Chapter 5 ...ettridge's ferret
One person who recognised the worth of our efforts in developing the PHSM was Hanson's secretary Barbara Hazelton. I always maintained that Hanson had no better friend than myself but in the terms of interrelation rapport that claim was the very antithesis of the reality. My great disappointment in Hanson does not detract from my opinion that she still has ( had … this assessment was made in 1999) the potential to polarise a political force. Until the advent of David Oldfield, Hazelton was Pauline's confidante, mother confessor, personal secretary, protector and shoulder to cry on. Hazelton's lot went far beyond the calls of office secretary as many went to great pains to later try to debunk. Hazelton's class and style were in striking contrast to that of her boss. In many ways I believe her position with Hanson was an uncomfortable experience for her. Before her time with Hanson, Barbara had been employed in secretarial positions with some well known politicians. Peter Slipper and John Stone. Being with Hanson must have been something of a cultural shock. The journey from Senator John Stone’s employ to the inarticulate Hanson was a giant leap, but one thing is for sure, you were not a fool if you worked for Senator Stone. If you worked for Hanson then I guess you left yourself open for negative criticism as I can testify.
Toward the middle of November 1996 Hazelton escorted Hanson to the Gold Coast to meet the faces behind the names of the PHSM. The occasion was an afternoon tea at our home in Miami. Barbara had impressed upon Pauline that she should come down and meet us with a view to thanking us for supporting her. All of the committee turned up and a pleasant time was had by all.
There was plenty of small talk, inconsequential to what we were doing. I don't know what it is about people, but put them in the company of a 'celebrity 'and they go gaga and want to reach out and be touched by them. I can still see the sort of idolatry coming from a couple of the women and the discomfort of one man in particular who had a very soft spot for Pauline. It was the kind of behaviour that would have done giggling school girls proud. I have to say that whilst Hanson and particularly Hazelton were warm and friendly, I wanted some time to speak with Hanson alone. It did not happen. The valuable time was squandered and apart from a publicity shot taken with Hanson the rest was taken up by the Gold Coast Bulletin’s Paul Weston and his subsequent interview.
It was important I spent a little time with Hanson to establish some sort of rapport. I wanted time to understand what drove her and what her philosophy was. I needed the opportunity, but the little I saw indicated that she was very unsure of herself. Hazelton on the other hand was composed, articulate and intelligent. To be honest, when Hanson walked out my heart went out to her. This was not the girl of fire and brimstone but just a normal woman visiting. Perhaps with a written script she could get it all together but what I realised later was that she was in all probability being very guarded. In hindsight I should have twigged something did not gel. Here was a woman whose political star was on the ascendancy and the common consensus of opinion was that any politician would have been absolutely delighted with the support she was getting from this band of adherents and given their right arm to have it. I understood her possible predicament very well when I rang her on my first contact. I suggested that she remain neutral, neither condemning nor condoning us. I asked her to keep an open mind giving herself time to ascertain whether she could be comfortable with our support. I also suggested that she did not step in and condone us unreservedly in case there was any negative fallout that could hurt her. I couldn't be more honest than that. I think in hindsight Hanson had been forewarned about my maverick ways, but neither of us made any real attempt in getting to know each other. The moment was lost and many times since I have regretted not having sat down and having had a serious talk with her. That was never to occur.
After this brief encounter we were back to work. Day after day out mailbox was full. It came from the four corners of Australia. We plotted a map and before long it became very evident where our support centres were; Tasmania, Geelong and areas around Perth. In Queensland Gympie became our first branch but there was response spread across the State. These were exciting times for us, but Iris and I were under a tremendous burden to cope with all the work. After all we were getting no younger and there were several days when I worked around the clock to keep up the information flow. Iris answered every single letter that came in and we soon found that the cost of mailing was draining us of the little money we had.
As I have said Barbara Hazelton was an enthusiastic supporter of what we were doing. One day when we had rung the Ipswich office for another supply of Pauline's maiden speech she asked what we were doing with them. We told her that we sent a copy out with every letter. In all we sent out in the order of two thousand.
