Ever since she first entered the Australian senate more than two decades ago, Pauline Hanson’s One Nation has added a particularly colourful touch to politics.
Today she’s writing a new chapter with the defection of the party’s newest senator, Fraser Anning, the Queenslander meant to replace Malcolm Roberts, who was ousted by the High Court for being a dual national, a problem that had its own bizarre twists and turns.
“One Nation split” is not an unusual headline. Over the past 20 years, of the 26 One Nation politicians elected in state or federal politics, 16 have quit, or been expelled from the party. Less than 12 months ago, and just months into One Nation’s return to federal politics, Western Australian senator Rod Culleton quit the party.
And with fears of a resurgent One Nation ahead of the Queensland election, it’s worth recalling that within a year of 11 PHON members being elected in 1998 they had all left the party and One Nation was deregistered in Queensland by August 1999.
Even the circumstances behind Anning’s departure today are already in dispute.
Hanson’s version is that he “abandoned the Party to stand as an independent” and told his future One Nation colleagues just minutes before he was sworn in as Roberts’ replacement.
Anning says Hanson “unilaterally kicked me out of her party” and he’d gone to the party room meeting this morning and faced a verbal “so vitriolic that I was obliged to simply walk out”.
Tradition dictates that he would have entered the chamber escorted by his One Nation colleagues, but says that changed at the last moment, and instead two crossbench senators accompanied him.
Anning says he discovered he was an independent on TV.
“This was news to me!” he said.
“It seems without even contacting me, Pauline has unilaterally kicked me out of her party.”
More telling however, in Hanson’s statement, is the apparent jostling for position already underway before Anning – third on One Nation’s Queensland senate ticket and thus next in line after Roberts, despite receiving just 19 primary votes – was handed the $200,000 a year job that runs until 2019. He first stood for the seat of Fairfax for One Nation nearly 20 years ago in John Howard’s GST election.
Hanson claims some former staffers working for Malcolm Roberts approached Anning about him defecting to former Liberal defector Corey Bernardi’s party in the event he got the senate job.
The One Nation leader says she asked Anning about standing in the Queensland state election before the whole Roberts saga unfolded, but he was planning to move to the USA permanently.
Fairfax Media tracked down the hotelier in the US back in late September, but he declined to comment on his potential new job.
Hanson says she also tried to get in touch but “those efforts fell on deaf ears” and she instead communicated via his brother, making it clear she felt it best if he stood aside to pave the way for the return of Roberts, who finally renounced his British citizenship late last year.
And what she also reveals is that she was already maneuvering to get her former colleague, Roberts, back into his old job by getting Anning to stand aside.
She told his brother “it would be in the Federal Party’s and Australia’s best interest for Malcolm Roberts to be returned to the Senate”.
Today’s fight appears to be over Anning’s staffers because they used to work for Roberts. Hanson, apparently forgetting they’re public servants paid for by the taxpayer, accused them of “disloyalty to their former employer and myself”, and said they “were not welcome to this morning’s Party room meeting” as a result.
As anyone who watched “Please Explain” on ABC TV’s Four Corners earlier this year, about the internal machinations of Hanson’s party, it’s an endless parade of party loyalists falling out with the leader and then the subsequent bitter recriminations.
When three Queensland MPs quit One Nation in 1999 it was over concerns about Hanson’s Svengali-like party directors David Ettridge and David Oldfield. In an interview with Fairfax Media today, Anning, a veteran of the party from that era, pointed the finger at James Ashby, Hanson’s chief of staff and best known in Australian politics as the man who accused his former boss, house of Reps speaker Peter Slipper, of harassment before dropping the case.
Anning is just another log on the One Nation fire.
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