Even for Pauline Hanson, Thursday afternoon’s press conference– her first since One Nation became embroiled in a guns and donations scandal – raised eyebrows.
Apparently recovered from a debilitating tick bite, the One Nation leader delivered an 18-minute diatribe.There were stumbles over words, including a perplexing reference to the NRMA motoring group (she meant to say the NRA or National Rifle Association), and a name check on someone called Jacinda Ahern, which should have been the New Zealand prime minister, Jacinda Ardern.
Hanson read out a laundry list of the journalists/news organisations she liked or who were friendly to her party. She told some Rupert Murdoch anecdotes, denied she had speculated about Port Arthur conspiracies, complained about “Islamist” plots to undermine One Nation.
Flanked by her chief of staff, James Ashby, and the Queensland leader of her party, Steve Dickson – both of whom appeared in al-Jazeera’s How to Sell a Massacre documentary – Hanson defended her party’s conduct. But how much of what she said was fact and how much was fiction?
One Nation doesn’t get money from big business
Hanson characterised One Nation as a party that would never “sell its vote”. “Perhaps that’s why big organisations and big business don’t give us donations,” she said.
Except they do, as a cursory look at One Nation’s donation disclosures reveals.
One of the most recent donations listed on the federal register is from the coalmining giant Adani. It gave the party $15,000 in May last year.
Four weeks ago, One Nation in Queensland took a $10,000 donation from big business lobbyists Strategic Political Counsel, which represents British American Tobacco, Adani and the Australian Lotteries and Newsagents Association, among others.
The Queensland branch has also accepted the generosity of Clubs Australia and the Tatts Group.
The hotels lobby – a prohibited donor in New South Wales – is a frequent donor to the federal One Nation branch.
Even the Sydney shock jock Alan Jones has been a generous friend of the party. Coincidentally, he’s on Hanson’s nice media list.
The media hates us and should be ashamed
Hanson split the Australian media into two camps. Those who were nice to her, and those who weren’t.
It went something like this: Alan Jones is good, Andrew Bolt is better, and Sky News’s Paul Murray is solid for “offering me a platform”. A couple of News Corp journos got the nod too.
Everyone else: evil. Especially al-Jazeera, whose employees she said were spies for the Qatari government, which has attempted to subvert Australian democracy via a global blockbuster media story.
The ABC is also on the media naughty list for showing the How to Sell A Massacre documentary before Australia’s spy agency, Asio, finished an investigation into al-Jazeera.
“This is a political attack by al-Jazeera in cooperation with the ABC,” Hanson said. “If the ABC had any ethical bone in their body, they would refuse to put this unfair and unbalanced story to air tonight.”
An unnamed journalist fairly summed up the position of the media attending the press conference, as he pleaded with Hanson to answer questions as she left the room. “No one’s baying for your blood. We just want some answers, senator.”
“Can we get some answers of what actually happened in that documentary, rather than your spin and shooting the messenger?” the journalist asked.
It was a set-up
There is a genuine debate to be had about the ethics of undercover media stings. Would the meetings between One Nation and the NRA have taken place if not for the al-Jazeera team?
Hanson says no, and there may well be some substance to her argument. But to suggest in some way that this indemnifies Ashby and Dickson from their actions on the US trip is questionable, at least.
Consider this excerpt, captured on al-Jazeera’s hidden cameras, from Ashby and Dickson, strategising the softly-softly approach that would be needed to change Australia’s gun laws.
“It’s like Vegemite. You don’t put a f***ing bundle of the s*** on the toast. A light smear first. Get them used to the flavour,” Ashby said. “Then we can get another piece of bread and end up with the whole loaf,” Dickson said.
The Port Arthur massacre was real, actually
Al-Jazeera’s report shows Hanson openly canvassing a conspiracy theory about the Port Arthur massacre.
However, in her news conference Hanson said she did in fact believe Martin Bryant was responsible.
“There are comments that have been aired in relation to Port Arthur that are obviously heavily edited and do not reflect how I feel about those tragedies that occurred in 1996. There is no question in my mind that Martin Bryant was the only person responsible for the murders of 35 innocent lives.”
She went on to imply that Bryant should have been put to death for the crime. Asizeable leap from the conspiratorial views expressed to alJazeera’s hidden cameras, for which there was no explanation, because Hanson refused to take questions.