SCOOP: Hanson’s Uluru “climb” a monolithic stitch-up
It would later label the Uluru climb ban a “culture war” – a “social division” which had “divided the nation”. But it was Channel Nine itself that manufactured the Pauline Hanson Uluru climb spectacle that caused that division. It can now be revealed that Nine paid for Hanson and her staffer to tour the red centre – and then allegedly gagged a group of Indigenous owners. Anthony Klan investigates.
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Channel Nine’s A Current Affair orchestrated and funded Pauline Hanson’s trip to climb Uluru last year, including paying not only for the entire costs of her flights and accommodation to tour the red centre, but also for those of her disgraced chief of staff, James Ashby.
The Klaxon can also exclusively reveal that ahead of the Hanson stunt, Channel Nine paid thousands of dollars escorting around the country – including a sightseeing trip to Sydney – the Indigenous woman whose group “approved” the far-right Queensland senator’s climb in August last year.
Instead of dealing with the custodians and managers of Uluru, the Anangu Traditional Owners, who strongly opposed Hanson climbing the sacred site, Nine courted and gained “permission” from a little-known Indigenous group of 15 people – that has no official recognition and exists only on Facebook.
Regardless, the Indigenous woman from the “group”, which calls itself the “Anangu Mayatja Council of Elders”, who dealt most closely with Nine in its stunt – traditional owner Tjimpuna Ruby – tells The Klaxon that she and her group were gagged by the network.
“We had a list of questions to ask (Hanson) – and told not to ask about this and that,” Ruby told The Klaxon.
That gagging allegedly extended to discussions with media.
The New Daily on Nine’s secrecy in August last year. Source: The New Daily
“(We were told) when other media found out, if Uluru comes up, we can only talk for one minute about the closure.”
Nine spokesman Nic Christensen declined to comment on the matter.
The Klaxon’s revelations come despite Nine misleading the public about its involvement in the Hanson controversy.
“Now to clarify some questions that have been raised about that story,” A Current Affair host Tracy Grimshaw said at the end of Nine’s segment featuring Hanson’s climb in August last year.
“We did not pay senator Hanson, and the visit was not our idea,” Grimshaw told the audience.
However we can reveal Channel Nine not only paid for Hanson’s return flights to the red centre, along with two nights accommodation, but Nine also paid for her One Nation chief-of-staff James Ashby to be involved in the stunt.
Last year Ashby was exposed having sought millions of dollars from the US National Rifle Association in exchange for political favours (ie corruption).
Parliamentary disclosure documents for Hanson – which have not been reported by any other media, despite them being submitted over a year ago – reveal Channel Nine spent thousands of dollars facilitating the controversy.
Records show that a “notification of alteration of interests declared” was lodged regarding Hanson on 28 August last year, reflecting the Uluru trip.
“Flights x 2 and 2 nights accommodation x 2 provided by Nine Entertainment Co Pty Ltd for visit to Uluru from 19-22 August,” the document states.
Part of Senator Pauline Hanson’s parliamentary disclosure register. Source: Australian Senate
In an interview with The Klaxon, Ashby confirmed that he also travelled to Uluru, along with Hanson, and that he was the second person whose trip is recorded in the disclosure.
When we contacted Ashby again for further details he declined to comment.
“Not interested Anthony,” he wrote in a text message.
Hanson was in the spotlight last week after posing with a novelty giant cheque, emblazoned with an image of her face, and announcing that she had “secured” $23 million for a stadium in Rockhampton, Central Queensland.
The ALP has asked how Hanson, ahead of the October 31 Queensland state election, came to be involved with the announcement, which was actually a Federal Coalition proposal. The matter has been referred to the auditor-general.
Like his boss, Ashby is regularly involved in controversy.
That global Al Jazeera expose, which involved using hidden cameras to capture the two men soliciting money from the NRA, occurred just five months before Nine spent thousands of dollars on Ashby, so that he would be involved in their Hanson-Uluru stunt.
There was no evidence Ashby and Dickson were successful in obtaining any money from the NRA.
Hanson’s Uluru “climb” (the controversial senator only made it a tiny way up the sacred site before becoming scared and turning back) marked the last days the monolith could be legally scaled, but deep murkiness has remained around the spectacle.
