POLITICS

Cormann And Cash Had Dinner With One Nation, And Apparently That's All You Need To Know

We asked what was discussed. They didn't say.

04/04/2017 11:20 AM AEST | Updated 04/04/2017 12:43 PM AEST
Alex Ellinghausen/Fairfax
Senator Pauline Hanson and her Chief of Staff/adviser/pilot James Ashby.

CANBERRA -- One of the many curious elements of the Four Corners "Please Explain" program on One Nation on Monday night was the reported disclosure that senior Turnbull Government Minsters Michaelia Cash and Mathias Cormann held a "secret meeting" with leader Pauline Hanson and her Chief of Staff James Ashby.

And according to disgruntled former Hanson devotee Marye Louise Daniels, the dinner meeting was all about the controversial preference deal between One Nation and the WA Liberals.

You know, the deal that both sides are now running a mile from? That one.

The Huffington Post Australia has been looking into the claim and found that One Nation is on the unusually quiet side post broadcast, apart from QLD One Nation Leader Steve Dickson telling Sky News the program was the "biggest stitch up he has ever seen".

This after, according to the Four Corners reporter Caro Meldrum-Hanna, he agreed to speak with her in February and then abruptly pulled out. The Walkey Award-winning journalist also attempted numerous times to speak with Hanson and Ashby. Plus she sent "lists of questions" to the political pair -- to no avail.

But we digress.

The preference deal with WA Liberals where the Liberal agreed to preference One Nation ahead of the Nationals in the Upper House and One Nation gave preference to the Liberals over Labor in the Lower House. It was a deal that proved to many One Nation supporters that their political party was like any other.

It was a pretty desperate move by the Barnett state government to stay in power and it spectacularly backfired on both the Liberals and One Nation. Labor has assumed power and One Nation polled poorer than expected.

Malcolm Turnbull never condemned or backed the deal and was accused by Labor of "legitimising" the One Nation vote. We have been told all along by the Turnbull Government that the deal was a matter solely for the West Australian branch and any future federal preference deal was for the administrative branch of the party. Not for the likes of the Prime Minister.

So, what were Cabinet Federal Ministers and senior WA Liberal power-brokers Michaelia Cash and Mathias Cormann doing apparently having dinner with Hanson and Ashby? And was it over the WA preference deal as stated in Four Corners?

The Huffington Post Australia asked both ministers about the December 21 dinner and received this reply from the office of the Finance Minister.

"As Senator Cormann has consistently pointed out preference arrangements are entirely a matter for the WA Liberal Party Organisation."

"However, as part of his job as Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate, seeking to negotiate outcomes through the Senate, Senator Cormann meets on a regular basis with key Senators from all parties."

Minister Cormann spokeswoman

So he and Cash did go to the dinner, but there is to be no disclosure about what was discussed.

HuffPost Australia has also spoken to the office of the Employment Minister and was advised in a very similar fashion.

Remember too that Cormann defended the WA Liberals deal with One Nation after the March election as a unique WA circumstance and because the state primary vote was so low for the Liberals. He was also reported to be "pivotal" to securing the deal.

On the ABC's Insiders post WA election program, Cormann refused to rule out a federal preference deal with Hanson's party.

As for Four Corner's allegations about the plane, that's another story. Inquiries are underway with Labor Senator Murray Watt writing to the Australia Electoral Commissioner on Tuesday urging investigation.

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