One Nation chief advisor guilty in election plane saga
ONE Nation chief adviser James Ashby's private company was today convicted and fined for not co-operating during a probe into the party's use of a light plane for the 2016 election campaign.
Black Bull Qld Pty Ltd sole director Mr Ashby pleaded guilty on behalf of the Maroochydore-based company for its failure to comply with an Australian Electoral Commission notice issued on July 24 last year.
Prosecutor Jessica Tower told the Maroochydore Magistrates Court under the Commonwealth Electoral Act it was required the trustee produce information about the aircraft from the financial records of Black Bull by July 27.
Mr Ashby told the court he had always taken the AEC's role "very seriously" and instructed those that work with and under him to "always provide information needed".
He argued the breech was only "technical", and he had instructed his lawyer Danny Eid to respond to the notice.
Mr Ashby told the court unbeknown to him, Mr Eid was travelling interstate and only replied after the due date, although he did not provide any supporting evidence.
"I understand the severity of the AEC, my boss was sentenced to a seven-year prison sentence at one time," he said.
"I am well aware of the powers they do have and that's why I have always sought to comply with them."
The court heard Mr Ashby and Senator Hansen had both personally complied with similar AEC notices during the investigation.
Magistrate Rod Madsen said the AEC was "entirely proper" to also issue a notice to Black Bull as Mr Ashby had initially told them the company owned the plane.
Mr Ashby attempted to correct this detail in a signed affidavit dated December 18, and told the court:
"The plane does not exist within Black Bull, that's a personal aircraft, it was held in my personal name.
"The plane does not belong to the political party One Nation, and this company which I am director of has been dormant now for two-and-a-half years since I started working for Senator Hanson."
Mr Ashby told the court Black Bull was "ticking over" printing free signs for a charity animal centre, and requested no penalty or conviction against himself or the company.
"I just ask for your grace in this matter because it really is a technical breech, while I must say I apologise for it I am not sure that's good enough for the AEC."
Ms Tower rejected Ashby's characterisation of the claim as "technical" or "trivial", but conceded there was no "premeditated conduct to wilfully hamper the AEC's efforts".
She said Mr Ashby had since made efforts to comply and provide information, however the value was diminished because the AEC's investigation had concluded.
She told the court Black Bull faced a maximum $10,500 fine - five times the penalty for an individual.
However, Mr Madsen ordered a conviction be recorded against the company and it pay only a fraction of the maximum penalty - $1000 to be referred to SPER.
Mr Ashby briefly responded to media outside of court.
"It's already been determined by the Electoral Commission that there was no cause to bring about charges about the plane," he said.
"So the matter has been dealt with, that's been made evident and there's no case now.
"We can all get on (with a) nice Christmas ahead and it's all sorted."