CANBERRA – Pauline Hanson's controversial Chief of Staff James Ashby has declared he has "done nothing wrong" as Federal Labor urges an investigation into the declaration of a very expensive plane being used for political purposes.
And Ashby has told the Huffington Post Australia that the plane, whose funding and ownership was brought into question by a Four Corners investigation, is owned by his company and he regards it as his.
'Where's the plane, Pauline?' https://t.co/TS435W3nPK— The Australian (@australian) April 3, 2017
One Nation's former party treasurer, Ian Nelson, alleged in the ABC TV program on Monday night that Ashby sought a donation from Victorian property developer Bill McNee in 2015 specifically to buy a light plane, and he accused the party's leadership of failing to declare the significant gift.
Ashby is a trained pilot and has been filmed in the cockpit with Hanson.
The aircraft, an Australian made Jabiru, has been described as Hanson's plane on the official One Nation website and has been used to help her campaign in remote locations.
While Ashby has told HuffPost Australia that the plane is privately owned by him, he did not explicitly say where the money came from to purchase the Jabiru.
Regardless, he said "I have done nothing wrong" and stated that all flying hours in the plane used for political purposes have been declared.
The Australian Electoral Commission says it will investigate the claims, according to a statement provided to Fairfax. Ashby earlier told HuffPost Australia he welcomed a possible AEC investigation.
The statement comes as Labor Senator Murray Watt writes to the AEC Commissioner Tom Rogers to urge him to investigate "very serious" and possibly criminal allegations raised on Monday night in the ABC TV program that Hanson's party breached financial disclosure obligations relating to the plane.
"As you are aware, a breach of financial disclosure obligations under the Act may be a criminal offence," Watt wrote.
"Furthermore, any attempt to subvert these critical measures, which seek to ensure transparency and accountability in campaign financing, threatens to undermine public confidence in our system of democracy.
"I ask you to investigate these serious allegations, and refer them to the Director of Public Prosecutions, if appropriate," the Labor Senator said.
The former One Nation Party Treasurer claimed he urged Hanson and Ashby to declare the donation as required by law, but was called "obstructionist".
IAN NELSON, FORMER ONE NATION TREASURER: "I said, "Where's the plane? There's no evidence of it anywhere. Whose plane is it?" and she [Ms Hanson] said, "It's my plane." I said, "Fine, OK, well, then, you've got to declare it", and she said, "No, don't worry about it. Don't worry about it." I said, "Well, did Bill McNee buy that plane for the party? Did he buy it for you, or did he buy it for James Ashby?" And she just looked at me and walked away".
Nelson alleges that Mr Ashby also pressured him to conceal the fact that McNee donated to the party.
IAN NELSON: "You know, he [Ashby] said, "This is confidential. "All these...all these matters are confidential "and they they're for our business only," and I said, "No, that's not quite right. "The rules and regulations state "that we have to declare any amount of money over a thousand dollars, "we have to declare it." And he said, "Well, can't you just put...uh...anonymous donor?" And I said, "No, you can't do that. I'll end up in jail."
REPORTER: "To be clear, James Ashby asked you to list a donor as anonymous instead of declaring the names?"
IAN NELSON: "Yes."
REPORTER: "Rather than disclosing who it is? In contravention... "
IAN NELSON: "In contravention of all the rules and regulations, yes."
The Australian Electoral Commission is reviewing the allegations raised in Four Corners.
It has released this statement:
"The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) undertakes a regular program of compliance reviews which examine disclosure returns from political parties and associated entities. As part of this program, the AEC considers information placed in the public domain and any matters arising from this consideration will be addressed directly with the party or entity concerned," an AEC spokesman said.
"The AEC is aware of allegations made on Monday evening's Four Corners program and through other media outlets.
"This information is now being reviewed in the context of the disclosure provisions of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918."