"For goodness sake it must be costing you a fortune in postage." Barbara was like that she was perceptive enough to understand the difficulties that we were facing. From that point on she made sure that we had sufficient supply of stamps to carry on with, but that was where the line was drawn. I doubt very much whether Hanson ever knew about such expenses. In terms of priority television sets and pot plants had greater tangible qualities for her. Hanson's attitude to those who worked their fingers to the bone and there was a whole legion of them was that 'they did not have to do it'. From this remark could be gathered the impression that Hanson believed that she did not need help and that she had the ability to do it all alone. People like Ettridge were another matter. Possibly had he not stitched her up then he might have copped the same treatment.
A day seldom went by when the media were not on the phone. My old friend John Pasquarelli accuses me in his book as being a media junkie. I like the old bugger. He's very much a man's man and God only knows how he ever managed to survive with Hanson as long as he did.
Sometimes I wince from his colourful language when he rings me on a Sunday morning as he is wont to do. When my wife cringes I make an instinctive move to press the headpiece closer to my ear in the hope that his voice will not be heard. That's John, a rough diamond, a damned good television performer, a man who had a pretty good idea of how the political system worked, but a man who allowed his own self-evaluation of his worth get in the way. I have no doubt that Pasquarelli was an infinitely superior operator than Oldfield ever was but I have no illusions that had he stayed with Hanson he would have controlled her too. He had big plans for Hanson but he would not have sacrificed his boss. That was left to others. Hanson and Pasquarelli would have made a formidable team, but that chance was lost when he took his eye off the ball.
John like Pauline is never wrong, both always having the only answer. When I accused him of being a mind-bender which was widely reported and resulted in him branding me a media junkie, he would have done well to have analysed what I was driving at. Had John been perceptive he would have realised that the public was seeing something that he was not. I was wrong of course, for although John and Barbara both had a strong influence on Pauline, they paled by comparison with Oldfield. Oldfield exercised a strong vice-grip influence over Hanson that had its origins in her emotional attachment to him. Both he and Ettridge have a hell of a lot to answer for. Why the system allowed a novice politician to be so comprehensively used to extract money from the public purse, to allow it to go on with no limitation on the pretext that it was a legitimate political party, I'll never know. The only people who ever benefited from Hanson were Ettridge and Oldfield.
This day the phone rang for the umpteenth time. It was the drawl voice of Greg Roberts of the Sydney Morning Herald. I have never met the man and he is not everyone's favourite journalist. I even found a certain antipathy existed between him and other journalist, but Roberts was one of the few men I found in all facets of the media I could trust. Seldom did he distort a story to the point where I did not recognise what I was supposed to have said. Hanson and Pasquarelli went very close to ordering me not to speak to him.
My maxim in speaking with the media was to be honest and frank with them. Often it was abused. I soon learned who to speak to and who not to. I also came to the conclusion that many journalists were simply spineless and tools of their editors. Roberts unlike some of his colleagues in Fairfax was not one of them.
On November 16th 1996 he casually asked me a loaded question. He wanted to know if there was any truth in the rumour that Mr Garth Powers a National Party branch president from Richmond had approached me with a view to joining the PHSM. I could see Roberts licking his lips in anticipation at having grabbed something of a scoop. What Roberts did not know was that to me this was no big deal. Writing this nearly a year later (1997) I can appreciate that as a political writer Roberts did see this as a good story. What I quite innocently said next must have been even sweeter music to his ears.
"Greg I wouldn't make a big deal out of a National Party defection because they are coming from across the political spectrum.'
"What do you mean?" he asked.
"They are coming from the Australian Labor Party, as well as the Liberals."
Roberts could not believe what he was hearing. It was no great surprise to me and to be honest I could not understand his interest.
He wanted to know who these people were and I told him.
