By Norm Dixon
Pauline Hanson's One Nation party is being purged of members of Graeme Campbell's Australia First party and supporters of the Australian League of Rights.
Hanson's minders claim that Campbell supporters have attempted to take over One Nation in Queensland and NSW. Those thrown out say that Hanson and her minders — David Ettridge and David Oldfield — moved against them to ensure that Hanson's far-right movement remains firmly under the control of the parliamentary office.
After Hanson's surprise election victory in March 1996, former Labor MP Campbell — together with the anti-Asian Australians Against Further Immigration (AAFI) and the anti-Semitic Australian League of Rights — were quick to jump on the Hanson band wagon.
Within days, Campbell dispatched a member of his staff, John Pasquarelli, to be Hanson's press secretary and adviser. Pasquarelli, who wrote Hanson's infamous maiden speech with its ill-informed anti-Aboriginal, anti-Asian tirades and conspiracy theories, reportedly maintained daily contact with Campbell.
Members of AAFI and Australia First were deeply involved in producing Hanson's book, The Truth, notorious for its claims that Aborigines were cannibals. A South Australian academic, who has co-written anti-immigration pamphlets with AAFI leader and Australia First vice-president Denis McCormack, is rumoured to have written sections of the book.
League of Rights leader Eric Butler announced in October 1996 that the league would give Hanson "all possible support". The league financed the printing and distribution of tens of thousands of copies of Hanson's maiden speech.
Pasquarelli was sacked on December 9 last year, after Hanson found he was constructing a Hanson Senate ticket dominated by Australia First, AAFI and the League of Rights. Hanson, quick to learn the game of parliamentary politics, was determined not to lose control of her party to its rank and file or rival far-right groups.
Hanson's new party director, marketing expert David Ettridge, brought the support group branches under Hanson's control and merged them with One Nation, formed on April 11. Ettridge warned that if groups like the League of Rights tried to control One Nation, they would be expelled.
David Oldfield, a former electoral secretary to Liberal MHR Tony Abbott, defected to Hanson's staff in May. His main task has been to tone down Hanson's more extreme outbursts, repackaging them in terms more acceptable to mainstream conservatives, and to distance Hanson's image from the ratbag right.
Hanson's differences with the Campbell-AAFI-League of Rights forces are tactical and organisational, rather than political. Nevertheless, relations between One Nation and Australia First are increasingly bitter.
In August, Ettridge threatened to sue leaders of the now unofficial South Australian Pauline Hanson Support Movement after its convener, George Merritt, began distributing an unofficial edition of The Truth. Merritt — also a member of Australia First — claims he helped write, compile and edit the original book.
Merritt accused Hanson of using the movement to advance her own political ambitions, "and now she's disposing of all these people who helped her along the way". Ettridge and Oldfield had staged a "power grab", he said.
In November, News of the Day — an internet-based journal closely aligned with One Nation — reported that disillusioned One Nation members in Queensland had declared its head office "dictatorial". The dissidents, News of the Day reported, were members of Australia First and had "decided to strike and create turmoil".
Australia First "saw a Queensland takeover of her party as a primary objective". Its members "had joined One Nation and had even sought to establish One Nation branches from which they could feed the growth of Campbell's party", News of the Day charged.
Australia First established the One Nation branch in Beaudesert, south of Brisbane, and through it influenced other branches.
The Hervey Bay branch, egged on by Beaudesert branch leaders, passed a no-confidence motion against the "two Davids". The secretary of the Hervey Bay branch, Malcolm Taylor, then registered a new party called "One Nation, Queensland". Ettridge claims that Campbell knew about the registration "a week before we did".
Ettridge and Oldfield visited Queensland in early November and called meetings in Gympie and Hervey Bay "aimed at confronting vocal detractors of Hanson's management team", reported News of the Day.
"None of the Beaudesert-based Australia First trouble makers fronted the meetings, having been exposed for what they were (white ants)", the report continued. Dissident Australia First members have now "been identified and been thrown out".
Taylor was expelled after a pre-signed resignation letter "was dated and accepted" by Ettridge and Oldfield. His position was handed to Tony Pitt, a former leader of the far-right Confederate Action Party and the publisher of a string of racist newsletters.
Addressing the meeting at Gympie on November 2, Ettridge said: "We should not have people from Australia First speaking at One Nation branches. These white ants want us to stop growing, and over the last few weeks they have been succeeding."
Hanson also addressed the meeting and threatened to resign from parliament "if someone tries to run my party without my blessing".
She announced that One Nation is "an organisation that is run from the top down. If anyone is going to destroy this party it is me ... We are going to be in the Queensland elections. We're going to do damn good. Not just me, but as a team, but I am in control and I am in charge."
Similar ructions are taking place in NSW. The organiser of the Hunter Valley One Nation branch, Peter Archer, formed a breakaway "New One Nation" in late November.
Before joining One Nation, Archer organised forums featuring speakers from the League of Rights. In a book entitled The Australian Crisis, Archer details a variety of conspiracies to create a world government and praises the help he received from League of Rights leaders Jeremy Lee and Peter Sawyer.