CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia's prime minister on Tuesday expressed concern over a media report that an influential minor political party had asked the U.S. gun lobby for donations to help undermine Australian gun laws.
An Al Jazeera documentary showed One Nation party officials Steve Dickson and James Ashby flew to the United States for meetings with the National Rifle Association and other pro-gun interests in September last year weeks before the Australian Parliament banned foreign political donations. It is unclear whether they secured any money.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said his government had made laws to "criminalize taking foreign political donations so foreign lobbyists cannot seek to influence our politics."
"Reports that senior One Nation officials courted foreign political donations from the US gun lobby to influence our elections & undermine our gun laws that keep us safe are deeply concerning," Morrison tweeted.
The Al Jazeera documentary, using secret recordings made by a journalist posing as gun lobbyist Rodger Muller with a hidden camera, comes ahead of elections expected in May.
One Nation, an anti-Muslim party that had four senators after 2016 election but has been left with two after defections, said in a statement that all party members "have always complied with the law."
One Nation also suggested the Qatar-owned Al Jazeera had breached new laws that prohibit covert foreign interference in Australian politics. The party said it had had complained to Australia's main domestic security agency and police "due to concerns of foreign interference into Australian politics in the lead up to the imminent federal election."
"Al Jazeera are a state owned propaganda arm of the Qatari government that supports Islamic extremist groups and are not a legitimate media organization," the statement said.
"One Nation was invited by Rodger Muller, who has now been outed as a foreign agent working for Al Jazeera to meet with the NRA, American business leaders and attend the Congressional Sportsmen's Dinner" in Washington, the statement said.
The NRA did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.
Ashby, who is party leader Pauline Hanson's chief of staff, is recorded saying that the party would "own" both the Australian Senate and House of Representatives with a $20 million donation from the U.S. gun lobby. This means the party would hold the balance of power in both chambers and influence a government's legislative agenda.
Ashby also warned that if such a donation became public, it would "rock the boat."
The news followed the mosque attacks in New Zealand on March 15 for which an Australian white supremacist has been charged with murder. New Zealand has responded by banning a range of semi-automatic weapons and foreshadowing a government-funded buyback of newly outlawed guns. The country's response is similar to how Australia strengthened its gun laws following the murders of 35 people by a lone gunman in 1996 in Tasmania.
One Nation state president Steve Dickson, who is a Senate candidate at the next election, traveled with Ashby and Muller to the United States to ask for political donations, Al Jazeera reported.
Dickon told NRA officials that the Australian gun control model "will poison us all, unless we stop it," Al Jazeera reported.
A former One Nation senator who is now an independent lawmaker, Fraser Anning, has been widely criticized for blaming Muslim immigration for the New Zealand massacre.
Hanson, One Nation's leader who was criticized for wearing a burqa in the Senate, voted for the ban on foreign donations in November.