Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party is doubling down on its anti-Hanson campaign with a barrage of activity designed to draw former Pauline Hanson’s One Nation supporters to the new Palmer vehicle.
The Palmer’s prize acquisition of long time Hanson loyalist, Senator Brian Burston, to lead the UAP in the Senate — announced on June 18 – gave him an instant parliamentary party that has also led to an accelerated effort for candidate and member recruitment.
Burston formally split with One Nation following disputes with Pauline Hanson over the party view on corporate tax cuts, the conduct of the party’s New South Wales preselection processes and his removal as the party whip in the Senate.
Minutes of a staff meeting chaired by Burston on June 15 seen by Crikey confirm that Burston told his office staff that he was talking to the UAP leader about a possible move. The brief set of meeting minutes also notes that Burston met with Palmer twice in the lead up to his decision to move and that re-election chances would be enhanced with access to Palmer’s campaign resources.
The recruitment of Burston was the first key step in the UAP’s targeting of former One Nation candidates in order to prepare for the next federal election campaign. Former endorsed and disendorsed candidates are being called by a representative of the UAP and asked whether they are interested in running for Palmer’s minor party in the next federal election.
This move to recruit candidates from the pool of those disaffected with One Nation follows the recruitment by Burston of two former Hanson loyalists to handle policy and media/communications in his office.
Belinda Johnson, a former candidate for One Nation, holds a position as a senior adviser, and former One Nation secretary, Saraya Beric, is responsible for communications and marketing. Beric was one of several interviewees for a Four Corners program broadcast in April 2017.
While these two former Hanson backers were getting their feet under the desk, Burston added to his tally of staff departures by sacking yet another adviser earlier this month. Mary-Ann Oaten became the sixth staff member terminated since Burston was elected in July 2016. This makes her the eighth staff member that has parted ways with the Burston office over the past two years.
The five other staff members that had their employment terminated since Burston assumed the role of senator were Frank Salter, Brian Tucker, Nathan Ashby, Peter Kelly and former chief of staff, Peter Breen. Two other staff members, Diana Allen and former senator Malcolm Roberts, resigned their employment with the Burston office.
Burston joined other One Nation politicians who have switched allegiances. Queensland Senator Fraser Anning chose to drop his independent status by joining Katter’s Australia Party.
Former Senator Rod Culleton is gearing up for a return to the battle royale of politics with a new party called the Great Australia Party, or GAP. Culleton has enlisted former One Nation executive Ian Nelson to assist with developing the governance processes. Both Culleton and Nelson are named as contributors to the drafting of the GAP constitution.