Pauline Hanson is on a family cruise off Belfast just days out from the crucial Longman by-election and it’s helping her avoid some potentially embarrassing questions.
The One Nation leader confirmed she is on holiday, but will be on the hustings this Saturday when Longman voters go to the polls.
Preferences from One Nation’s candidate Matthew Stephen will be crucial to whether the Liberal National Party’s Trevor Ruthenberg can break a 100-year political drought and win a by-election from the opposition.
But questions have been raised about Mr Stephen’s business dealings, with building subcontractors claiming his former company, Aus Tile Qld Pty Ltd, has a trail of debts.
Senator Hanson’s absence also coincides with the expected sentencing of former One Nation adviser Sean Black, who was convicted of rape on July 13.
Senator Hanson told radio 2GB on Monday night she worked long hours and had campaigned extensively before she left the country on a holiday that had been booked some time ago.
“I went to that seat for four days, 12 to 13-hour days, and do you know what? The media turned up once. Nothing on the news. Just one small article in the paper,” she said.
Mr Stephen said Senator Hanson was the hardest working politician in Australia and deserved time to recuperate from her campaigning and travel.
“Sure, I’d love her to live at my house but we can’t have it all our way and she needs that rest and recovery,” he told Sky News on Tuesday.
Come down on polling day, you’ll get to see Pauline on the booth and grab a selfie.”
Asked about Senator Hanson’s absence, cabinet minister Peter Dutton said: “It’s not an issue for me. I don’t approve her leave and don’t have any say in where she goes. It’s an issue for her.”
“What’s important is that we can get Trevor Ruthenberg elected in Longman,” Mr Dutton said in Adelaide on Tuesday.
With just days to go before the super Saturday by-elections, the seats of Perth and Fremantle are expected to be won by Labor.
Polls suggest the South Australian seat of Mayo will be retained by the Centre Alliance’s Rebekha Sharkie.
But the Tasmanian seat of Braddon and Queensland’s Longman look to be tight battles between Labor and the Liberals. One Nation preferences will be crucial in the Queensland seat.
Gold Coast subcontractor Matthew Young has told the Nine Network he’s owed about $6500 from a Darwin project he worked on with Mr Stephen in 2014.
He says his brother is owed about $11,000, and he’s aware of half a dozen others who are also owed about the same amount.
“Why should a guy like this be in parliament? If he’s going to do this to us, what’s he going to do when he’s in parliament?” Mr Young said on Tuesday.
The subcontractor said Mr Stephen had repeatedly promised to pay his debts but then never did, forcing him to engage a solicitor to try to recover the money.
Mr Stephen has denied the claims and said the complaints are part of a Labor smear campaign.
In a Facebook post and video on Monday, the candidate said he was the victim of an ugly political attack that showed how scared Labor leader Bill Shorten was of losing Longman to the conservative vote.
“It is nothing more than political bastardry and I lay it solely at the feet of the Labor Party,” he said, adding it was “fake news that I owe some money”.
“I know we’ve got you scared, Bill.”