On 20 August 2003, politicians Pauline Hanson and David Ettridge were sentenced to three years in prison after being found guilty of electoral fraud in Queensland. The charges were later overturned.
Hanson and Ettridge were each sentenced to three years jail without parole under the Criminal Code (Qld).
In handing down the sentences, District Court Chief Judge Patsy Wolfe admitted that neither Hanson nor Ettridge had obtained any personal financial benefit from the party’s registration or electoral funding.
She specifically referred to the fact that Hanson, with Ettridge’s likely support, had organised a public appeal to repay the ha1fmillion dollars in electoral funding paid to One Nation. Yet, the two were convicted, under the vague wording of s 408C(l)(d) of the Code, of ‘dishonestly gain[ing] a benefit or advantage’.
The convictions were for falsely claiming that 500 members of the Pauline Hanson Support Movement were members of the political organisation Pauline Hanson’s One Nation to register that organisation in Queensland as a political party and apply for electoral funding.
Because the registration was found to be unlawful, Hanson’s receipt of electoral funding worth $498,637 resulted in two further convictions for dishonestly obtaining property, each with three-year sentences, to run concurrently with the first. The sentence was widely criticised in the media and by some politicians as being too harsh.
The prime minister, John Howard, said that it was “a very long, unconditional sentence” and Bronwyn Bishop said that Hanson was a political prisoner, comparing her conviction with Robert Mugabe’s treatment of Zimbabwean opponents. The sentence was widely criticised in the media as being too harsh.
On 6 November 2003, delivering judgment the day after hearing the appeal, the Queensland Court of Appeal quashed all of Hanson and Ettridge’s convictions. Hanson, having spent 11 weeks in jail, was immediately released along with Ettridge.
The court’s unanimous decision was that the evidence did not support a conclusion beyond reasonable doubt that the people on the list were not members of the Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party and that Hanson and Ettridge knew this when the application to register the party was submitted.
Accordingly, the convictions regarding registration were quashed. The convictions regarding funding, which depended on the same facts, were also quashed. This decision did not specifically follow the Sharples case, where the trial judge’s finding of such fraud had not been overturned in the appeal by Hanson and Ettridge.
That case was distinguished as a civil suit – in administrative law, as to the validity of the decision by Electoral Commissioner O’Shea to register the party – in which proof had been only on the balance of probabilities.
Chief Justice Paul de Jersey, with whom the other two judges agreed overall, suggested that if Hanson, Ettridge and especially the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions had used better lawyers from the start, the whole matter might not have taken so long up to the appeal hearing, or might even have been avoided altogether.
The Court of Appeal president, Margaret McMurdo, rebuked many politicians, including John Howard and Bronwyn Bishop MHR.
Their observations, she said, demonstrated at least “a lack of understanding of the Rule of Law” and “an attempt to influence the judicial appellate process and to interfere with the independence of the judiciary for cynical political motives”, although she praised other leading Coalition politicians for accepting the District Court’s decision.