Since July 2015, when it was first announced that Pauline Hanson was traveling around in a private plane, many explanations have been given as to who owns the plane and how the purchase was funded. Further questions and a varied explanations have arisen since Four Corners reported the plane had been purchased by developer Bill McNee. It’s been hard to keep up with everything that’s been said, especially in the last few days, so let’s go to the tape:
July 2015. Pauline Hanson’s adviser, and pilot, James Ashby told the ABC in an interview he had helped Hanson to find a plane. At this stage, Ashby was thought to be nothing more than Hanson’s pilot.
July 2015. In a post on Hanson’s own One Nation website titled “Hanson kicks off her ‘fed up’ tour tomorrow”, it was announced that Hanson had landed at Caloundra airport “in her new Australian made Jabiru plane”.
January 16, 2017. Hanson said the plane belonged to the party. “I’ve still got my plane, well, the party’s plane, but all the trips I’ve done in that since the election I’ve filled it up myself,” Hanson told Sky News.
Hanson also explained she generally drove herself to the airport and opted for the “cheaper” parking. “I get on the bus with all the other people from the carpark and they look at me and say, ‘why aren’t you in the Comcar, Pauline?’”
February 4 2017. Property developer Bill McNee denied any involvement in the purchase of the plane. “My God, if I am going to buy a plane, I would buy one for myself,” McNee said in a profile of Ashby in The Australian.
April 3, 2017. The episode of Four Corners delving into the backroom dealings of One Nation went to air. In it, a former One Nation staffer said Hanson’s plan had been funded by Bill McNee, who appeared to have transferred funds for the purchase of the plane to James Ashby. Four Corners presented documents showing the plane was insured in Ashby’s name.
April 4, 2017. Following the Four Corners report, Ashby released a statement saying his company had bought the plane:
“My company bought the plane. It’s the second plane I’ve owned. I’m very capable of buying my own planes.”
Huffington Post Australia reported Ashby had said the plane belonged to him, but did not disclose where the money came from to purchase the aircraft.
“I have done nothing wrong,” Ashby told Huffington Post Australia.
May 1, 2017. In an interview with Sky News, Hanson attempted to clarify issue. Hanson said Ashby had bought the plane from Bill McNee:
“He didn’t donate the plane to James Ashby,” Hanson said. It “came from” McNee to Ashby:
“He found out James was a pilot, he thought here’s a great opportunity to actually have a plane and to actually utilise it as well …”
“James being the pilot that gets me around,” Hanson went on to say.
According to Hanson, the AEC had been looking into the plane since January and the body “hasn’t got any issue with the plane”.
May 2, 2017. The AEC confirmed it was aware of the interview. “In line with standard practice, the AEC does not comment on the status of ongoing matters under review,” a spokesman said.
May 3, 2017. In an interview in The Australian published today, Ashby explained he had bought the plane in 2015 for recreational use and for his sign-writing business.
“It’s really simple, I purchased the aircraft … I even have the bank statements to prove that. If the electoral commission wants them, I am happy to provide them.” Ashby said.
“You know I have a business. I am not going to justify to you how I purchased my machinery. I am not going to justify how I purchased my motorbike, my car, my anything. It’s a private matter. This plane has nothing to do with the party and I am not going into my business affairs,” Ashby told The Australian.
Ashby went on to tell The Australian: “Bill McNee and I have a very strong business relationship … what Bill McNee and I have as business arrangements are completely separate to that of any political party that I am affiliated with.”
Are we any closer to finding out who owns the plane, who paid for it and who sold it to the owner? Doesn’t feel like it.