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What's all the fuss about? Hanson got no more or less than she deserved

By Graham Young - posted Monday, 25 August 2003


I believe that Pauline Hanson is a criminal who deserves to serve every day of her three-year jail sentence for fraud, even though she will probably serve only half or less of it. Yet, according to yesterday's Sunday Mail (24/8/03), 82 per cent of Queenslanders think her sentence is too long and 65 per cent think she shouldn't be jailed at all. Are there good reasons for me being in the minority? I think so, and in the way that they weld group-think, sensationalist journalism and public moral and ethical laxity together they repeat a pattern that is endemic in modern Australian politics.

Pauline Hanson was charged for defrauding the Queensland Electoral Commission of about $500,000. She did this by registering Pauline Hanson's One Nation as a political party even though the political party itself had only three members. Queensland law requires a political party to have 500 members. The Electoral Commission found out and demanded repayment of the money. Hanson and One Nation complied.

The major technical consequences of registering One Nation as a party were that it was entitled to public funding; to register its candidates in one bloc; and to have the name of the party published on ballot papers.

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Hanson pleaded not guilty but the jury unanimously disagreed. Once the verdict had been reached the only question left to judge Patsy Wolfe was the length of sentence. She determined it should be three years - the length of a parliamentary term.

In making the sentence the judge had reference to four previous judgements. The most comparable was the decision of the Appeal Court in The Queen v Karen Lynn Ehrmann. Ehrmann falsely enrolled 24 people on the state electoral roll with the intention of using them in an internal ALP ballot. Ehrmann pleaded guilty. She was sentenced to three years with a recommendation for early release after nine months.

In terms of proportionality, Hanson's crime was greater. Ehrmann pleaded guilty and showed some remorse, Hanson did neither. You'd have to say that Patsy Wolfe's call was a pretty fair one. She even allowed Hanson's position as a Member of Parliament as a mitigating factor. I would have thought that it should have been the reverse - Hanson should have been held to a higher standard. Hanson's supporters say she should have escaped sentence because she repaid the money. Well, yes, she did, but only when she had been caught. If she hadn't repaid then she may have been sentenced to six years in jail, as in the case of Lockhart (see who misappropriated $390,000.

Compared with other crimes it is even more fitting. Hanson supports mandatory sentencing, a regime which, in the Northern Territory, has seen Aboriginal kids doing time for stealing a tin of biscuits. In this case she got her hands on much more of the lolly!

The fundamental basis of Hanson and Ehrmann's crimes was that they perverted the democratic process. This is a crime that involves the theft of something more precious than merely money and it is something that cannot be repaid.

Pauline Hanson's One Nation was a profoundly undemocratic party - it was in fact a personality cult masquerading as a party. People were free to support her but could only join her supporters group, where they had no real power. Imagine the outcry if a Ronald MacDonald Party were set up where franchisees held no equity in the business and could be dismissed by head office at any time at the same time that they had no say in corporate policy. Here was Hanson, the champion of the "average man" doing virtually the same thing. This is a fraud on the community that went well beyond the technical benefits of party status.

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It was also a fraud on its "members". Most of them did not know they hadn't joined the party. When some became suspicious and demanded copies of the constitution, they were threatened with expulsion.

Hanson has form when it comes to fraud. Just consider her original election to Parliament. She was endorsed in 1995 as the Liberal Party candidate but, almost from the date of preselection, flouted the party rules and policy, breaking the agreement she made when seeking the endorsement.

In the end her behaviour was so bad that she became an electoral liability. As a result of a meeting with the party's executive Hanson agreed to resign as the Liberal Party's candidate. Because nominations had closed her name and former party affiliation remained on the ballot paper.

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About the Author

Graham Young is chief editor and the publisher of On Line Opinion. He is executive director of the Australian Institute for Progress, an Australian think tank based in Brisbane, and the publisher of On Line Opinion.

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