PAULINE Hanson, the founder of Australia’s anti-immigrant One Nation party, walked free from jail yesterday after a court overturned her conviction for electoral fraud.
"I said the truth will set us free," said Ms Hanson as she greeted David Ettridge, her One Nation co-founder, who also had his conviction overturned and was freed.
Ms Hanson, 49, said she wanted to thank the people who supported her during her 11-week stay in prison. "To all the people of Australia, thank you. They never gave up on me. They never stopped believing in me. I have received 4,000 letters," she said outside the Brisbane Women’s Correctional Centre. "The [legal] system let me down, like it lets a lot of people down. It’s been a very daunting, distressing time for me. I will never forget it," Ms Hanson said.
Three judges on the Queensland Court of Appeal unanimously upheld Ms Hanson’s appeal and quashed her conviction. She had been sentenced to three years in prison.
The judges said a retrial would be futile and changed Ms Hanson’s verdict to one of acquittal, leaving her free to stand for office at an election widely expected to come late next year.
"That’s the furthest thing from my mind," Ms Hanson told reporters when asked if she would run for election.
Ms Hanson, a former fish-and-chip shop owner who took Australian politics by storm in 1996, railing against Asian immigration and handouts to Aborigines, had been found guilty of fraudulently registering One Nation in Queensland.
Prosecutors had accused Ms Hanson of passing off a list of 500 supporters as genuine members of One Nation to register the party and apply for electoral reimbursements.
But the appeal judges ruled that those whose names appeared on forms headed "Pauline Hanson’s One Nation" had paid membership fees, had applications processed at a One Nation office and received a receipt and a membership card from the party.
"It would be unsafe to allow the convictions to stand in these circumstances," the judges said.
A One Nation senator, Len Harris, the party’s only representative in the national parliament, told reporters: "I am delighted, ecstatic and I could not believe it."
Ms Hanson warned against Asian immigration in her maiden speech as an independent member of the federal parliament 1996.
But her political career has been all but dead for some years as the party she founded struggles to survive, its thunder muted by the tough stance of the prime minister, John Howard, on illegal immigration.