Plumbing the depths of the stunt, which is almost certain to rate a mention in Australia’s history books alongside the story of Uluru, reveals a stitch-up of monolithic proportions.
A promo for Hanson’s Uluru climb, aired by A Current Affair. Source: Channel Nine
Cash for controversy
The thousands of dollars spent by Channel Nine in orchestrating the Hanson stunt included paying for traditional owner Ruby – and her daughter – to go on a sightseeing tour of Sydney, including visiting its famous harbour.
Following that, Nine then paid for Ruby and her daughter to fly from Sydney to Uluru for Nine’s filming of the Hanson stunt.
Ruby confirmed A Current Affair had paid for the Sydney trip for her and her daughter, in an interview with The Klaxon.
Ruby said she and her daughter had been taken from Canberra to Sydney by car “and it wasn’t my car”, before she confirmed that it was A Current Affair that had provided the trip.
We can also exclusively reveal that immediately after the controversial climb – when members of the media and others were scrambling for answers as to how Hanson gained “approval” from traditional owners for the stunt – Nine’s A Current Affair quietly escorted Ruby back to Canberra behind-the-scenes.
Ruby told The Klaxon that after the Uluru shoot Nine had flown her to Canberra for some “extra work”.
It was unclear what that entailed.
Tabloid programs such as A Current Affair are known to tie up key “talent”, such as providing them with free trips and accommodation, to prevent other media obtaining access to them.
The planned Uluru climb closure, announced in November 2017 by the Uluru Kata Tjuta National Park Board, which is comprised of and led by Anangu Traditional Owners, had attracted relatively little concern until Nine kicked off the controversy mid-last year.
They were “conservative” radio shock-jock Steve Price and political shock-jock Senator Hanson.
Nine had hired Hanson as a contributor just weeks earlier, after she abruptly left Channel Seven’s Sunrise program – Today’s tabloid breakfast TV rival – in March last year after a heated exchange with host David Koch in the immediate aftermath of Christchurch mosque mass-shootings, which left 51 people dead.
In the Today segment, hosted by Today’s Deborah Knight, both Hanson and Price were in fierce agreement that the Uluru climb should remain open.
Hanson said she couldn’t “see the cultural sensitivity when people have been climbing the rock all these years” and ridiculed the argument for closing the climb over safety concerns.
“It’s no different to saying we’re going to close down Bondi Beach because there are some people that have drowned. How ridiculous is that!” Hanson said.
Price said he believed that more people, not fewer, should be encouraged to climb.
“We go outside of the Harbour Bridge, we dive the Barrier Reef,” he said.
Predictably, the issue exploded.
Enter Tjimpuna Ruby
Nine was accused (again, predictably) of inciting racism and division in orchestrating and airing the July 15 Today segment, particularly because it had failed to include any views from indigenous Australians.
(Though hours after the segment, on Today Extra, Nine reporter Brooke Boney – who according to NITV News is the “first indigenous person to join a commercial breakfast TV show” – spoke on the matter. Boney said that the Uluru climb ban was about “Indigenous people having some sort of say” about what happened on their land, and that traditional owners were worried about people being injured or dying there.)
Malarndirri invited Hanson to visit (but not to climb) Uluru, and the surrounding areas.
“(Hanson) admitted she hasn’t been to Uluru, so this is an important opportunity for her to go to Uluru and to meet the Anangu Traditional Owners to get herself informed,” McCarthy told Nine.
The NT senator said Hanson’s claims that the climb ban would hurt tourism were “incorrect”: fewer than 16 per cent of visitors actually climbed the rock.
“The First Nations people are the ones who are very clear, they want indigenous people to be employed and they are certainly employed and that won’t change,” McCarthy said.
“When you have the First Nation’s people of that particular area, in this case the Anangu, express this desire, and have planned considerably and thoughtfully towards this, it is enormously unfortunate the rhetoric that’s going on to scare people.
McCarthy said “well informed” and “constructive” debate was vital.
“Until Senator Hanson gets the information, in particular from the Anangu people, the information that she (is) providing across the country is nothing short of scaremongering really,” she told Nine.
“It’s really unfortunate that a member of the senate, a parliamentarian, who has the opportunity to get as much as information as she possibly can, has not done that.
“And that’s why it’s really critical that Senator Hanson thinks very seriously about taking up the offer. I am prepared to facilitate that,” McCarthy told Today.
