Pauline Hanson and One Nation slammed over foreign funding and gun law revelations, James Ashby and Steve Dickson claim they were set up
One Nation staffers say they're victim of Qatari spy plot (ABC News)
Senior One Nation officials are in damage control after the release of footage showing them soliciting political donations from powerful American gun lobbyists.
Fronting a media scrum in Brisbane today, James Ashby and Steve Dickson said they had "had a few drinks" and claimed they were set up by a "secret agent" from the Middle East.
The secret recordings of the pair reveal the pair wanted millions of dollars in political donations from America's National Rifle Association (NRA) and discussed softening One Nation policies on gun ownership as they tried to secure the funding.
The vision was broadcast as part of an undercover Al Jazeera investigation which involved setting up a fake gun lobby group called Gun Rights Australia headed by a fake gun rights advocate, Rodger Muller.
"Rodger Muller had organised these meetings. This was a deliberate set-up by the Qatari government under Al Jazeera," Mr Ashby said.
"He set these meetings up. This is skulduggery at its worst. This is the very first time Australia has witnessed political interference from a foreign government."
Mr Dickson added: "I never, ever, ever suspected in my wildest dreams that this guy was employed by a Middle Eastern country, by Al Jazeera, as an Australian spy to interfere in Australian politics."
Mr Ashby said party leader Pauline Hanson was unwell and unable to respond to media inquiries, despite calls from politicians for her to reveal what she knew about the meetings.
In one of the recordings, Mr Dickson was recorded telling representatives of Koch Industries that One Nation could "change the voting system" if the party had more funding.
In a separate recording, Mr Ashby and Mr Dickson discussed wanting up to $20 million from the US lobby groups.
"The conversations that have been recorded where there is a talk of $10-20 million, I will be the first to admit, we'd arrived in America, we got on the sauce, we'd had a few drinks and that's where those discussions took place, not with any potential donors, no-one but Rodger Muller, Steve Dickson and myself," Mr Ashby said.
Politicians condemn One Nation following revelations
There has been widespread condemnation for One Nation in the wake of the Al Jazeera program.
"Pauline Hanson should clearly front the camera today. She should explain whether or not she was truly seeking an amazing $20 million in foreign donations to One Nation," Liberal Cabinet minister Simon Birmingham said.
"Whether or not she was again seeking to personally profit from an election campaign. Whether or not she believes we should be weakening Australia's gun laws."
Prime Minister Scott Morrison slammed the party and alleged it was attempting to sell Australia's laws to the highest bidder.
"We have reports that One Nation officials basically sought to sell Australia's gun laws to the highest bidders, to a foreign buyer, and I find that abhorrent," he said.
"When John Howard put those laws in under a Coalition government, they were put in to protect Australians.
"No law should be up to the highest bidder as some part of foreign interference."
But Mr Morrison again was unable to confirm if the Coalition would preference One Nation last at the federal election.
He said it would be decided after all candidates had nominated.
Deputy Nationals leader Bridget McKenzie, a sport shooting enthusiast, demanded Senator Hanson reveal whether she knew her staff were trying to secure foreign political donations.
"Were they acting on her instructions? Did she know they were there?" Senator McKenzie asked on Sky News.
"And if so, how can she explain, in the wake of the atrocities we've seen in Christchurch, watering down [the] gun regulatory framework?"
'This is a party that says one thing and does another'
Pauline Hanson with her chief of staff James Ashby, who has been filmed in secret recordings discussing foregin political donations. (ABC News: Jacob Kagi)
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.
Senator Hanson supported that change when she voted in the Parliament.
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.
"This is exactly why our Government introduced foreign donation legislation, to ban this type of foreign influence in our political system," Senator McKenzie told the ABC.
But she said it would be a matter for National Party state divisions to determine where they preferenced One Nation candidates at the next election.
Earlier in the day Mr Morrison tweeted that the revelations were "deeply concerning" and Attorney-General Christian Porter said "there is a real question that needs to be answered here".
External Link: @ScottMorrisonMP: Reports that senior One Nation officials courted foreign political donations from the US gun lobby to influence our elections & undermine our gun laws that keep us safe are deeply concerning.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said he was horrified by the revelations and would consider moving a censure motion against One Nation when Parliament resumes.
"One Nation is a dangerous circus … they are extremists, they've been caught out being extremists," he said.
"I think it was a betrayal of the Australian political system, what are these right-wing extremists thinking?"
In a statement, One Nation claimed Al Jazeera was meddling in the upcoming federal election and said it had referred the media company to ASIO.
Mr Ashby accused the broadcaster of being "a state-owned propaganda arm of the Qatari Government that supports Islamic extremist groups and are not a legitimate media organisation".
"It is understood One Nation was targeted because of its strong approach to reducing immigration numbers and a travel ban on countries with terrorism links," the statement said.
"One Nation strongly supports the rights of lawful gun ownership within Australia and have clearly outlined our policy on our website. One Nation members have always complied with the law."
The ABC has sought further comment from Senator Hanson.
"What a hypocrite One Nation and Pauline Hanson are. What this shows is just how phony their policies are," Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said.
"This is a party that says one thing when they are in front of a microphone and does something else when they don't think it is switched on."
She demanded Mr Morrison pledge to put One Nation last on his party's how-to-vote cards at the election, a call Mr Shorten has also made.
Agriculture Minister David Littleproud, a Queensland Nationals MP, echoed Senator Hanson-Young's critique of One Nation.
"When you see the hypocrisy, when you see on December 20, 2017 a One Nation post saying they are against foreign donations to political parties, then you have got to ask some questions — please explain?" he said.