CANBERRA - Pauline Hanson's controversial chief of staff James Ashby has denied being a liability for her One Nation party despite being the subject of a damning recording suggesting Queensland state election candidates be profited from and the Electoral Commission be duped.
The secret, probably illegal, recording has been described by independent senator Derryn Hinch as an "absolute shocker" which he said exposes Hanson and Ashby "plotting to screw their own candidates for $$$."
Leader Pauline Hanson and Ashby have both described the tape, obtained by the Courier Mail, a "brainstorming session" of the One Nation executive and said there were no plans to profiteer from running candidates.
Ashby does not deny he is the voice on the recording, but said it was recorded illegally by a disgruntled staff member for blackmail purposes.
"They were secretly recorded conversations and all ideas are put out on the table in that environment normally," he told reporters in Perth.
"And I'm disappointed to think at that disgruntled either employees or former executive members think that they can go out and try to muddy this party with secret recordings."
Ashby can be heard on the recording saying: "There is an opportunity for us to make some money on this if we play this smart".
Basically, it is alleged One Nation would sell campaign items to candidates at inflated prices.
"I will deny I ever said this."
Alleged James Ashby recording
"We say to the candidates, we will fund 50 per cent of this [printing] package, so the package might be $5,000 — you're going to pay $2,500 and we'll pay the other $2,500 of the $5,000," Ashby said in the recording.
"The other $2,500 is the profit. It's the fat, and I'll write it off. I don't want the cash for it.
"When you lodge the receipt at the full price with the Electoral Commission of Queensland you get back the full amount that's been issued to you as an invoice."
He also added: "I will deny I ever said this."
Labor Senator Murray Watt wrote to the Australian Federal Police, Queensland Electoral Commission and Queensland Police on Monday, urging them all to investigate whether Senator Hanson, Ashby and One Nation have committed fraud against the Commonwealth.
"It was a poor choice of words" - James Ashby concedes he shouldn't have said "I will deny I ever said this" #auspol
— Jane Norman (@janeenorman) May 21, 2017
Ashby said he used a "poor choice of words," the event was nothing more than a "brainstorming session" and the ideas were never implemented.
The recording is part a wider meeting and he admits he was overruled by the One Nation executive.
"I am only one member as part of that executive. Obviously they were voted down by the rest of the executive," Ashby said.
"We never went done that path of talking about the legalities. We simply decided not to do it because it wasn't the right decision."
Hanson explained the candidates were actually getting what she thought was a good deal.
"Actually, the $3,500 that we charge them, it's actually worth $4,700," she said. "So it is not gouging the candidates at all."
Ashby was asked if he himself was damaging the One Nation brand, he responded: "I don't believe I am a liability."
Concerns over One Nation's leadership have been referred to the Australian Electoral Commission by federal Labor over claims the party breached electoral disclosure laws by failing to declare a private plane allegedly donated by a Victorian businessman.
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