“I was hoping to get my job as media advisor back, but she’s got James Ashby with her now,” John Pasquarelli, 79, told me on the phone from his Townsville home this week.
Across her 20+ year career in politics, the advisors behind Hanson have garnered almost as much attention as the politician herself.
Most famously perhaps are the 2Ds: David Oldfield and David Ettridge and the string of controversies that denoted their time with One Nation. Now her main advisor (and private air-pilot) is James Ashby - aka that guy behind the ‘Slippergate’ scandal.
Back before One Nation was formed and she gained any of these high-profile staffers, Hanson had the outspoken, khaki-wearing Pasquarelli, who with his gruff manner and shorn-head is oft-nicknamed ‘Kojak’.
Prior to joining team Hanson, Pasquarelli already had a colourful history, including 17 years in the Liberal Party and a four-year stint as a Member of Parliament (“well before Pauline!) in the 60s , in Papua New Guinea, where he has lived on and off for decades.
He’s not backwards in coming forward with his political views either.
“Dwyer?” he remarked on learning my name. “That’s a very Anglo-sounding name for someone who works at SBS.”
“I lump SBS in with the ABC and the rest - I think you’ve all been to the Marxist school of study!” he laughs enthusiastically.
Upon asking for his thoughts on the current media focus on immigrants from Syria and the Middle East, he cuts me off and says, “Let’s cut to the chase and just say Muslims. Don’t muck around.”
“Go out to the Western suburbs of Sydney, right now today and I don’t think a day goes by that there’s not gunfire in the Western suburbs of Sydney.”
“Because of the racial make-up?” I ask.
“Well of course. What do you think? There’s cowboys out there - and Indians?”
"Let’s cut to the chase and just say Muslims. Don’t muck around."
When it comes to her senior staffers, Hanson certainly seems to have a knack for picking interesting characters…
“Are you calling me an interesting character? Yeah I’ll accept that, that’s not too defamatory!” he chuckles.
When you consider the terms on which Pasquarelli parted ways with Hanson, as David Oldfield stepped in to replace him, it’s perhaps surprising that he’s still so keen to fight her corner.
“My old friend!” he scoffs at the mention of Oldfield.
“I wish I could get my hands on him.”
He alleges, “I found out all too late that he wanted my job and he got it.”
“At the end of ‘96 I was sacked. Oldfield was behind that.”
"At the end of ‘96 I was sacked. Oldfield was behind that."
Pasquarelli first joined Team Hanson not as part of her initial ’96 campaign for the Lower House as an independent (which she successfully pulled off on her own steam), but only after seeing her on the telly on election night.
As he explains it, he'd just helped his other ex-Liberal party mate, Graeme Campbell win the seat of Kalgoorlie that day.
"We were sitting in his lounge room that night and Pauline suddenly came on air," Pasquarelli says.
"They said here’s this woman up in Ipswich, who’s just won after being disendorsed by the Liberal party."
To the two fellow ex-Liberals, it was a clear sign.
"Graeme said to me 'Look, you’ve done what you came to do for me - hop on the next plane and get up there!' So I did – and the rest, as they say is history."
He’s also often credited with writing her now-infamous maiden speech in Parliament – the moment best known for shooting the unknown fish and chip shop lady to instant notoriety.
He'd love a shot at doing it again too. "I’d like to be writing Pauline’s maiden speech for the Senate," Pasquarelli says.
“I totally dispensed with the idea of Pauline standing up there and saying ‘I want to thank my aunties, uncles, cousins’ – the usual sort of thing,” he explains, of the original.
“I could see what was happening with more and more ethnics coming in to Australia and not joining in – NOT joining in. From out of that came [the line] ‘we are in danger of being swamped by Asians’.”
"I could see what was happening with more and more ethnics coming in to Australia and not joining in"
Despite perhaps having him to thank in large part for her high profile, Hanson would not even end up sticking out a full term with him as her advisor.
Pasquarelli contends that his sudden termination came about not long after he suggested to Hanson that she should do exactly as she has done now, and surpass the House of Reps in the ’98 election for a shot at the Senate.
“It’ll all be denied,” he claims. “But I told Pauline in 1996 that ‘look, you’ve got no hope of standing for the lower house again in 1998. Because all these other people and parties are going to preference you out of it’.”
“I said ‘But you are still riding very, very high – if you stand for the Senate, you will have a quota, no problem and the Senate is six years.’”
“And Pauline was hooked. Her eyes lit up over that!”
“Then I said ‘you get another term in the Senate and you’ve got your parliamentary pension.’ - She was very pleased about that.”
"Her eyes lit up over that!"
Pasquarelli speculates that it was a result of that conversation that he lost his job, as Oldfield, growing increasingly close to Hanson, had other ideas for her career trajectory.
“Something happened only within three or four days [of that conversation]” he explained.
“I think I know what happened – is that David Oldfield – and I didn’t know that [at the time] they were in a relationship.” [Oldfield has consistently denied that he has ever had a relationship with Hanson.]
“Anyway I’m sure – and it will be denied - that Pauline told Oldfield about what I said, about standing for the Senate.”
“And I’m alleging that I’m sure he told her that she had no chance of becoming Australia’s first female Prime Minister if she moved out of the lower house.”
“Then, all of a sudden - she was like thunder! It must’ve been two or three days after I told her that about the Senate, she walked in and sacked me and one of my people.”
While he’s no fan of Oldfield, Pasquarelli is still very much on Hanson’s side – though he hates being lumped in with One Nation – the party that Oldfield helped forge with Hanson, after he left.
“One Nation was formed after she sacked me. They keep on saying that I was involved with One Nation – no way!”
“I told her NOT to form a party, to remain an independent in the Senate.”
Even though he’s no longer a staffer, it seems Pasquarelli’s still very much a supporter.
“Of course!” he exclaims. “I helped her up here during the election. She came to see me twice in Townsville.”
He says he’s still fond of imparting advice on Hanson from afar, and has the odd exchange with her via text message too.
“She has acknowledged that I was right in giving her that advice about the Senate,” he claims.
“She acknowledged that to me in just recent times. If she’d taken my advice, she could STILL be an independent senator.”
What would have happened if Hanson had followed this advice? No doubt Australia’s political landscape would look very different indeed!
Chart the full story of Hanson’s career across those two decades and see everything that Pasquarelli has to say about her in Pauline Hanson: Please Explain! Available to view at SBS On Demand now. Or watch it right here: