The leader of Australia’s far-right One Nation party is under fire after she was captured on camera suggesting that a deadly mass shooting that led to the country’s strict gun control laws was part of a conspiracy.
Senator Pauline Hanson’s comments were part of footage in a documentary produced by Qatar-based Al Jazeera news channel that depicts two party officials seeking donations from the U.S.-based National Rifle Association to help the party’s effort to weaken the laws.
Hanson is shown telling an Al Jazeera journalist posing as a gun lobbyist that she has a “lot of questions” about the 1996 shooting that left 35 people dead in Port Arthur, Tasmania.
The revelation has prompted Prime Minister Scott Morrison of the Liberal Party to rank One Nation below the opposition Labor Party on voter ballots in the upcoming general ballot in May. Under Australia’s election system, voters rank parties in order of preference, which could shut out smaller, marginal parties such as One Nation.
Morrison told reporters Thursday his decision is “based on our strong view about the sanctity of Australia’s gun laws and to ensure that at no stage that those things should ever be put at risk.”
Hanson defended herself in her own news conference, which she called “a day of shame” for Australian media outlets who were “sold a story that is too good to be true.” She said the footage had been heavily edited, and that her party “will never water down gun policy in this country.”
She also slammed Morrison as a “fool” for deciding to place Labor ahead of One Nation on the voter ballots.
The documentary allegedly depicts One Nation state leader Steve Dickson and James Ashby, Hanson’s chief of staff, meeting with officials of the gun lobbying organization in Washington in September 2018. The two politicians are recorded discussing their hopes of receiving a $20 million donation from the NRA and other U.S.-based gun lobbying groups.
The two men said the money could allow them to seize control of Australia’s House and Senate and reverse the nation’s gun control laws.
Ashby is also recorded saying if the donations became public it would “rock the boat.”
A person identified as an NRA lobbyist is seen telling Dickson and Ashby that weakening Australia’s gun laws would prove a boost to the U.S. pro-gun movement, as it would eliminate Australia as an example for gun control activists in the United States.
The meeting was held just weeks before the Australian parliament passed a law to ban foreign political donations.
The Al Jazeera report also casts an unflattering spotlight on the right-wing party in the aftermath of this month’s shooting spree at two mosques in New Zealand that left 50 Muslim worshippers dead. An avowed Australian white supremacist has been charged with murder in connection with the massacre.