Newly recruited United Australia Party Senator Brian Burston is out hunting for staff following his resignation from Pauline Hanson’s One Nation (PHON) and a dramatic flurry of departures from his original team.
Burston has already appointed Belinda Johnson, a former One Nation candidate, and Saraya Beric, a former One Nation party secretary, to his team. Beric rose to national prominence over the past 12 months as one of several interviewees on the Four Corners’ report on One Nation.
Burston’s office has seen a significant turnover since the 2016 federal election, with seven staff departing the scene in two years. Five of those seven had their appointments terminated. Two of the terminated staffers have taken matters to the Fair Work Commission. The balance of the seven resigned from the parliamentary office.
The most recent staff member to be booted is chief-of-staff Peter Breen, a lawyer and former member of the New South Wales parliament. Breen was given his marching orders on June 8 in the middle of the Burston-Hanson tensions.
Details of the sacking were revealed in a letter from Breen to Hanson, which stated that Burston had sacked Breen by email with the main grounds being doing work for the “PHON party against his instructions”.
“The letter terminating my employment is not a valid notice for the purposes of the workplace laws but I do not propose contesting the notice. If Brian is unhappy with my work there is no point working with him or arguing with him,” Breen said in the email. “What did surprise me is that only yesterday at his Toronto electorate office he asked me to put an offer to you in the hope of resolving the outstanding issues between you.”
Breen’s correspondence then outlines a series of matters raised between Burston and himself that include:
- Burston contesting the NSW election as the number one PHON candidate in the legislative council;
- Outline of financing arrangements for a campaign that included the establishment of a party campaign account that would have $350,000 deposited with Breen and Burston to be joint signatories to the account;
- Raising the prospect of a “billionaire mate” that would supply funds for a campaign;
- A statement that Burston would supply the $350,000 amount himself given that he had won a $750,000 in a breach of copyright case; and
- A proposal that Breen would run a campaign for Burston and coordinate with PHON’s national office.
Burston has disputed the account, telling Fairfax’s David Crowe that he had briefly discussed the issues related to a potential tilt at a NSW upper house seat with Breen and quickly changed his mind.
Burston and One Nation’s parting of ways came about as a result of tensions related to a new pre-selection process that required all candidates to submit paperwork to be considered for pre-selection as well as tensions over the change in positions on corporate tax cuts and his removal from the role of PHON party room whip by Hanson.
Both Hanson and Burston used The Australian to highlight their change in perspectives on the corporate tax discussion with Burston’s turn in the national broadsheet triggering a focus on One Nation and an apparent disunity within the party.
It took less than 24 hours following Burston’s splash in the Oz and revelations that there were overtures made on Burston’s behalf to the Shooters and Fishers party for Hanson to send him a letter removing him from official party positions.
Burston’s resignation from One Nation and move to the United Australia Party brought a political association with Hanson of over more than 20 years to a close.
News of his search for team members comes as former One Nation colleague Peter Georgiou gets set to lead the Senate ticket in Western Australia for PHON at the next federal election.
Speculation was rife that Georgiou, who replaced his brother-in-law Rod Culleton on the Senate’s red chairs following Culleton’s removal, would either stand as an independent or join another political party such as the Nationals or Katter’s Australia Party.
Securing the top spot on PHON’s Senate means that Georgiou’s staff can breathe a sigh of relief. Their boss is unlikely to run off any time soon.
Tom Ravlic co-wrote Pauline Hanson’s collection of speeches and policy discussion In Her Own Words.