Advice, but no action on Abbott
Mark Davis, Political correspondent
The Australian Electoral Commission received legal advice last year that it was possible Health Minister Tony Abbott breached electoral laws by failing to disclose his backing of court action against Pauline Hanson ‘s One Nation.
The Australian Government Solicitor told the AEC Mr Abbott’s promise to pay the court costs of a dissident One Nation member, Terry Sharples, might amount to a gift which should have been disclosed under the Electoral Act.
But despite this advice, provided in July last year, the AEC is yet to announce any decision on its investigation of Mr Abbott’s dealings with Mr Sharples.
The AEC has been considering whether Mr Abbott breached electoral laws by failing to disclose his backing of legal actions against Mrs Hanson by Mr Sharples and another One Nation dissident, Barbara Hazelton.
During 1998 Mr Abbott promised Mr Sharples he would not be left out of pocket if he pursued legal challenges to One Nation.
Separately, Mr Abbott established a trust fund that raised $100,000 to fund another court case against Mrs Hanson by Ms Hazelton.
The AEC has been considering two legal issues:
* Whether Mr Abbott’s promise to pay Mr Sharples’ court costs was a gift intended to benefit the Liberal Party which should have been disclosed;
* Whether Mr Abbott’s Australians for Honest Politics trust fund was an “associated entity” of the Liberal Party and was therefore required to disclose the names of its donors.
The legal advice provided by the AGS in July last year a copy of which has been obtained by The Australian Financial Review dealt with the first of these questions.
The AGS’s senior general counsel, Frank Marris, was asked to give advice based on a hypothetical payment by Mr Abbott of $20,000 towards Mr Sharples’ legal costs.
Mr Sharples claimed Mr Abbott promised to pay him $20,000 but failed to do so and then promised to ensure that Mr Sharples would not be left out of pocket from pursuing the legal action.
In the advice, Mr Marris says section 305B(2) of the Electoral Act requires a person who makes a gift to any other person with the intention of benefiting a registered political party to disclose details of the gift as if it had been made directly to
the political party.
“In terms of subsection 305(2) of the Commonwealth Electoral Act, the question becomes whether the hypothetical `gift’ to [Sharples] was paid with the intention of doing good to, or being of service to a particular registered political party or State branch (e.g. the Liberal Party),” the advice says.
“If [Abbott] made the payment, I do not know what his intention would have been, but it is certainly not beyond the bounds of possibility that it was to benefit the Liberal Party by furthering the deregistration and financial embarrassment of a rival political party.”
Australian Financial Review, Thursday 22nd of July 2004, Page 4
Abbott cleared on Hanson fund
Mark Davis Political correspondent
Health Minister Tony Abbott has been cleared of allegations that he breached electoral laws by not disclosing donors to a fund to fight Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party.
The Australian Electoral Commission has concluded that Mr Abbott’s Australians for Honest Politics trust fund is not covered by disclosure requirements because it was not linked to the Liberal Party or any other political party.
The AEC also concluded that Mr Abbott was not required to disclose details of assistance he provided to a dissident One Nation member, Terry Sharples, in a court case against the fringe right-wing party.
Ms Hanson was sentenced to a jail term for electoral fraud but released after she won an appeal.
Since then the AEC has been considering two legal issues:
* Whether Mr Abbott’s Australians for Honest Politics trust fund was an “associated entity” of the Liberal Party and therefore required to disclose the names of its donors.
* Whether a promise by Mr Abbott to pay Mr Sharples’ court costs was a gift intended to benefit the Liberal Party which the minister should have disclosed.
In a statement issued this week, the AEC said it had concluded the trust was not an associated entity after reviewing new information and taking legal advice.
As part of its 12-month investigation the AEC had issued notices to officers of the trust requiring them to produce information but after an appeal by one of the officers the notices had been set aside.
The three trustees of the fund were Mr Abbott, former Labor senator John Wheeldon and former NSW Liberal MP Peter Coleman.
On the second legal issue, the AEC said it had no evidence that Mr Abbott had made any payment to Mr Sharples that would require disclosure as a gift to a registered political party.
“Accordingly, the AEC is of the view that Mr Abbott is not required to lodge a disclosure return in respect of any payment made to Mr Terry Sharples.”
Mr Sharples made a statutory declaration to the AEC that Mr Abbott had arranged to have $20,000 put into a solicitor’s trust account to help finance his legal action against One Nation.
The Australian, 30 December 2004
by Sid Maher
AN Australian Electoral Commission investigation into whether a trust fund, which bankrolled legal action against One Nation, was linked to the Liberal Party, was dropped after Health Minister Tony Abbott objected.
Documents obtained by The Australian under Freedom of Information laws show the AEC issued a demand to Mr Abbott in May requiring him to reveal the donors to Australians for Honest Politics, which backed legal action that ultimately led to the jailing of Pauline Hanson.
But Mr Abbott wrote back to the AEC on June 8, objecting to the demand and describing it as “unreasonable”. The AEC announced it had dropped the investigation in July.
Mr Abbott set up the Australians for Honest Politics in 1998 to challenge the validity of the Queensland registration of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party.
The documents show the AEC received draft legal advice in April 2004 suggesting there was sufficient evidence to issue a notice under section 316(3A) of the Commonwealth Electoral Act to require Mr Abbott to produce documents.
“It is open to an authorised officer (of the AEC) to form the belief that Mr Abbott is capable of producing documents or other things relating to the financial affairs of the trust (including the names of donors and the amounts of their donations) on the grounds that as `managing trustee’ Mr Abbott must know about, and have access to, the financial records of the trust,” the legal advice said.
Under electoral laws, a trust set up to benefit a political party can be classified as an associated entity and must lodge a return with the AEC showing its donors.
Mr Abbott has consistently refused to release the names of those who provided $100,000 to the trust. In his June letter, Mr Abbott asked the AEC to review its decision, saying it was unreasonable on two grounds: that the trust was not an entity associated with the Liberal Party; and, even if this were not accepted, it would be unfair to require disclosure of donors six years afer the trust was established, especially given the AEC had advised him in 1999 that disclosure was not required.
Mr Abbott said the fact that there may have been some indirect benefit to other political parties in a successful legal challenge to One Nation’s registration “certainly does not make the trust an associated entity”.
All that had changed “in the highly charged atmosphere after her jailing last year, was Mrs Hanson’s status from villain to victim”, Mr Abbott wrote.
A spokesman said Mr Abbott was on leave.
An AEC spokesman referred The Australian to advice on its website, posted on July 14, where it announced the trust was not an associated entity and would not be required to disclose its donors under the Electoral Act.