TRANSCRIPT: Response to One Nation Four Corners Expose

TONY BURKE: Thanks very much.

I won’t detain you long but I thought it was worthwhile having a few reflections after Four Corners last night. First thing to note about the revelations in Four Corners last night is that this was not some dirt digging exercise from the political opponents of One Nation. The information that was revealed in Four Corners last night all came from Pauline Hanson’s most loyal supporters. People who had joined her party, people who had worked closely with her, people who believed in her. And these revelations are simply people saying, having offered that sort of loyalty to Pauline Hanson, how she treated them in return. So, that’s the first thing to note about the revelations.

The second thing is they do raise significant legal questions. You’ll be aware that Senator Murray Watt has written to the electoral commission in terms of items not having been fully declared. Now, it’s not unheard of for people to inadvertently miss a small item in a declaration, and once its drawn to their attention to fix up the declaration. That’s not unheard of at all. But we are talking about something pretty substantial. We are talking about an aeroplane.

Now, if you look at the different comments that have been made publicly, Pauline Hanson has referred to the plane as belonging to the party. We now find the story has changed, that maybe it belongs to a moment of the party. I’ve got to say, you can go to different workplaces and there will be differences in opinion as to who owns which coffee cup. I’ve never contemplated that you could wonder who owns an aeroplane. But this issue goes to the heart of whether there has been a significant breach of electoral law, and Murray Watt quite appropriately has put that in the hands of the Electoral Commissioner.

The issue that leads all of this back to, ‘What is the Turnbull Government hiding?’ is the preferences deal in the WA election. Now Labor’s position on this has been really simple. We have said from the start, as we have been saying ever since One Nation first started as a party, that One Nation should be put last on every ballot paper. They are different to other political parties, every other political party while you can have arguments back and forth about their individual policies, there is no other political party that, as a core value, sees division of Australia as a starting point. And that’s how One Nation has always operated. So our position has been very simple very straightforward, and unchanged. And Bill Shorten has reaffirmed that from the moment One Nation grows again.

There would be no One Nation in the Parliament were there not Malcolm Turnbull. Malcolm Turnbull made the decision to have an unwise double dissolution, to change how the Senate vote was counted, and by the end of that process we found that whereas One Nation had previously had no representatives in the Federal Parliament, all of a sudden they had four. Following the preference deal we now see how that has unfolded in Western Australia. One Nation has been the most reliable party in the Senate to vote with the Government. Three times out of four, One Nation is there to do the bidding of the Liberal and National parties.

But Michaelia Cash has previously denied that she was part of that preference deal in WA, and I’d like to quote. In this interview Ashleigh Gillon from Sky News said the following:

GILLON: Okay so the report suggesting that you met with One Nation to get this deal over the line are incorrect. You had nothing to do with that?

CASH: They are incorrect, yes. 

Revelations on Four Corners last night, if accurate, show that Minister Cash lied to Australians. Four Corners last night, the narrator:

Four Corners: Michaelia Cash and her husband arrived on your doorstep to pick Pauline Hanson and James Ashby up.

Daniels: Yes, to have a secret meeting

Four Corners: Michaelia Cash, the Federal Minister for Employment was there to personally escort Pauline Hanson and James Ashby to dinner with another Liberal powerbroker, the Federal Minister for Finance, Mathias Cormann.

It beggars belief that the reason they were catching up for dinner was for pleasant company and to just hang out with each other over a few felafels. It is impossible to believe that there was no mention during the meeting, that secret dinner, where supporters of One Nation were precluded from attendance but senior Liberals were there. It just seems impossible to believe that there was no discussion there over the preference deal between One Nation and the Liberal Party.

Michaelia Cash needs to explain what was said, what was agreed to, what was negotiated. Mathias Cormann needs to explain the same. And Malcolm Turnbull needs to do what John Howard did 20 years ago and that is to simply identify that One Nation is categorically different to other political parties, and they should be put last on every ballot paper. John Howard had the courage to do that, and Malcolm Turnbull should do the same. The only thing One Nation and this Government have in common is perpetual chaos.

JOURNALIST: Back to the plane, do you believe that there has been a breach of electoral laws?