Now, I have been accused of betraying a confidence. I totally reject this. I took the view which I still hold, that if I had the courage to stand up publicly and identify with Pauline Hanson at a time when it was decidedly unhealthy to do so and men later wanted to come aboard now that the ice had been broken, then they should have had the guts to identify with it. The trouble was that most of these people did not want to jeopardise the positions they currently held until such time as they were sure that they had harnessed their future ambitions to a certainty. Oldfield did exactly this when he worked for Abbott choosing not to leave his office until after the launch of One Nation in Ipswich. I was not about to play wet-nurse to men who wanted to be shielded from the ‘taint’ of Hanson. If they wanted to support her then they did it like men.
The quality of this sent to me by Steve Love is poor. The date 11/12/1996. This article is by Peter Alexander. The Roberts article I refer to was seized from my office along with thousands of other documents.
Seven days later November 23rd 1996, Robert's article appeared in the SMH. Headlined, …Parties members support Hanson, it was to send shockwaves through the Warringah branch of the Liberal Party.
This is what happened, but first of all a little of what Roberts wrote.
'Mr Whiteside said the Liberal Party members including the president of the Young Liberals Wakehurst branch had considered resigning to become active supporters of M/s Hanson.' He went on, 'others include leading ALP figure in Gympie Mr George Wakelin and Mr Garth Powers the president of the Richmond National Party in North Queensland. Roberts also fielded comments from the party executives and they now make interesting reading. Mike Kaiser, the ALP Qld Secretary said the disputes tribunal was likely to deal harshly with a member who supported her. Ken Crooke the National Party Secretary indicated that their members were free to support Hanson if they wished. In NSW the State Director Tony Nutt* was more circumspect; he simply stated the obvious. Membership to M/s Hanson organisation would be incompatible with the Liberal Party constitution. Which is all very well on the surface? What bubbled beneath was another matter as I was to discover later that evening.
Around eight o'clock a very agitated and frightened Steven Love was on the telephone. In a word he was terrified. Love had been made aware of Robert's article and had had visited upon him the might of the Liberal Party hierarchy. He pleaded with me not to speak to the media, an action that he had followed himself when Roberts contacted him for comment. Love was not angry that I had spoken to Roberts but was anxious to kill the story. I questioned him as to why he was so terrified and the answer was obvious in his reply. During the course of the day he had been contacted by a man who at the time I had not heard of ...a Mr Tony Nutt. Bear in mind here that when Love rang me I had not seen the newspaper article. Love in a shaking and agitated tone of voice told me that Nutt had rung him in his capacity as State Director of the New South Wales Liberal Party and in Love's words had been 'heavied'. He intimated that he had been verbally clobbered as any angry father might admonish a wayward son and told that if he continued to go down this path then he would be thrown out of the Liberal Party.
My initial reaction to these words was one of utter awe. Hell, I thought if these buggers are running scared already, what's going happen when this thing really starts to roll.' But Love's brush with people he had only seen from afar before this day, did not end with Nutt. He also said he had fielded a 'friendly piece of advice' from Cabinet Minister Bronwyn Bishop. Love could not believe that an insignificant party hack could all of a sudden have the high and the mighty paying homage even if it came in the form of veiled threats.
As requested I never spoke to the media again about this. Love later sent me a copy of the Manly newspaper that built upon the story but I never heard from him again. I did hear later that he became briefly involved with the second PHSM branch in Sydney that coincidently involved those who had been working with Steve Menagh when he vanished. The indication was that he had become a temporary treasurer to the PHSM Number Two branch that Neil Baird was president of. Baird later stood as an electoral candidate for One Nation. Steve Love faded but the story revealed a covert operative ...who was to eventually destroy Hanson, but not before a failed Senate attempt and after parading her around NSW extolling the virtues of ONE NATION and making damned sure that he secured the number one spot for the One Nation ticket for the NSW Upper House berth, finally scraped into a parliament. Once there he put distance between himself and Hanson and faded. He had achieved what he always wanted. Eight years in the Upper House and a nice little pension to boot.
John Pasquarelli had seen the Robert's article and brought it to Hanson's notice. What stuck in Pasquarelli's craw was not the fact that Robert's article was a damned good story and totally positive for Hanson, but rather that someone else had given it to him. It was a coup for Roberts but both Hanson and Pasquarelli disliked him. They saw him as being anti-Hanson. The truth was far more believable; these two could not brook others attracting media. What also got very much up Pasquarelli's nose was that I had unwittingly grabbed some of his thunder. This was a quirk in Pasquarelli's character I could not understand. If we were all working to elevate Hanson then what did it matter who spoke out in her support. No, John has never got over the fact that Oldfield succeeded where he failed. It was at this very point that Pasquarelli missed the turn.
