Ashby's profit proposal for printing bills sparks war of words
PAULINE Hanson's embattled chief of staff has hit back at claims he had proposed to defraud the Queensland Electoral Commission, saying both Labor and the Liberals were hypocrites who should look to how they conduct their own affairs.
James Ashby claims all LNP candidate printing must go through a company nominated by the party while Labor candidate material was produced by union United Voice's Poll Printing.
The LNP declined to comment on the claims while Labor Party Queensland executive director Evan Moorhead said Labor candidates were free to choose their own printer.
Mr Ashby claimed the party room tape recording, the release for which this week has led to calls for a police investigation into One Nation, had been made by a disaffected staffer who he had seen swanning around Parliament on Tuesday and Wednesday in the company of members of the Labor Party.
Pauline Hanson has rejected any suggestion her party has done anything wrong.
Her claim that an idea from Mr Ashby to manipulate invoices to increase funding returns from the ECQ had been immediately rejected, is supported by the tape recording now being used to attack the party.
In it Mr Ashby says "we can, that's what the Liberal Party do" a comment that is followed by Ms Hanson's response "We are not the Liberal Party".
Mr Ashby, who owns a printing business and was formally an LNP member, said a party member owned a printing company that was print supplier to the LNP and the Liberal Party in other states.
"The reason they do this is to charge candidates a premium and the party makes money," he said.
"My suggestion One Nation do it was quashed right away. It wasn't the greatest idea I've put in place.
"Labor do exactly the same thing with United Voice. I know this because when I purchased a flatbed printer I looked at United Voice's printing set-up and it was full of Labor election material."
Mr Moorhead said while Labor did not require its candidates to use a printer nominated by the party, it offered "candidates the opportunity to buy in to a subsidised central campaign package that we coordinate through a number of print suppliers".
"We always use a number of print suppliers in an election campaign," he said.
"We only charge candidates to cover the cost of the candidate vetting checks. We do not expect candidates to contribute personally but our local campaign teams raise money for campaigns."
The LNP declined to answer questions about whether LNP candidates were required to use a printer nominated by the party.
Mr Ashby said LNP and Labor candidates would be disendorsed if they sought to go through some other company.
He said a lot of effort was going into undoing Ms Hanson and One Nation over something that wasn't implemented.
"I accepted that," Mr Ashby said. "Labor and the Liberals both do it and the reason why is they collect $50million every federal election. In Queensland you must produce receipts. They jack the price right up."
It is a claim he can't substantiate with hard evidence, saying he was aware of rough plans in place but had never witnessed it first hand.
"It's not a secret within the party structure (LNP)," Mr Ashby said.
He said One Nation had stopped using his company because it couldn't match the $5.50 per corflute quoted by another printer.
His business had charged $8.
"I wasn't wasting my time to make 15 cents," Mr Ashby said.
One Nation Queensland leader Steve Dickson, who until January represented Buderim for the LNP, said he had been expected to raise between $100,000 and $180,000 each election with much of the costs of the campaign centralised to LNP headquarters.
"On the day an election was called they would send out postal vote alerts to households in your electorate and that would cost $16,000 to $17,000," he said.
"Candidates had no control. They would print material where they wanted at whatever cost. You had no cost control. All printed material was centralised."
Mr Dickson said at the last election he had kept an email trail to show he had not wanted a mail-out.
"They were going to charge me for it and I had told them I didn't want it," he said.
"I refused to pay for it. I had had a gutful. It was a meltdown that's been going on for a long time."
He said the threat of disendorsement was a tool used by both major parties for candidates who did not comply.
The One Nation state leader defended the $3500 campaign package for its candidates, saying it covered their nomination fees, corflutes and printed materials.
Mr Dickson revealed this week the LNP charged pre-selection candidates a $2000 nomination fee and then when elected levied members $3500 a year and charged another mandatory amount in excess of $2000 annually for access to a data base.
A spokesman for the LNP refused to confirm or deny the amounts saying he was not going to say what the LNP did or didn't do.
He also declined to answer questions about what pre-selection nomination and campaign costs were charged to candidates, what fundraising expectations were put on candidates, and whether elected members had to pay an annual levy to the party.
He said he would not be commenting further on the issue.
"It is one that solely concerns the activities of One Nation and the contradictory claims and counter claims of senior members of One Nation," he said.
Mr Moorhead said Labor levied elected members annually as contributions to their re-election campaign costs.
He said the party put its election printing contract to tender and always sought prices from a range of suppliers before elections.
"Unlike One Nation, the ALP subsidises print costs for local campaigns, rather than profiteering by gouging candidates," Mr Moorhead said.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk both turned the heat up on One Nation and Mr Ashby this week.
Mr Turnbull told The Australian: "Plainly it is vitally important that all of our electoral laws are strictly complied with. They go to the very heart of our democracy. In the first instance Mr Ashby - or I should say his leader of the Pauline Hanson party, Senator Hanson herself - should respond to those (reports)."
Also speaking to The Australian Ms Palaszczuk said Mr Ashby's comments on the tape bordered "on a breach of the electoral act" and should be investigated.
"Let's see how that investigation goes, but political parties should not be trying to twist the system to their own benefit," she said.