BURKE: I find it hard to work out how there hasn’t been, but as I say the information that has been revealed hasn’t been revealed through Labor party going through documents and finding information ourselves. What we’ve seen last night the most loyal supporters of One Nation put forward what they believe has happened. That is enough that it really needs to be properly investigated by the Electoral Commission. And the whole concept of declaration is whether the news is good or bad, even if the media might do something with it that you don’t like, you have an obligation to put that information forward. And as I say, whereas from time to time people have made inadvertent errors. I find it hard to believe that you can forget about an aeroplane that you are in. And I also find it curious that this could be anything other than a deliberate omission if the evidence given on Four Corners last night is accurate: that there was discussion about whether it should be disclosed and they actively decided not to.

JOURNALIST: So if there had been a breach, what would be the implications of that?

The consequences are gone through by Senator Watt. Now the first stage, and I don’t want to jump to the conclusion, what we have asked for is an investigation. In the second paragraph of that letter, Senator Murray Watt ways the following…

As you are aware, a breach of financial disclosure obligations under the Act may be a criminal offence.

This is a serious issue, and as I say, I don’t see how this could be an inadvertent oversight. If they have a creative argument to try to explain this one, then One Nation should do so. On the evidence that was on Four Corners last night, it is difficult to see how this is anything other than a deliberate omission. And a deliberate omission to the tune, if this aircraft had been new, of something in the order of $100,000.

JOURNALIST: So a criminal offence by whom. Who should have declared it?

Well it depends. At the moment on the basis of what has been said publicly so far, we don’t even know who owns it. Someone owns it. And whoever owns the plane you would presume was responsible for passing it over for political use during an election campaign. They’re all issues that need to be disclosed. Those rules are there for a very good reason, about transparency. You end up in a situation not where One Nation is some party that is separate because it is cleaning up the system. This is a party that is behaving differently because it is not even obeying the rules that are meant to keep the place clean.

JOURNALIST: The $250,000 fine apparently for candidates to quit the party, is that legal?

When I was watching the program, the constitutionality of that occurred to me. I’ll leave it to others to get formal legal advice on that. We’ve got to remember Pauline Hanon herself is someone who WHEN originally nominated, when she first nominated for election, had Liberal Party under her name. So, for them to have a $250,000 penalty for someone choosing to leave a political party, at the very least seems odd. But the whole financial arrangements that were discussed last night, there are a number of issues which, once described, I’m not sure how anybody could even think of it, let alone expect anyone to sign up to it.

JOURNALIST: Now you were saying that the Coalition needs One Nation’s support in the Senate. So why would Malcolm Turnbull have anything to say at this point about a preference deal when we’re so far out from an election?

BURKE: We saw what happens at state elections when he doesn’t provide the same sort of clarity the John Howard used to provide. We’ve seen that in WA. There’s more State elections to come. What he does is a couple of things, he legitimises their arguments. Now admittedly, by saying they’re the same as any other party, admittedly in the final week of their campaign it all went to wrack and ruin once they were asked to answer questions about policy. But both One Nation and the Liberal Party ended up taking a hit as a result of that deal.

But in terms of how one Nation vote in the Senate, let’s not forget: three quarters of the time they vote with the Liberal Party because Pauline Hanson started as a Liberal. Let’s not pretend that voting the other way on penalty rates wasn’t because that where the instincts of One Nation were, it was because they were under tremendous pressure and then ultimately they folded. But they didn’t fold when it came to cuts to the pension or cuts to family payment, and three quarters of the time they will be there for the Government’s agenda, because the things that One Nation believe, in terms of what hurts working and middle class Australians, match the sort of things that a Liberal Government’s willing to do. The sort of people who One Nation want to help in terms of wanting to provide benefits to the top end of town, are the sort of things that the Liberal Government wants to do. So that voting pattern I suspect will be unchanged either way. But I don’t for the life of me see, when Pauline Hanson herself says her polices haven’t changed from 20 years ago, why Malcolm Turnbull can’t show the strength that John Howard showed.

JOURNALIST: But wasn’t John Howard quite slow to denounce One Nation?

BURKE: He got there. I mean, if the argument’s going to be that we need to exactly match the pace I think the issue really is: what was the conclusion that, on reflection, John Howard reached? And ultimately, what happened for him wasn’t a bad political outcome for John Howard. He was willing to show a bit of backbone, a bit of courage. Which are things that when it comes to One Nation Malcolm Turnbull hasn’t been willing to show at all.  


Tony Burke