Having spoken to Hanson about the article, Pasquarelli was sent on an errand to see me. It was typical of the indifferent Hanson. She had previously agreed to call herself. The purpose of this prearranged visit was to meet with me on a one to one basis so that we could dovetail our efforts. I had made it perfectly clear that in no way was I going to cut across her political policies. Our role was purely supportive. That is not to say that we were slavishly bowing to paternalism, far from it. If our support was at times critical it was done to make her understand that if it came from the support base as well as her critics then something was askew. Unfortunately, unless you were in high praise of Caesar, then you were viewed as being anti. Later the term ‘whiteant’ came to symbolise the paranoia of the personalities of both Hanson and Ettridge, given the legion of supporters who were to earn the deprecating title.
Hanson was to call on me that week-end but Hazelton rang and told me that Pasquarelli was coming instead. I had already warned Hanson to be careful of John's image as it was becoming obvious that she was being manipulated. At the time her response was feisty.
"Don't worry Bruce, nobody uses me as a puppet. Be assured if that happens I will get rid of him.'
Ho hum! When Pasquarelli called a day or so after Robert's article I did not see him as Hanson's altruistic adviser. I already knew that the feeling in Hanson's office was strained. What I did not know nor did Pasquarelli was that Hanson and Hazelton were angling to get rid of him. This had nothing to do with his skills but was based purely and simply on the dislike of Pasquarelli the man. It's probably unfair to say that Hazelton had any great impact on the decision but she sure as hell was not going to shed tears when he left or as it transpired was fired! As I have said Pasquarelli's demeanour among women was irritating. I suppose one had to balance the professionalism that allows this state of affairs to go unchecked because in the final analysis this fracture based on personalities wrought terrible consequences for all concerned.
In his book Pauline Hanson by the Man Who Knows, Pasquarelli describes his visit to my place as a 'strained hour'. That is not the way I remember it. I recall two facets of his visit. The gruff and indifferent attitude to my wife that bordered on unintended rudeness, yet in all likelihood was the end product of a sense of shyness, and the look of sheer incredulity when he entered the ‘den’, which functioned as the PHSM headquarters. Candidly I could hear the cogs turning over in his mind. "Cripes if I don't watch out this bastard will have me out of a job.' His eyes darted everywhere. He was full of questions, wanting to know all about us. I had no problem with that and saw him as an ally. I thought we were going in the same direction, but with different objectives. I was a little surprised that he knew so little about us, a point that disturbed me. I could not understand why we should have been so casually dismissed and that went someway toward explaining the reason why he was wrong footed. Quite casually he then handed me a sealed letter. I opened it and it was signed by Pauline Hanson. I read it and could not believe what I was reading. *
"Who wrote this'" I asked?
"Why, Hanson who else do you think would write it?" he said tinged with a little irritability.
"Oh come on John,' I replied quite cynically.
"OK then I drafted it." I looked at him.
"In other words Hanson dictated it?" he waved his hand in a hurried gesture
"Yes. Yes ...what does it matter anyway?" I did not push the matter further.
After a cup of coffee John departed in the new Mitsubishi Magna. He told me he was heading north to sound out a few mining options. He did not elaborate and I did not ask him. I thought no more about him until a few days later when a Mr George Merritt from Adelaide rang.
The letter signed by Hanson was sick, whoever drafted or composed it. First of all it thanked me for the work I was doing and hypocritically went on to acknowledge how hard it was must be for me to keep the organisation on an even keel. What an absolute joke! I had accused Pasquarelli of pulling the strings and certainly the perception was right in as far as the manipulation of Hanson was concerned, but here was evidence enough that someone knew we were having difficulties. The question answered itself; the person who knew this, was creating the problems herself. The letter went on:
It has been brought to my notice that Greg Roberts of the Sydney Morning Herald has quoted you indicating the names and party affiliations of some of my supporters which has resulted in them being attacked by their party administrators.
