Pauline Hanson’s top adviser, James Ashby, has become embroiled in a political scandal after appearing to suggest One Nation dupe its own candidates and the taxpayer for financial benefit – yet some of those very election hopefuls have dismissed the story as “fake”.
Mr Ashby was forced to defend himself on Monday following the release of a leaked tape in which he proposed charging inflated prices for campaign promotional material such as signage. (There is no suggestion the party acted on the idea.)
Despite Mr Ashby suggesting the party could overcharge the party’s own candidates and then recoup the costs from the taxpayer, a number of One Nation’s Queensland election hopefuls defended Mr Ashby’s conduct on Monday.
“Sounds like another beat-up to me,” said one candidate, who initially said he had not heard about the story, while another said they’d “read too many stories that are all fake” when asked to comment.
The New Daily reached out to multiple party candidates on Monday, with some saying the story was fake despite the existence of an audio recording, and a few even claiming they were unaware of the controversy altogether.
Others did not dispute the story but said they had no concerns about Mr Ashby’s actions or even defended him.
“Nothing has been done about it (the idea wasn’t acted on),” said one.
“Most of us have said some things we shouldn’t have said in a private space. Maybe some things are better off left unsaid,” another said.
Concern about leaks within the party was a more common gripe, with one candidate saying that it “looks like the daggers are out”.
The party’s former election candidates were not so forgiving of Mr Ashby’s conduct, with a few hitting out at Ms Hanson’s chief of staff on Monday night.
“I don’t want to see the party go down in flames, I don’t want to see her go down in flames, I want to see Ashby go down in flames because I think he’ll bring her down in flames, I really do,” former Queensland candidate Diane Happ told the ABC’s 7.30.
ABC’s Lateline program later revealed it had obtained a fresh recording of the conversation that ran for about seven minutes and did not cover the entire meeting.
“We should be selling them these [advertising] packs, because you make money and they make money. Well they don’t make any money, but you make money,” one man says.
Earlier on Monday, Senator Hanson said the party had never taken the idea seriously.
“We knocked it on the head at the meeting,” she said.
“It didn’t go ahead. It was an issue that was raised and it was knocked on the head there and then.”
Mr Ashby said he regretted his “poor choice of words” during the meeting, but denied the party has used its candidates to make money.
He said the meeting had been a brainstorming sessions and rejected claims he had proposed rorting the taxpayer.
“They were quite clearly secret recordings, it captured some off-guard comments. There’s only one thing I regret and that’s a poor choice of words,” he said.
Labor Senator Murray Watt referred the matter to the Australian Federal Police, Queensland Police and the Electoral Commission of Queensland on Monday night.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said he would be getting advice from the AFP Commissioner on One Nation’s activities, describing the matter as “serious”.
In the leaked recording, first published by The Courier Mail, Mr Ashby tells members of One Nation’s executive: “There is an opportunity for us to make some money on this if we play this smart.”
He says the party could charge candidates double the cost to purchase election promotional materials, with that money then recouped from the electoral commission.
“Because when you lodge the receipt at the full price with the Electoral Commission of Queensland you get back the full amount that’s been issued to you as an invoice,” he says.