Leader of Australian anti-Asian party resigns

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The Independent Online

Pauline Hanson, who founded the anti­Asian and right­wing One Nation Party, resigned as its leader Monday, saying she needed to concentrate on fighting fraud charges.

"It was my decision to hand in my resignation as national president," Hanson told Melbourne radio 3AK. "I've constantly got these court battles and challenges, and I couldn't do the job."

Hanson and former One Nation director David Ettridge have been charged over the alleged fraudulent registration of the political party in 1997. The pair are due in court in April. The charge carries a maximum 10 year prison sentence. Both have pleaded innocent in a pretrial hearing.

"I do believe it's a political witch hunt, and a lot of people don't have faith in the justice system – and I'm fighting the justice system," Hanson said Monday.

She added that she had another six legal challenges pending, but did not provide details.

Hanson's One Nation party made international headlines and alarmed Australia's Asian neighbors in the late 1990s with calls for an end to Asian immigration and strict limits on welfare handouts to Aborigines, the nation's underprivileged indigenous minority.

In a 1998 state election, the party's anti­establishment platform attracted almost a quarter of the vote to win 11 seats in the Queensland state legislature. At a 1998 federal election, the party won almost 9 percent of the vote nationally.

However, One Nation failed to win a seat in the most recent national election in November of last year, and Hanson lost her own bid for a Senate seat. Analysts said Hanson had been marginalized as international security issues saw voters concentrating on Australia's two main parties, the Liberals and the opposition Labor Party.

One Nation now has just one legislator, Sen. Len Harris, in the national Parliament. His six­year term in the upper house Senate is not up for re­election until 2004.

Sen. Ron Boswell, who beat Hanson for her Senate seat, said her demise as leader would strike a blow against all far right political parties.

"There's always been a number of right­wing parties out there, but they've never had someone who could pull the votes like Pauline has," said Boswell, a member of the Nation Party, the government's junior coalition partner. "They will find it very difficult to find someone else to replace her."

Hanson, who once owned a fish and chip shop, said she will remain a member of the party but needed to take time off for herself. She said she would consider raising cattle on her Queensland ranch.

"I'm tired, I want a bit of a break from it," Hanson said. "I want to pick up the pieces of my life."

Hanson said she would not rule out a return to politics if she is absolved of the fraud charges.

"I won't say ... that I'll never stand for Parliament again, it's something that I have to assess further down the track," she said.