The letter concluded with a request to refrain from speaking at all to Greg Roberts, as he was, quote, 'not one of my fans.' She went on to say that when she returned from her Christmas holidays she would let us know the future and hoped that she could look forward to our continuing help.
Hanson quite incorrectly stated that these people were her supporters. The truth was a little different. These people had they wanted to could have written, rung, or faxed Hanson at either her Canberra or Ipswich offices to support her. Thousands did as was evident from the mail that poured in to her electoral office. What these people did was to apply to us to join a movement to which Hanson had absolutely nothing to do with. This organisation was founded on the goodwill toward her and was designed to help her. What Hanson did not understand was that her involvement was neither solicited nor warranted. We understood that if she became involved then the organisation could quickly be commandeered and converted into a political party. That was never intended and it was her interference and co-relationship with what I always saw as 'con-men elements' that saw a working idea bastardised. Pasquarelli who had drafted the letter failed to pick up on the a vital source of Hanson dictated information. Had he asked and more importantly investigated the origins of those comments, he would have quizzed her and possibly become aware of other factors. The question he should have put to her was;
‘How do you know these people were attacked by their party administrators’? Where did you come by this information?
Nowhere in Robert's article was there any mention of these people being spoken to by their hierarchy. The reason was very simple. The admonition of 'her supporters' had come about because of the publish article. The reprimands took place later and were never reported, so Hanson was running with acquired inside information. Yet here was Hanson’s right hand man Pasquarelli unaware that something was going on right under his nose. So where did the source come from?
I believed it came direct from Tony Abbott's office! Love, as President of the Young Liberals in Wakehurst was remonstrated to by the State Director of the NSW Liberal Party, Tony Nutt. Wakehurst being in the Federal electorate of Warringah, Abbott's seat would have come under that office's jurisdiction. Love would have been summonsed into that office to have Hanson ’purged’ from his system and the facts of life according to the Liberal Party constitution instilled into him. In that office was Abbott's paid adviser and Hanson's then covert operator David Oldfield. The interesting thing to note is that the Minister who had given Love some 'friendly advise' came from the neighbouring electorate of McKeller. If Love was making ripples, they certainly aroused some interesting heavyweights.
Twice in the letter delivered to me by Pasquarelli were clues to Oldfield. First the information that Pasquarelli was oblivious to, namely where Hanson obtained this information from and secondly reference to new plans to become effective after the New Year break.
I wonder if other persons knew of the stranger who approached Hanson in the grounds of the Federal Parliament, whilst Peter Hayden her original PHSM branch president in Gympie and later her ONE NATION stalwart, was talking with her in late December 1996. According to Peter, this character interrupted the conversation, took over and finally walked off with Hanson, leaving him, without as much as a pardon me. Was it this character who fast tracked her to the USA. I know of many knowledgeable One Nation supporters who believe that this trip to the USA was to meet up with the La Rouche group. Who really knows. For my money there are too many conspiracy theories involving Mr La Rouche. I tend to ignore what I don’t have knowledge of. However the name Lyndon La Rouche still hung in the air.
Hayden was a fine man. He carried an injury that cause him to limp, but he built the Gympie branch from scratch. He was one of the earliest members of the Pauline Hanson Support Movement. When time came for candidate selection this man was unfairly passed over for Dorothy Pratt. The reason; a limp was not a good image for ONE NATION. I seem to recall that the Nazi's Party had a similar attitude to infirmities, but then nobody at the time understood that Hanson was taking her instructions from an avowed National Socialist.
As Pasquarelli headed North after taking his leave, the storm clouds were beginning to gather. There was never any doubt in my mind that he was so preoccupied with his plan for Hanson's future that he simply took his eye off the ball. It was to be his political death-knell, but before the axe fell he would forge ahead.
*Tony Nutt at time of reviewing is personal Secretary to Prime Minister John Howard. He succeeded Graeme Morris who was committed to standing down.