $500,000 of taxpayer money, which they knew they were not legally entitled to receive.

    In short, a series of deliberate and dishonest steps to obtain electoral advantage and taxpayer money, which constitutes “fraud with aggrevated circumstances”, apparently.

    That the difference between a “supporter” and a “member” is trivial is neither here nor there. What matters is that Hanson and Ettridge knew that such a difference existed, and that it prevented them from becoming a registered political party in Qld, yet deliberately and dishonestly sought to misrepresent this difference.

  5. craig
    August 26th, 2003 at 12:47 | #5

    Jack

    Did the supporters group have voting rights in the organisation?

    If they did not the difference between supporters and members is not trivial.

  6. kez
    August 26th, 2003 at 14:58 | #6

    Could someone please tell me where i can find law regarding the difference between supporters and members of a political party in the state of Queensland? are these laws the same for all states?

  7. August 26th, 2003 at 15:12 | #7

    Donno about the differences between ‘supporters’ and ‘members’ kez, but Beattie was on Lateline last night, quoting chapter and verse comparable laws re numbers of ‘members’ necessary in every state for registration (the feds and Vic have the same number as QLD … others vary on the number … but all, it seems, specify a requirement to have a specific number of ‘members’).

  8. Greg
    August 26th, 2003 at 15:29 | #8

    Kez, in recent days I have heard a statement, I think on one of the morning radio current affairs programmes, that might be relevant to whatever you are doing. You might want to check the assertion that what Hanson has been convicted of at Queensland level is perfectly legal, even standard practice by the major parties, and perhaps others as well, at Federal level. The implication was that the Queensland situation applied to at least some of the other States and the call was for standardization of the legislation in this respect.

  9. Geoff
    August 26th, 2003 at 15:43 | #9

    Kez,

    Have a poke around http://www.ecq.qld.gov.au for documents. I found one (“Party Registration Handbook”) that states the following:

    In order to successfully apply for registration on the Queensland Register of Political Parties a party: (a) must be established on the basis of a written constitution, however described, that sets out the aims of the party; (b) the party’s constitution must be a complying constitution; (c) must have at least 500 members who are electors or one member who is a member of the Legislative Assembly; and (d) must have as one of its objectives the endorsement of candidates for election to the Legislative Assembly.

    One Nation did not have a member in the Legislative Assembly, so they needed at least 500 electing members. However, there were only three members in total of the One Nation party.

    To get around this, Hanson and Ettridge knowingly and dishonestly submitted the names of 500 non-electing “supporters”, claiming that such names represented “members who are electors”.

  10. Greg
    August 26th, 2003 at 16:03 | #10

    I guess the speaker I heard must have been saying that the analogous provisions in the federal electoral legislation use some other word than ‘members’, or defines ‘member’ differently, etc. – ie, is generally a blunter instrument than the Qld legislation – and that the Qld legislation is unnecessarily sharp in this regard.

  11. Geoff
    August 26th, 2003 at 16:33 | #11

    The Qld electoral laws may well be more demanding of analogous federal or other state electoral laws. Whether this is “unnecessary” is another question altogether. Perhaps the laws should be standardized, as was suggested.

    But when an applying to register a political party in Qld, the Qld electoral laws apply. The jury found that Hanson and Ettridge were aware of the requirements of Qld law, but deliberately tried to circumvent that law.

  12. Greg
    August 26th, 2003 at 17:06 | #12

    Yes Geoff, I have found myself at loggerheads with those who, in recent days (eg, Bronwyn Bishop, the conservative leadership), have been using the fact that lighter sentences have been handed out for frauds of comparable culpability as evidence that the One Nation sentences were a bit harsh.

    My view is that the argument is more forceful in the other direction – ie, that the other sentences should probably be revised upwards, consistent with the Felsian position that stiff jail sentences for white collar crime would lift Australia’s politico-economic game considerably (oh, yes, and, irrelevantly, the ethical atmosphere too).

  13. Greg
    August 26th, 2003 at 17:50 | #13

    Implicatory errata:

    1. I strongly doubt that Fels ever suggested politicians should be sent to jail, though he may have, pre-ACCC, in his writings on microeconomic regulation. My only intention with that statement was to, I suppose, suggest extension of the principle to the democratic arena.

    2. Of course ethics are not irrelevant but integral in a motivational sense, provided that you retain a) a healthy skepticism about where any given ethical commentator is coming from, and b) the determination that, if you treat the subject of ethics, you do it robustly. The sarcasm was directed, not at yourself, Geoff, but at the frequently-encountered view that it’s a bit pollyanna-ish, or insufficiently rigorous, perhaps, either to acknowledge them, or to treat them.

  14. Observa
    August 27th, 2003 at 03:11 | #14

    I don’t know about vipers to the bosom, but this lot sure smacks of Shakespearean tragedy. Beattie as Brutus and a lean and hungry looking Abbott as Cassius on the floor of the senate, looking surprised at the object of their handiwork (hiding bloodied daggers behind their backs) Off slightly to the right is Bronwyn as the chaste Caesar’s wife, wringing washed hands in despair. Further to the right we see Pauline as a witch stirring a frightful looking cauldron uttering- ‘Fair is foul and foul is fair. Hover through the fog and filthy air!’ Trouble is I can’t see a Marc Antony anywhere.

  15. Geoff
    August 27th, 2003 at 08:03 | #15

    Greg mentions that there are some who are using the fact that lighter sentences have been handed out for frauds of comparable culpability as evidence that the One Nation sentences were a bit harsh.

