Secret recordings of senior One Nation figures reveal the party wanted millions of dollars in political donations from America’s National Rifle Association and discussed softening its policies on gun ownership as it tried to secure the funding.
- James Ashby and Steve Dickson’s meetings with the NRA were secretly recorded by a fake gun lobbyist
- The trip to secure NRA funding took place weeks before laws passed banning foreign donations
- The pair were advised on how to respond to gun control advocates when mass shootings occur
Pauline Hanson’s chief of staff James Ashby and the party’s Queensland leader Steve Dickson were covertly filmed during a series of meetings with powerful pro-gun advocates in Washington DC last September.
Footage from inside the meetings, broadcast overnight as part of an Al Jazeera investigation, shows the pair seeking political donations and discussing political strategies to undermine Australia’s gun restrictions.
“We get the balance of power, very simply that means that we have the testicles of the Government in our hand at every given stage,” Mr Dickson said in a meeting with the NRA.
“And guns, in the scheme of things, are still going to be the be-all and end-all.”
Al Jazeera’s investigation involved setting up a fake gun lobby group called Gun Rights Australia headed by a fake gun rights advocate, Rodger Muller.
Mr Muller posed as a grassroots campaigner to gain access to the NRA and One Nation, then arranged meetings between the two groups and secretly filmed them.
He also recorded a meeting between the One Nation staffers and representatives from Koch Industries, which funds various conservative causes in the US.
Al Jazeera’s covert investigation culminated in a documentary titled How to Sell a Massacre, which aired on the international news channel last night.
The efforts to solicit money from the NRA and other US gun advocates took place just weeks before Australia’s Federal Parliament changed electoral laws to ban foreign donations to political parties.
But there is no evidence One Nation was successful in any of its efforts to extract funding from the NRA, Koch Industries or any of the other American groups the two men met on their trip.
One Nation’s high hopes for big money
Prior to their visit to Washington last September, Mr Ashby and Mr Dickson were recorded discussing what they wanted to get out of the trip.
“If the NRA want to rally their supporters within Australia, that’s one start,” Mr Ashby said.
“Two, I’d love to get my hands on their software. And three, if they can help us with donations, super.”
The pair had high hopes for the power they could wield in the Federal Parliament if they could secure more funding for campaigning.
Dickson: “If we could get that sort of money, imagine, we could change Australia.”
Muller: “If One Nation could get $10 million …”
Ashby: “… you would pick up eight Senate seats.”
Dickson: “I mean, that guarantees you the balance of power, you’d have the whole Government by the balls.”
On another occasion, Mr Dickson talked about trying to get “a million dollars f***ing US towards social media” from the NRA.
“I don’t even need the money. I just need the grunt,” Mr Dickson said.
“If we get the use of social media in supporting us, I don’t need to touch the money.”
‘I love that’: Dickson, Ashby praise gun massacre spin tactic
Mr Ashby and Mr Dickson met with a series of senior NRA officials to discuss funding, gun laws, communications strategy and political advice.
In one meeting, NRA media liaison Lars Dalseide offered them advice on what to say to gun control advocates when mass shootings occur.
Dalseide: “‘How dare you stand on the graves of those children to put forward your political agenda?’ Just shame them to the whole idea.”
Dickson: “I love that.”
Dalseide: “It’s like, ‘If you, if your policy, isn’t good enough to stand on itself, how dare you use their deaths to push that forward?!'”
Ashby: “That’s very good, very strong.”
The Al Jazeera investigation also shows Mr Ashby and Mr Dickson telling NRA officials that relaxing Australia’s gun laws is a priority for One Nation.
Mr Dickson was a minister in Campbell Newman’s LNP government in Queensland before defecting to One Nation in January 2017.
$10 million? $20 million? One Nation approaches Koch Industries
In another meeting, Mr Dickson asked the NRA to put them in touch with others in Washington who could help One Nation.
“We lack money. We lack people on the ground,” he said.
The NRA suggested they meet with representatives from Koch Industries, a company run by wealthy industrialists who have donated hundreds of millions of dollars to conservative political causes.
On the way to meet Koch Industries, Al Jazeera’s fake gun advocate Rodger Muller asked the pair about the millions of dollars they were after.
Muller: “If we get to a point where we can talk about figures, what sort of number are you guys thinking?”
Dickson: “I’m thinking 10.”
Ashby: “No, I was thinking 20.”
During the meeting, Mr Dickson was recorded telling Koch Industries representatives that One Nation could “change the voting system” if the party had more funding.
“It’s going to get down to money at the end of the day,” he said.
“We can change the voting system in our country, the way people operate, if we’ve got the money to do it.
“The ingredients are there, we just don’t have the petrol to put in the engine.
“So whatever you can do would be fantastic.”
Mr Dickson, Mr Ashby and the Koch Industries representatives also discussed the laws and public disclosure requirements in Australia for political donations.
US funds sought just before foreign donations banned by parliament
Two months after her chief of staff was seeking funding from the US, One Nation leader Pauline Hanson denounced foreign donations in a Senate debate about a bill proposing to ban them.
“Overseas money should not have an influence on our political scene, so I believe that foreign donations should be totally stopped,” Ms Hanson said.
“It’s good that something is going to be done about foreign donations into political parties, but does it go far enough and is it really going to stop it?
“Foreign donations could actually go through Australian subsidiary companies here in Australia, is that going to be picked up?”
The bill was passed, meaning all donations to federal political parties worth more than $250 must now come from Australian citizens or organisations incorporated in Australia.
One Nation tried to keep NRA visit under wraps
Before meeting with the NRA and Koch Industries, Mr Ashby expressed concern about the political consequences of their contact with American pro-gun lobby groups becoming public.
“If it gets out, it’ll f***ing rock the boat,” Mr Ashby said.
“This shit goes through my head every single minute of my day.”
On another occasion, he was recorded by Al Jazeera detailing his efforts to keep some communication secret.
“I always keep a private email and I keep a work email, because work emails are never private,” Mr Ashby said.
“They can be subpoenaed like that. It’s something that you learn real fast.”
Mr Ashby has been embroiled in a series of political sagas, both during his time working for Pauline Hanson and when he worked for then-speaker of the House, Peter Slipper.
One Nation leader Pauline Hanson did not take part in the trip to Washington but discussed it with Mr Ashby and Mr Muller at a dinner a few months after they returned.
Senator Hanson explained that she had a “gut feeling” that she shouldn’t go because “it is not going to be good for me”.
“I have to actually take it in baby steps and I have to actually get more people elected to Parliament, which I will do after this next election,” Ms Hanson said.
“That’s why I didn’t go, because I thought it wasn’t a politically smart thing for me to do.”
At the same dinner, the fake gun rights advocate Mr Muller asked them whether there was a way around the ban on foreign donations to political parties.
Mr Ashby replied, “No, jail time if you get done.”
One Nation has refused to comment on the documentary and has not responded to questions about whether it received any foreign donations, or if it will continue to seek to wind back Australia’s gun ownership laws.