One of the most intriguing aspects of Pauline Hanson’s astonishing return to Canberra is how she and her three One Nation senators are going to deal with Malcolm Turnbull and the Coalition, Bill Shorten and Labor, the Greens and the rest of the motley Senate crew the voters have sent there with her.
Legislation will have to be negotiated. Deals will have to be done. Policy positions will have to be researched and advocated. Party discipline will have to be maintained – something that Ms Hanson’s Queensland Senate sidekick, Malcolm “I have an opinion on everything, here’s my business card, Barrie” Roberts has shown already will be a huge challenge.
Apart from the colourful figures, including Mr Roberts, elected with Ms Hanson, party figures talking to The Australian on Monday certainly highlight how fractious – and fragile – is One Nation, indicating the shambolic management and vitriolic personal politics of the party’s heyday could well return with a vengeance and make the Kardashians look a happy, functional family. And that’s just days after the Senate polls were declared.
Central to where One Nation goes from here, however, will be Ms Hanson’s new right-hand man and fixer, former Coalition and Peter Slipper staffer James Ashby. Yes, the same James Ashby who made lurid claims of sexual harassment against disgraced former speaker Peter Slipper (replete with lewd text messages), a farrago that ultimately destroyed Liberal MP accuser-in-chief Mal Brough, surely contributed to the defeat of Wyatt Roy last month, and also ensnared current Coalition figures including Defence Industry minister Christopher Pyne.
Somehow, Mr Ashby found his way to Ms Hanson and, by all accounts, was instrumental in her striking the political mother lode in last month’s double-dissolution election. It is likely he will be her Canberra chief-of-staff, effectively becoming One Nation’s chief policy-setter and parliamentary manager, over and above any executive roles in the One Nation party itself. Constantly in TV pictures of Ms Hanson, he appears to have inherited the charismatic Hanson adviser mantle from John Pasquarelli and David Oldfield.
The oleaginous Mr Ashby’s imminent return to Canberra, however, begs some fascinating political questions that Spectator Australia-reading members of the Parliamentary Press Gallery might care to ask:
- How much power and control over the One Nation parliamentary team and agenda will Ms Hanson delegate to Mr Ashby? Will he be, to all intents and purposes, her?
- Precisely what role will Mr Ashby play in forming and developing One Nation’s relationships with the Government, other parties, and the media?
- Will Mr Ashby coordinate or direct how One Nation senators, including Ms Hanson, personally engage (or not engage) with ministers, shadow ministers, and other MPs and senators?
- Having made himself anathema to Liberals through the Slipper saga, especially in the Queensland LNP, how will Mr Ashby personally be involved in day-to-day relationships with Coalition ministers, MPs and senators?
- To avoid personality clashes, will the PM’s office insist that all contact with Mr Ashby be through it?
- Indeed, will Coalition MPs and senators allow Mr Ashby into their offices, or will they insist that he be excluded from any discussions or negotiations with One Nation?
Most likely, when he returns to Parliament House in a few weeks, Mr Ashby will find it as hard to make new friends outside his party circle as does Pepe Le Pew in the Warner Brothers cartoons. It will be an unpleasant time for him, but the more hostility he encounters simply will empower him, feeding his and Ms Hanson’s sense of grievance against the mainstream political elites they despise.
However these questions are answered when parliament resumes, Mr Ashby’s mere presence will influence the dynamics between the Turnbull government, Ms Hanson and the other three One Nation Senators. One way or another, he will be instrumental to the Coalition’s passing any legislation opposed by Labor and the Greens, and therefore to the Government’s – and the Prime Minister’s – future.
The James Ashby show about to start will be riveting viewing for Canberra-watchers: ladies and gentlemen, take your seats.