The Sun-Herald, 21st November 1999
When Pauline Hanson plans her comeback, legal forces are working to destroy One Nation, Fia Cumming reports.
Pauline Hanson has slipped off overseas and her party, One Nation, has slipped off centre stage. But when she returns from two months of R&R in the US a reinvigorated Hanson will launch the next phase of her political career.
She will help a repackaged party back into the limelight but will concentrate on putting her own political career back on the map.
So much so that she is said to have agreed to moves for the party to drop her name - it has officially been known as Pauline Hanson's One Nation - to free her to take her own place on the political stage.
Despite polls showing the party's support has slumped into single figures, no senior political figure denies that the groundswell of discontent which has fuelled One Nation still exists, waiting to be tapped.
Party director David Ettridge said the quiet surrounding One Nation was a sign that it was consolidating, not atrophying. As an example of its new, positive phase, he points to the party's alliance with The Aboriginal Newspaper in Perth.
Some Aboriginal leaders were not so impressed, and last week attempts were made to sack the newspaper's editor, Peter David - who was supported by other elders.
But Ettridge is unrepentant.
In future election campaigns, Ettridge and Hanson promise that One Nation will be less naive and more like the major parties.
Almost certainly Hanson will contest the Senate at the next Federal election, due before the end of 2001, after learning that Lower House seats are very hard to wrest from the major parties.
But the problems within One Nation are far from resolved. Internal dissent peaked early this year with five of the 11 Queensland State MPs and dissent over the party constitution and power concentrated in the hands of Ettridge and Oldfield with Hanson being merely a puppet - an allegation she has rejected.
The accusations have made an impact. One Nation is still fighting the claim that it was fraudulently registered as a political party, with the appeal to be heard this week.
The crux of the claim, which was upheld by the Queensland Supreme Court, was that the party's "members" had no real power and were, in fact, members of the Support Movement, not the party.
The curious structure by which Oldfield, Ettridge and Hanson set up and controlled One Nation is seen by some former members as evidence for a conspiracy theory which is gaining momentum.
According to the theory, One Nation was never intended to be a grassroots political movement. Instead, it was an ingenious, covert operation by rogue elements associated with the Liberal party to lure protest votes from the Democrats and secure the Senate balance of power.
If so, the operation backfired horribly when One Nation members demanded that it also run for the Queensland State Election. Its victory in 11 seats shocked the Liberal and National parties, which believed they could benefit by One Nation drawing Labor votes.
The short history of One Nation makes interesting reading.
When Bruce Whiteside, founder of the Pauline Hanson Support Movement (PHSM), was seeking funding in December 1996 he spoke to a senior businessman with strong Liberal connections (John Elliot) who hinted that large sums would be arranged.
"The money will be forthcoming, but it will not be used to directly assist Hanson," Whiteside was told. "The money will be used to clear the blockage in the Senate." The businessman said the result would be "the decimation of the Australian Democrats", but made it clear he could not be associated with the plans.
Pressure on Whiteside to turn PHSM into a political party was strongest from WA and one person, John Samuel. Before the 193 Federal Election, Samuel bought the company name Australian Democrats WA Division, and tried to gain control of the party then led by Cheryl Kernot.
In the 1996 Federal campaign, he used legal action against the Democrats to try to minimise the party's Senate vote.
By late 1996 Hanson was in close contact with Liberal adviser and former NSW Liberal candidate David Oldfield. Oldfield's friend David Ettridge took over the PHSM branch in Manly soon after (note this is incorrect - Ettridge gained copies of the PHSM starter kit etc... which were later plagiarised by him for One Nation starter kits).
In February 1997 Ettridge took the PHSM membership list from Whiteside, effectively seizing control of the movement and 18 days later set up Pauline Hanson's One Nation with Oldfield and Hanson.
After the Queensland election result there was speculation that One Nation could hold the balance of power in Federal Parliament in the Senate and the Lower House.
Liberal MP (now minister) Tony Abbott, Oldfield's former employer, stepped up his campaign against One Nation by offering to help former One Nation candidate, Terry Sharples, mount a legal case to prevent One Nation receiving $500,000 in State electoral funding, and to have it deregistered.
Abbott and Sharples fell out after Sharples sacked the lawyers organised by Abbott for refusing to obey directions.
Abbott then tried to convince Sharples to drop his legal action fearing that he (Abbott) might be called as a witness. With Samuel, Abbott then organised a parallel legal action headed by Hanson's former secretary, Barbara Hazelton, with Samuel by his side.
Sharples doggedly pursued his case. Last July, the Queensland Supreme Court ruled in his favour, concluding that One Nation did not have the required 500 members. Sharples has to fight the appeal this week but has refused help from Abbott's trust.
He also has been fighting his former barrister over access to a written statement by Abbott. Samuel has repeatedly offered to fund his appeal, provided Sharples uses lawyers selected by him, drops the action over the Abbott documents and does not talk to the media.
Ettridge is confident One Nation's lawyers will win. But if they don't, the party's losses will be limited. The $500,000 at stake is payable to One Nation's candidates whether or not the party for which they stood was registered.
For the next two months, Hanson will leave such questions far behind and enjoy a country where her appearance in a shopping mall does not immediately draw attention.