    This is another aspect of the reaction to the Hanson sentence that puzzles me. Criminal fraud to obtain $500,000, and some people think that the sentence is “too harsh”, or that “community service” is somehow more appropriate.

    A quick google reveals that there are many sentences that are proportionate to Hanson’s, for similar offenses:

    a young man was recently sentenced in the County Court of Victoria to five yearsâ imprisonment, and ordered to pay the Commonwealth government about half a million dollars as a result of an identity fraud scam (source)

    A man who used multiple identities to claim more than $120,000 in unemployment benefits was sentenced to three years’ jail yesterday in what was described as one of the most sophisticated cases of social security fraud in Australia. (source)

    Imagine the outrage if the $120,000 dole cheat got away with community service!

    Then there’s other mitigating factors, such as pleading guilty, assisting police, the individual’s circumstances, etc, that come into play when sentencing. Hanson did not plead guilty, showed no remorse, and this left the judge little room for leniency. Three years for $500,000 while not pleading guilty does not seem inconsistent with other sentences (but who knows what will happen on appeal).

    Remember that Karen Erhlmann got a three year sentence for branch-stacking for Labor up in Townsville a few years ago (reduced to nine-months, however, because of mitigating circumstances such as I outlined above), and the prosecution wanted five years for Hanson and Ettridge in this case. It’s arguable whether their crime was worse than Erhlmann’s, but three years is not inconsistent.

  16. Observa
    August 27th, 2003 at 13:35 | #16

    Back at the Amateur Shakespearean Repertory Co performance, a fresh face in the form of a Sydney real estate developer is laying them in the aisles, as a late understudy Marc Antony. However in the wings, the director Teflon John, has become concerned that an old stalwart with a bad ticker in Colston (playing Caesar),hasn’t budged for some time. He wonders whether to intervene or pull the curtain on the whole thing, but the fervour of a packed house has to be considered.

    Meanwhile up the back, well away from the footlights and the thunderous booing and hissing of villains, cricket and a football columnists Shane and Wayne(filling in for a couple of sick arts critics), are sharing pop-corn and exchanging nods of approval at the proceedings. The show must go on.

  17. August 27th, 2003 at 16:57 | #17

    There’s something missing in talking about “the benefits of party registration”, etc. These benefits are no more than permission to go through the barriers to entry – barriers that would not have been there had the laws not been set up to produce that very situation. That is, the benefits are derivative, deriving from access to being elected – and without the barriers favouring intermediaries in the form of political parties, there would be just as many parliamentarians voted in.

    So the “benefits” that Pauline Hanson et al have obtained are no more than those that would have been available to all and sundry had the elites not agreed among themselves to sit on the safety valves of democracy in the first place. To the extent that there is indeed a financial cost to the taxpayer, that is a cost that was created by the laws not by Pauline Hanson – the desired result is that the same funds should be spent, only now by approved parties, not that the burden of this system be any less on the rest of us.

  18. Jill Rush
    August 27th, 2003 at 22:31 | #18

    I feel confused on this issue. On the one hand Pauline seems to be quite guilty – yet this would never have landed her in jail except for the determination and big money from the Liberal side of politics and what an ironic name for the fund – from the politician who was keen to let us know that politicians aren’t to be trusted.

    The ability of political parties to change the rules to suit themselves, to make their actions legal and the actions of others illegal and to manipulate situations to demonise others has been shown through the mandatory detention system, the ethanol affair and numerous others.

    Mal Colston may be dead but he could have died in jail for the frauds he committed. Visas for sale will probably never send anyone to jail although most would feel that this should be illegal.

    The outrage at the sentence is as much at the general system which created Pauline in the first place. It is clear that a sentence of this length puts her out of political office for ever after. The Liberals have a long history of burninng (metaphorically) upstart women. Pauline joins the list.

  19. Geoff
    August 28th, 2003 at 10:23 | #19

    Observa:

    The requirements may be considered as “barriers to entry” in registering a political party under Qld electoral law. Whether these barriers are too high is an interesting discussion (in my view, they are reasonable).

    Regardless, such “barriers” exist, and any one wishing to register a political party in Qld must satisfy them. One of these “barriers” is that there must be at least 500 electing members (see previous post above).

    One Nation could have satisfied that requirement many times over if Hanson et al chose to allow the rank-and-file a voice within the party. Instead, they chose a party structure that allowed control to be vested in three people only (ironic, really, as Hanson had railed against the control of politics by “elites”).

    That’s their choice, but it falls short of the party registration requirements that they could easily have achieved otherwise. And Hanson and Ettridge, rather than modify their party structure, chose to commit fraud instead.

  20. August 28th, 2003 at 11:21 | #20

    I suspect Geoff would have agreed that the Irish MPs at Westminster during the 19th century were under a moral obligation to try to make the system work, even though it had things built in that were opposed to the very things the MPs stood for.

  21. August 28th, 2003 at 12:38 | #22

    (And the 21st, of course.)

  22. August 29th, 2003 at 10:54 | #23

    I wasn’t commenting on Sinn Fein. I was commenting on the inadvertently rigged system in place in the UK in the 19th century, that the likes of Parnell had to work within yet did not want to reinforce. Things like the “guillotine” came in as a result of the Irish MPs adopting “join and sabotage” debating techniques. What happened in later decades happened under a system that had changed to allow legitimate aspirations.

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