Pauline Hanson Gaol Sentence
|About this Item||Subjects||Sentencing and Parole; Electoral Law; One Nation Party
||Speakers||Breen The Hon Peter
||Commentary|| Pauline Hanson David Oldfield
The Hon. PETER BREEN [5.34 p.m.]: In his weekly column in the Sydney Morning Herald on 29 August, Richard Ackland made a surprising admission about his friends: most of them are pleased Pauline Hanson is in gaol, he informed us. By way of contrast, the Roy Morgan Research Poll taken the following week suggests that only 13 per cent of Australians believe Pauline Hanson should have been sent to gaol for breaching Queensland electoral laws. It seems to me Richard Ackland should move back to Kings Cross, or at least strike the names of a few lawyers from his list of friends. Lawyers are products of their training and experience, and when they become judicial officers, their judgments invariably reflect their passions and prejudices. As a rule of thumb, the toughest judges are former prosecutors and defence lawyers, while a former plaintiff lawyer is the most likely to hand down a Father Christmas decision. There is nothing surprising about this, except perhaps that it is not more widely recognised as the reason we have appeal courts.
Any strict application of the law is likely to cause injustice in particular circumstances. Equally, people are rightly incensed when judges apply the law in a seemingly inconsistent and arbitrary way. Applying the law fairly is always a balancing act, but the drift towards conservative politics over the past 20 years has thrown up too many black-letter judges. After all, judges too are part of government. Whatever the technical requirements of Queensland electoral laws might have been in 1998, nobody could seriously argue that Pauline Hanson did not have a morally legitimate party structure when she registered Pauline Hanson One Nation in Queensland. The redoubtable David Oldfield, who frequently boasts about drafting the party's constitution, registered the same party structure under Commonwealth law and again in New South Wales. Indeed, the rushed registration of 80-odd political parties prior to the 1999 State election suggests the then New South Wales electoral office was every bit as congenial as its Queensland counterpart so far as party registration is concerned.
David Oldfield is clearly a beneficiary in New South Wales of the same party structure that Tony Abbott and Terry Sharples pursued so vigorously in Queensland. Could David Oldfield withstand the kind of pugilistic legalism and electoral scrutiny directed at Pauline Hanson if the same campaign were waged in New South Wales? Another beneficiary of the 1999 State election was the many-partied Malcolm Jones, who has been subject to intense scrutiny by the Independent Commission Against Corruption [ICAC], including a finding of corrupt conduct for the way he used parliamentary resources to recruit members for front parties. Some of those parties in various guises were around in 1999 and contributed to about 70 per cent of the Jones vote that secured him a seat in the Legislative Council. This week Malcolm Jones resigned his seat in the Legislative Council rather than subject himself to an expulsion motion moved by the Government. Like Pauline Hanson, Malcolm Jones protested his innocence, but the similarity with the Pauline Hanson case ends there.
While Pauline Hanson enjoys wide public support and sympathy for her current predicament, the same cannot be said for Malcolm Jones. Some people will question whether the ICAC is the best public authority for dealing with allegations of electoral fraud. I have been criticised for referring the Jones matter to the ICAC, an organisation that sometimes engages in public floggings as a means of extracting admissions. On the other hand, if State electoral offices fail to apply the law, or apply it inconsistently, it falls to authorities like the ICAC and the Director of Public Prosecutions to clean up the mess. The process works well, provided extraordinary powers are exercised sparingly, and those adversely affected by decisions retain the right of appeal to the courts. Each step in the judicial process needs to be taken with care because it is so expensive and such a lottery in terms of both judge and jury.
Often in the Pauline Hanson case I found myself saying, "Where's Joh's jury when you need it?" This may be some kind of contempt, but not a few of us descendants of Irish convicts find the way Pauline Hanson was treated quite contemptible. The Bible still has the best advice on the legal system so far as I am concerned: settle your disputes before going to court. No doubt Pauline Hanson was trying to do just that when she repaid the money she was said to have misappropriated. I note that the Court of Appeal in Queensland this week gave Ms Hanson some hope for the prospects of her appeal, and I for one hope her appeal is successful.