A law enforcement official holds assault rifles in a file photo. Photo: Facebook

Far-right political party One Nation has accused news channel Al Jazeera of interfering in Australian politics after it was filmed soliciting donations from a US gun rights lobby and promising to weaken gun laws in Australia.

The embarrassing revelations, exposed during a three-year undercover investigation by the Qatari-based media outfit, come soon after an Australian white supremacist massacred 50 Muslims at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, prompting Wellington to tighten its gun laws.

Al-Jazeera secretly filmed senior One Nation figures Steve Dickson and James Ashby seeking donations and discussing tactics for weakening Australia’s tough gun ownership laws with representatives of the National Rifle Association (NRA) in Washington DC in September last year.

A documentary based on the investigation, entitled “How to Sell a Massacre”, was screened on Monday by Al-Jazeera on its international news channel.

“We get the balance of power, very simply that means that we have the testicles of the government in our hand at every given stage,” Queensland state party leader Dickson said during the filmed meeting with the NRA. “And guns, in the scheme of things, are still going to be the be-all and end-all.”

One Nation party leader Pauline Hanson and her chief of staff James Ashby in a file photo. Photo: Twitter

Dickson and Ashby — One Nation founder Pauline Hanson’s chief of staff — went to Washington with Al-Jazeera investigator Rodger Muller, who posed as a gun rights advocate during an elaborate sting that included setting up a fake NRA-style lobbying group called Gun Rights Australia.

“My job was to use this as a front to endear myself to NRA officials and climb as high as I could within the organization, recording conversations with them on subjects such as how they respond to a massacre, how they pressure members of the US Congress, and how they manipulate the media,” Muller said in an article accompanying the Al-Jazeera reports.

In a series of trips to build connections with the pro-gun community in the US, Muller spoke with influential political figures, including Donald Trump Jr, the son of the US president, who is a strong supporter of gun rights.

“At another event I fired shotguns at clay pigeons beside US congressmen, and posed for a photograph with Chris Cox, a chief lobbyist for the NRA.”

Using a pinhole camera, Muller filmed Ashby and Dickson on their way to see NRA officials and during the meeting. They also met executives from Koch Industries, which helps fund conservative political causes.

En route to the Koch talks, Muller asked how much money they wanted:

Dickson: “I’m thinking 10 [million Australian dollars].”

Ashby: “No, I was thinking 20.”

In another discussion, Ashby suggested that A$10 million (US$7.1 million) of funding would help the struggling party “pick up eight Senate seats.”

An image grab from TV New Zealand taken on March 15, 2019 shows a victim arriving at a hospital following a mass mosque shooting in Christchurch. Photo: TV New Zealand/AFP

NRA media liaison Lars Dalseide offered tips on how pro-gun politicians should respond to mass shootings, saying they should “shame” opponents with lines like “How dare you stand on the graves of those children to put forward your political agenda?” Dickson responded: “I love that.”

The US group is seeking political leverage in Australia to undermine the strict gun-control laws that were introduced after the 1996 massacre at Port Arthur in Tasmania that killed 35 and wounded 23 people, the deadliest mass shooting in the country’s history.

The NRA apparently fears Australia’s gun laws, outlined in the 1996 National Firearms Agreement and accompanied by a government buyback scheme that saw the state destroy over one million firearms, could be used by liberal US legislators as a framework for tighter gun controls in America.

While research is mixed on the impact the laws have had on actually reducing mass shootings, suicides and armed crime, polling has consistently showed that 85% to 90% of Australians support the same or greater level of restrictions on firearms.

One Nation was targeted by Al-Jazeera because the party is trying to get more support from rural voters ahead of the country’s general election — likely to be held late April — by advocating a loosening of the 1996 laws.

It does not appear that the party secured any donations, but Al-Jazeera’s disclosures could still affect the poll result because the government has agreed to direct preferences from its candidates to One Nation.

A pile of firearms under the Australian government’s buyback program in a file photo. Photo: William West/AFP

Although One Nation, known for its xenophobic positions including on Muslim immigration, is in decline, its backing may be vital for the formation of the next coalition government.

One Nation has already launched a legal offensive aimed at blunting the pro-gun allegations in the Al-Jazeera report. The party said in a statement Tuesday that it had asked the Australian Federal Police to rule on whether the report amounted to “foreign interference into Australian politics.”

This may be difficult to substantiate, as One Nation’s own actions seem to contradict laws restricting foreign political donations in Australia. The laws were not introduced until several months after the Washington meetings, but party leader Pauline Hanson backed a donations crackdown in 2018.

“Overseas money should not have an influence on our political scene, so I believe that foreign donations should be totally stopped,” she said at the time. Tuesday’s statement also denied the party wanted gun laws weakened.

“One Nation strongly supports the rights of lawful gun ownership within Australia and have clearly outlined our policy on our website. One Nation members have always complied with the law,” it said.

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