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Australian party accused of asking US gun lobby for money

PTI/Agencies, New Delhi
27/03/2019   0 Comments

Australia's prime minister on Tuesday accused an influential minor political party of trying to "sell Australia's gun laws to the highest bidders" by asking the US gun lobby for donations. Prime Minister Scott Morrison was responding to an Al Jazeera documentary that reported One Nation party officials Steve Dickson and James Ashby flew to the United States for meetings with pro-gun interests including the National Rifle Association and political donors Koch Industries in September last year seeking money to undermine Australian gun laws. Dickson and Ashby later told reporters that they had not secured any US money. They also said they had been quoted by Al Jazeera out of context and often after drinking. The trip took place weeks before the Australian Parliament banned foreign political donations with laws that took effect Jan.1. Morrison said the revelations were reasons why Australians should not vote for One Nation at general elections due in May.

The Al Jazeera documentary used secret recordings made by a journalist posing as gun lobbyist Rodger Muller with a hidden camera. One Nation, an anti-Muslim party that had four senators after 2016 election but has been left with two after defections, said in a statement that all party members "have always complied with the law." One Nation also suggested the Qatar-owned Al Jazeera had breached new laws that prohibit covert foreign interference in Australian politics. The party said it had had complained to Australia's main domestic security agency and police "due to concerns of foreign interference into Australian politics in the lead up to the imminent federal election." The NRA in a statement late Tuesday said Al Jazeera representatives, disguised as members of a group called "Gun Rights Australia," had set up meetings with NRA employees and brought Australian political party members to those meetings. 

"At no time did the NRA contribute funding to any Australian political party or Gun Rights Australia," NRA spokeswoman Jennifer Baker said in the statement. Ashby, who is party leader Pauline Hanson's chief of staff, is recorded saying that the party would "own" both the Australian Senate and House of Representatives with a USD 20 million donation from the U.S. gun lobby. This means the party would hold the balance of power in both chambers and influence a government's legislative agenda. Ashby also warned that if such a donation became public, it would "rock the boat." He told reporters on Tuesday that the U.S. trip had been a fact-finding mission to learn campaign tactics. "These conversations with the NRA were to look at nothing more than their techniques. This was not about sourcing money from the NRA. This was about sourcing technology, sourcing an understanding of how they operate, but never was it about seeking USD 20 million dollars from the NRA," Ashby told reporters.

The news followed the mosque attacks in New Zealand on March 15 for which an Australian white supremacist has been charged with murder. New Zealand has responded by banning a range of semi-automatic weapons and foreshadowing a government-funded buyback of newly outlawed guns. The country's response is similar to how Australia strengthened its gun laws following the murders of 35 people by a lone gunman in 1996 in Tasmania. One Nation state president Steve Dickson, who is a Senate candidate at the next election, traveled with Ashby and Muller to the United States to ask for political donations, Al Jazeera reported. Dickson told reporters on Tuesday he supported Australia's gun laws. He said had not solicited donations in the United States, but conceded his party was not wealthy. A former One Nation senator who is now an independent lawmaker, Fraser Anning, has been widely criticized for blaming Muslim immigration for the New Zealand massacre.

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