Three-year undercover sting reveals how US’ National Rifle Association handles public opinion after deadly gun attacks.
Sydney, Australia – An official from Australia‘s far-right One Nation party offered to influence the country’s democracy as part of a bid to secure political funding from Koch Industries, a United States energy giant, an Al Jazeera investigation has found.
The offer was revealed in the second episode of Al Jazeera’s three-year investigation into the US and Australian gun lobbies, titled How to sell a massacre.
Secretly filmed footage, obtained by Al Jazeera, shows Steve Dickson, One Nation’s leader in the Australian state of Queensland, meeting with Catherine Haggett, director of Federal Affairs at Koch Industries, in Washington, the US capital, in September of last year.
Dickson told Haggett: “What you can do to help us and it’s going to get down to money at the end of the day … we can change the voting system in our country, the way people operate, if we’ve got the money to do it.”
The meeting at Koch Industries was just one among a series of meetings in Washington in which One Nation officials sought up to $20m in political funding from pro-gun groups. Dickson was accompanied by James Ashby, the One Nation party’s chief of staff.
Rodger Muller, an undercover reporter from Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit, posed as a pro-gun campaigner and used concealed cameras to track Dickson and Ashby during their US visit.
In meetings with powerful gun lobby groups, Muller filmed the pair vowing to soften Australia’s strict gun laws, which were imposed following a mass shooting that killed 35 people in the Tasmanian town of Port Arthur in 1996.
Port Arthur killings
Dickson and Ashby’s party, officially called “Pauline Hanson’s One Nation”, pushes a pro-gun and anti-immigration agenda. Its leader, Senator Pauline Hanson, made global headlines in 2017 when she wore a veil that covered her face at the country’s parliament to protest against Muslim immigration into Australia.
In a secretly filmed conversation, Hanson was also recorded suggesting that the official account of the Port Arthur killings might be incorrect.
The shooting was the deadliest in Australia’s history. The gunman, Martin Bryant, pleaded guilty and was given 35 life sentences without the possibility of parole.
“An MP said it would actually take a massacre in Tasmania to change the gun laws in Australia,” Hanson told Al Jazeera’s undercover reporter. “Those shots, they were precision shots. Check the number out … a lot of questions there.”
The Port Arthur killings led to the passage of Australia’s National Firearms Agreement (NFA), which places strict controls on automatic and semiautomatic rifles and shotguns. Since then, Australia has had no mass shootings where the attackers did not know at least some of their victims.
The US’s National Rifle Association (NRA) has denounced Australia’s gun laws as “not the definition of common sense”.
One Nation has proposed minor changes to the NFA as part of its platform for the upcoming Australian elections, set to take place in May.
But the party has not disclosed to Australian voters its discussions with the NRA, in which Dickson, who is also a senate candidate in the poll, described the Pacific country’s firearms laws as “poison” and vowed to “kill” them.
In fact, it was an NRA official who connected the One Nation officials to Koch Industries.
The energy giant’s massive political donations helped put Donald Trump in office in the 2016 US presidential election.
“If we don’t change things, people are going to be looking at Australia and go ‘well, it’s okay for them to go down the path of not having guns. It’s like poison. It will poison us all unless we stop it,” Dickson told Brandi Graham, a senior NRA lobbyist.
Graham lauded the plan, saying: “I think that it would be very beneficial if you are all able to take steps in the right direction because the biggest argument we always get from folks is ‘Well, look at Australia’.”
Dickson asked for Graham’s help with other meetings in Washington, saying One Nation wanted to meet “people that you may be aware of that have similar interests to us, people interested in stopping this infection spreading”.
He added: “We lack, probably, two things: we lack money, we lack people on the ground.”
Offering to reach out to Koch Industries, Graham replied: “Clearly, I think if you can talk about the effect of your gun policy and some of the other issues that affect them, you never know, they might be willing to help out in some way.”
Gun to the government’s head
Dickson and Ashby told Al Jazeera’s undercover reporter that they hoped to secure up to $20m from the US gun lobby, a move they believed would secure their success in the upcoming elections.
Ashby said: “We would win potentially the balance of power if we took two seats in the lower house. And you know what? I reckon we could do that with $2m. If you had $20m, you would own the lower house and the upper house.”
Dickson likened the balance of power to holding a gun to the head of the Australian government.
“The thing you need to understand about the balance of power is … You know about the headlock and the 9mm to the back of the head? That’s where it sits. You know, once you say we want something, we will get it. Because without it, they won’t get any legislation through,” he said.
During an interview with Sky News Australia on Tuesday, Ashby denied seeking foreign funds to influence the nation’s laws.
“There is no way that we were out to change gun laws in this country. At no point was that ever, ever on the table,” he said.
But in a secretly filmed conversation with Al Jazeera’s undercover reporter, Dickson and Ashby proposed a gradual approach to softening gun laws in Australia.
“It’s like Vegemite. You don’t put a f***ing bundle of the s*** on the toast. A light smear first. Get them used to the flavour,” Ashby said.
They likened the strategy to taking bread from a loaf, one slice at a time. “Then we can get another piece of bread and end up with the whole loaf,” said Dickson.
There is no evidence that Koch Industries or any other group approached by One Nation provided any donations.