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Written by David Marler
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 In a Federal Election Year, One Nation's David Ettridge is Taking Australian Opposition Leader Tony Abbott to Court

In a Federal Election Year, One Nation's David Ettridge is Taking Australian Opposition Leader Tony Abbott to Court

With a Federal election due on September 14, 2013 a spectre from Australian Opposition leader Tony Abbott's past has materialised in the form of One Nation cofounder, David Ettridge.

In 1998, as Workplace Relations Minister Abbott joined forces with a disendorsed One Nation member, Terry Sharples who claimed that One Nation's 500 membership number had been falsified.

At the time, One Nation in Queensland was taking a serious amount of voting potential away from the John Howard led Coalition Government.

For Abbott, the political agenda was to strike off One Nation as a political party, starving it of necessary Federal electioneering funding. He offered to bankroll the prosecution of the case. He told Sharples that he would supply pro-bono lawyers and would cover costs if he was to lose the case.
To do this, Abbott set up a trust fund or 'slush fund' to bankroll the case. He called the fund Australians For Honest Politics which raised nearly $100,000 from donors in 1998.

Abbott registered this fund with the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) but stated that it was not an associated entity of any political party.

In 2003, the court sentenced both Ettridge and One Nation leader, Pauline Hanson to three years jail for fraud. Both sentences were eventually quashed on appeal and they were released after six months.

Abbott and Sharples eventually fell out over money. As far as Sharples had been concerned, the money from the slush fund was to go to him regardless of the case outcome.

With many questions circulating, the Queensland Government asked the Crime and Misconduct Commission (CMC) to investigate the prosecution of Ettridge and Hanson. They reported back in January of 2004.

They found no evidence of wrongdoing on Abbott's behalf as his involvement in the case ceased prior to the court's findings.
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However, a door had been left ajar. During the course of the CMC investigation Abbott was asked to supply a full list of donors to the slush fund. He replied that in accordance with the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918, he would not supply all of the donor names unless instructed by the AEC. 

In this regard, the CMC had no jurisdiction to compel Abbott to provide the full list of names. An order from the AEC was never issued.

In 2003, the AEC defended its position against claims that it had not acted appropriately in demanding the full list of donors.

AEC Electoral Commissioner Andy Becker stated, "When this matter was first raised five years ago, the AEC determined at that time that the group Australians for Honest Politics was not an associated entity as specified by the Commonwealth Electoral Act."

"When any new information came to light, it was given careful consideration, but a knee jerk reaction [in relation to donations] to a complex issue was inappropriate."

His statement pointed out that under the Electoral Act an associated entity is an "organisation set up to benefit a registered political party."

All went pretty quiet on the matter for nine years. Ettridge struggled through various court hearings to further cleanse his name. As he told the ABC's PM program recently, a simple google search brings up all sorts of character damaging material.

Abbott rose to the position of Opposition Leader of the Coalition, ousting Malcolm Turnbull. He was defeated in the 2010 election by 1 seat. The party re-endorsed his leadership and he began a series of campaigns aimed at discrediting the incumbent Labor Government of Prime Minister Julia Gillard. One of these campaigns was to bring into question her own alleged involvement in a slush fund when she worked as a lawyer at Slater and Gordon.

In 2013, Ettridge decided to prise open that donor door. With an application to the Queensland Supreme court in Brisbane, Ettridge sought compensation of $1.5 million from Abbott.

He also presented the case for perversion of the course of justice. He argued that Abbott was motivated purely out of politics and felt nothing for the democratic process.

Specifically, he requested that the court be supplied with all of the names of those 'who comprised the donors to the Australians for Honest Politics Trust, PLUS, all financial records, banks statements audits etc. for the Australians for Honest Politics trust.'

In a media statement released on 18th March, 2013, David Ettridge stated, ‘I am greatly concerned that back in 1998, Tony Abbott, a man who had such little regard for the law and the democratic rights of Australians, could become Australia’s next Prime Minister’

'Creating slush funds for deliberate and unlawful political purposes is a very unhealthy attack on our democratic system,' he went on to say.

'I have experienced considerable damages to my finances and reputation as a result of Mr Abbott’s actions in 1998 and beyond, and I will seek to have the court assess the quantum of damages and order Mr Abbott and his Australians for Honest Politics Trust donors to pay that compensation.'

If the Supreme court action is successful and Abbott is compelled to reveal any registered political party donors, it may trigger an AEC investigation into Abbott's dealings in 1998.

Before setting off on his annual 'Pollie Pedal' charity event, Abbott commented that the litigation was a 'payback'.

"I think it’s fair to say that this is going to be just a bit of a sideshow and I try not to be involved in sideshows."

Overall, Tony Abbott has said very little about the court action and the media has failed to question him at length. In contrast, PM Gillard faced a barrage of questions from the media on her time at Slater and Gordon, even standing for over an hour at a press conference until reporters ran out of questions.

A few twitter users and I asked the ABC's Lateline presenter, Emma Albericie why this court application had been given so little media attention. From her perspective, it was a case of 'Mr Abbott has refused our requests for an interview since 2011'.

You can read the full twitter transcript with Emma here.

A Queensland Supreme court directions hearing is scheduled for the 9th of May, 2013.

Ettridge also served two of Abbott's associates, Trevor Kennedy and Peter Coleman. In a statement, Ettridge told the Independent Australia that both were involved with the slush fund.

“Peter Coleman has been identified as a former Liberal Party president and MP. He is also declared to be the person who wrote the cheques from the Australians for Honest Politics Trust.”

“Trevor Kennedy is a former associate of Kerry Packer, the late Rene Rivkin and Graham Richardson, and identified as a donor to the AFHP Trust.”

“Mr Abbott and his colleagues are a group of very prominent and influential people, whom I allege have been complicit in a number of actions that are being placed before the Qld Supreme Court.”

Source: 'Abbott linked with trust fund set up to fight One Nation'
Source: 'AEC defends handling of Abbott slush fund'
Source: 'David Ettridge Media Release On Abbott Proceedings'
Source: 'Ettridge Vs Abbott Application In The Supreme Court Of Qld'

Source: 'One Nation founder launches lawsuit against Abbott'
Source: 'Ettridge serves Abbott’s AFHP associates — Peter Coleman & Trevor Kennedy'

Update 9/5/13

Ettridge's case on 9th May 2013 in the Brisbane Supreme Court could not proceed due to irregularities int the civil court application he had filed.  Representing himself, Ettridge was told by Supreme Court Justice Peter Applegarth to seek legal advice before proceeding. Ettridge has until June 6th to re-lodge his application.

Source: 'One Nation co-founder David Ettridge told to get legal advice before civil lawsuit against Tony Abbott can proceed'

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