The perils of Pauline. Let’s get one thing straight. If I had a tape apparently showing Liberal or Labor senators and apparatchiks ripping off their own candidates — not to mention the taxpayer, through the Electoral Commissioner — I’d be screaming bloody murder.
The fact that it was Pauline Hanson and James Ashby was, perhaps, more predictable (after Four Corners and the One Nation plane scandal) but still a major news story. Especially with the Queensland state election looming. What happened to “keep the bastards honest”?
The Brisbane Courier-Mail, which broke the yarn, had two damning front pages. The first:”Let’s Make Some Cash. Exclusive: Hanson’s top adviser recorded discussing scheme to rip off taxpayers and One Nation candidates”.
The follow-up was just as bad: “Come Clean Pauline. Please explain. Secret recording challenges Hanson’s claim on scheme”.
I won’t detail the whole grubby scenario, but here’s the potted version.
Hanson, Ashby and two other (unidentified) One Nation executives had a two-hour meeting late last year, and somebody recorded it.
Ashby said: “Can I just point out, I’ve said this once before, there is an opportunity for us to make some money out of this, if we play it smart. Now I know they say you can’t make money out of state elections, but you can. And I’ll deny I ever said this, but …”
His plan, now dismissed by PHON as “brainstorming”, was to buy corflutes (those candidate plastic posters for fences and lamp posts) for $5, sell them to their own One Nation candidates for $11 and pocket the difference.
Then Ashby goes further, and this is why I said on radio they could face criminal charges of conspiring to defraud the taxpayer through the Queensland Electoral Commission.
He details how the candidates would submit an invoice to the commission for the inflated price, they would be reimbursed $11, keep $5 and the rest would go to HQ.
Ashby: “Where are we making money? ‘Cause 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.”
Hanson says on the tape (which I have heard): “The candidates get something and the party gets a certain amount.”
At Monday’s weird presser in Perth, where it looked like the main protagonist was “Senator” Ashby and Hanson was his sidekick, she stressed: “Don’t forget, I was at the meeting as well. You do not have the full recording of that meeting, so you have no idea what was said at the rest of the meeting. We knocked it on the head at the meeting. It didn’t go ahead, that’s why. It was an issue that was raised and it was knocked on the head there and then.”
A very reliable One Nation source, who provided me with the tape, questioned whether that was the complete truth.
Hanson says on the tape: “Just look at it, what is the best financial outlook for us?”
But wait, there’s more. The other woman at the meeting was worried about the financial health of some candidates. She said: “But these candidates up front don’t have a lot of money.”
Ashby had a slick solution. “We’ll sell it again to them for eight bucks.” Again?
And this damning kicker: “Like what we did.”
What does that mean? I don’t know, but it prompted me to tweet:
Some belated budget after-party gossip with the emphasis on sip. On budget night I saw a blonde sipping red wine through a straw. I thought it must be some trendy new Canberra practice.
It brought back memories of the time when it was considered de rigeur, in the hobnob marquees at the Melbourne Cup, for socialites, in little dresses and big headgear, to sip a piccolo of French champagne through a straw — until they realised it got them shickered and unseemly much faster than a glass of pinot.
(A doctor explained to me that the straw concentrates the bubbles and the alcohol gets into your bloodstream much quicker. Sounds feasible.)
Curious, I asked the blonde why she did it and she gave me a plausible explanation: it meant she didn’t smear her lipstick on the glass and she was being considerate to the glass-washing barman and other patrons because we all hate getting wine glasses with lipstick stains glued to them.
I recounted the story to a cynical female staffer. Bullbleep, she said. The woman was obviously heavily botoxed and with lips full of that stuff you can’t feel the glass and risk missing your mouth with the wine.
Like when you try to navigate a glass of water after you’ve been to the dentist.
I wonder if Nicole Kidman drinks wine through a straw?