One Nation's founders sentenced to three years in jail for $500,000 electoral corruption
CLOSE to tears, One Nation founder Pauline Hanson proclaimed her innocence as she began a three-year jail term for electoral fraud yesterday.
A District Court jury in Brisbane found Hanson, 49, and her co-accused David William Ettridge, 58, had lied when registering One Nation as a political party in Queensland in 1997.
The jury deliberated for just under 10 hours before delivering its verdict at 2.32pm yesterday after a 23-day trial which heard from 30 witnesses. The Jury also found Hanson fraudulently received nearly $500,000 in electoral payments after lying about the party's membership.
Sentencing Hanson, Chief Judge Patsy Wolfe said it was essential that the electoral process not be
"thwarted or perverted. Those crimes affect the confidence of people in the electoral process."
Hanson, asked if she had anything to say, replied:
"Yes, I am still very innocent of the charges. I believe the prosecution has not proven its case against myself nor David Ettridge." She added later: "Rubbish, I'm not guilty — it's a joke."
Ettridge told the court he should be handed a
"very, very light sentence" because "I have heard a considerable amount of perjury during this trial".
After Judge Wolfe completed the sentences, Hanson embraced Ettridge and family members before being led away. It was an emotional end to one of politics' most remarkable couples who had stood shoulder-to-shoulder on the hustings but ended up side-by-side in the criminal dock.
Premier Peter Beattie last night warned Hanson's imprisonment could make her a martyr and rekindle support for One Nation.
"I think there will be a wave of sympathy from her traditional supporters," Mr Beattie said. "I've got no doubt there will be people who will see her as being martyred."
Queensland One Nation leader Bill Flynn predicted a "ballot box bombshell" and said phones to One Nation "are ringing hot".
Supporters wanted to know why confessed rorters were still part of the political system while Hanson was facing the sort of sentence "routinely handed out to killers".
Mr Flynn said Hanson's only crime — "if that's what it was" — was to allegedly bungle the procedure for registering a party which had thousands of supporters.
"This is bound to result in furious voter backlash. If Labor and the Coalition think we are going to abandon one of our mates and a true patriot they can think again and wait for a ballot box bombshell."
Mr Flynn said he believed there had been "considerable political pressures" behind the case.
But Mr Beattie said: "There has been no political interference, there has been due process."
Hanson's lawyer Chris Nyst confirmed she and Ettridge would appeal against the convictions.
Hanson's son, Adam, said: "My mum is innocent and that is what is going to get us through."
Hanson's former adviser and NSW Upper House MP David Oldfield said Hanson's crimes were committed out of ignorance.
"I would suggest that Hanson and Ettridge, if they've technically offended. — (did not) intend to do that, and second to that, they did not profit from them in any way."
West Australian One Nation MP Frank Hough said Hanson had been "hounded into prison. All she's guilty of is naivety and inexperience."
The trial centred on the way the party was structured when registered in Queensland. The Crown said Hanson and Ettridge lied to then state electoral commissioner Des O'Shea to register the party.
The jury found that in 1997 Hanson and Ettridge told Mr O'Shea that One Nation had more than 500 members — making it eligible for registration — when members listed were actually part of a supporters group.
Prosecutor Brendan Campbell said as a result of the fraud Hanson and Ettridge were able to maintain control of One Nation and give the party "a falsely claimed respectability".
Both Hanson and Ettridge, who pleaded not guilty, were sentenced to three years. They won't be eligible for parole for 18 months.
Judge Wolfe said she would not impose any extra sentence on Hanson for the two other fraud charges of which she was convicted. This was because Hanson already had suffered greatly from the effects of previous civil litigation and police investigations.
Judge Wolfe also said that
"any advantage received for yourselves was not suggested to be any benefit for you financially. The benefit was you continued to control the allocation of electoral funding and how the party was run."
Judge Wolfe said she had taken into account the fact that Hanson had backed an effort to raise money to repay the Electoral Commission.