One Nation has twice rebuffed demands in the last year by its co-founder David Ettridge for $150,000 in compensation for losses he says he suffered as a result of legal battles that led to him and Pauline Hanson serving time in prison.
Ettridge estimates his true costs and damages were more than $2m but offered to settle for $150,000 and was rejected by the party in September 2016 and February 2017, on the basis that the claim had no merit.
Last August Ettridge drew up a statement of claim for more than $2m that did not identify a precise cause of action but invoked an “unpaid indemnity payment for defending criminal charges”, a reference to a clause in the party’s constitution promising to indemnify the executive for “liabilities incurred”.
The claim set out his belief that Hanson personally refused a reimbursement for former candidate, Terry Sharples, in 1998 that led to Sharples “seeking revenge” against the party, culminating in the fraud case that led to Ettridge and Hanson being imprisoned in August 2003.
The hefty $2m damages bill consisted of Ettridge’s claim for $1m for loss of income, $500,000 for damage to his reputation from the fraud conviction, which was quashed months later, $300,000 for refusal of the indemnity and $275,000 for the loss of his home while he paid the costs of the two-year legal battle.
In September One Nation’s lawyer, Danny Eid, responded that it did “not appear that here is a viable or legally sustainable action against Ms Hanson within your pleading”.
In January Ettridge wrote to the One Nation national executive, again invoking the indemnity clause.
He referred to minutes of a national executive meeting on 18 August 2016 which showed it had considered his original claim for $150,000 compensation and “Pauline said that [Ettridge] represented himself and has no claim to the party”. The executive resolved to have its lawyers write to him rejecting his claim.
In his January letter Ettridge wrote that the minutes “reflect a total failure to discuss or show any evidence of the executive having even the slightest interest or concern for my situation”.
Ettridge argued the indemnity covered all liabilities including “losses”. “The indemnity doesn’t say that I must employ a lawyer and only legal fees will be compensated. It just says liabilities. I incurred a large amount of liabilities.”
Ettridge said “the only reason” he had represented himself was because he had sought financial support from One Nation in 2001 for his legal costs but was refused.
He said his pre-trial defence submissions were upheld by the court of appeal in November 2003, resulting in the pair being released from their three-year prison terms after just months.
“It was not the expensive lawyer who acted for Pauline and who was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by the party that won the court case, I won it.
“After being released from prison I had no money, a public reputation for being a fraud and a ton of debt. I eventually had to sell the family home.”
In February Eid responded: “In response to your most recent correspondence, we advise that we do not propose to provide you with a further response. You risk action if you persist to directly contact our client and any of her staff.”
James Ashby, Hanson’s chief of staff and the party’s secretary, told Guardian Australia: “If a disgruntled Mr Ettridge has a meritorious claim, he can forward that to the party’s solicitors, who he is well aware of.”