Hanson did travel to Uluru, but not with McCarthy or at the invitation of the broader Anangu people – who did not want Hanson to climb the rock – but with the little-known “group” of traditional owners connected to Tjumpuna Ruby.
Ruby’s “group” had allegedly also invited Hanson to visit Uluru, just days after Senator McCarthy had issued her on-air invitation to Hanson.
The first the public heard about the involvement of the Anangu Mayatja Council of Elders was on August 21 last year – when Hanson was already at Uluru.
At Uluru with Ashby and Nine, Hanson announced she had gone to the red centre at their invitation.
“The Anangu Mayatja Council of Elders have invited me to the rock for discussions about their future following my calls for the climb to remain open,” said a statement posted to Ms Hanson’s official Facebook page, named “Please Explain”.
“I have been given permission by Anangu Mayatja Council of Elders, Mr Reggie Uluru and Mr Cassidy Uluru to climb the Rock,” it said.
At the time, National Indigenous Television (NITV) reported that group was “a Facebook group that appears to have no official recognition”.
No other media appears to have made this link or to have dug further.
“The Facebook group is not a formally recognised Indigenous organisation, but is made up of 15 people across the tri-state, including South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory,” Wellington wrote.
Too sensible: NT Senator Malarndirri McCarthy calls for “well informed” and “constructive” debate on Nine’s Today. Her Uluru offer was rebuffed. Source: Channel Nine
Ruby, who lives in the red centre, told The Klaxon she had approached Hanson in Canberra in the days after the far-right senator’s July 15 comments on Nine’s Today.
She said she and her daughter had been in Canberra at the time.
When asked who had funded that Canberra trip for the pair, Ruby initially said she couldn’t remember.
Later in the interview, Ruby said she did recall, and that she had paid “personally for that trip”.
Ruby said she and her daughter had been in the nation’s capital meeting with various politicians regarding indigenous causes.
She said she and her group were strongly in favour of the Uluru climbing ban, and had been at the time of Hanson’s comments.
Ruby said she had gone to Hanson’s Canberra office and invited her to visit the region in order for the senator to hear “the Anangu perspective”.
“She (Hanson) called me 40 minutes later and said ‘Is it OK if I bring A Current Affair?’,” Ruby told The Klaxon.
Ruby said she agreed.
Following that alleged meeting – which came just days after the initial Today segment where Price had argued “we go outside of the Harbour Bridge” – Nine took Ruby and her daughter on the tour to Sydney, including to visit the Sydney Harbour Bridge (which operates a public climb).
“We had a look at the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge,” Ruby told The Klaxon.
“The Harbour Bridge is very different, it’s man made,” she said.
Ruby said Nine then flew her and her daughter to Uluru, ahead of Hanson’s climb.
The Klaxon went back to Ruby this week seeking additional information, however she has not responded to our numerous approaches.
“Anangu ask visitors to do the right thing and choose not to climb”
— Uluru-Kata Tjuta Board of Management
The 2017 decision by the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park Board of Management to ban the climb, made after “years of deliberations”, is particularly meaningful and carries such substantial weight because the board is run by local Anangu Traditional Owners.
The Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park board of management, whose role it is to oversee “major policy and management decisions” regarding the park, determined the Uluru climb would be closed on 26 October 2019.
That date was significant because it was on that day in 1985 that the Federal Government returned ownership to the Anangu.
Of the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park board of management’s 12 members, eight are indigenous board members nominated by Anangu Traditional Owners, three are NT and federal ministers who have been “approved” by Anangu, and the 12th is the federal national parks director.
While it remained legal to climb Uluru until October 26 last year (the ban went ahead and remains in place) the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park Board of Management did not want Hanson, or anyone else, doing so.
When Nine’s Hanson climb story aired, Parks Australia, co-manager of the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, put out a statement saying visitors should “do the right thing” and not climb Uluru, in accordance with the Anangu wishes.
“Senator Hanson visited the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, where she met with senior members of the Anangu community including Reggie and Cassidy Uluru,” Parks Australia said.
“The Senator did not meet with the Board of Management.
“Anangu ask visitors to do the right thing and choose not to climb.”
Hanson struggling at the foot of Uluru, refuses to go further. Source: Channel Nine
Hanson pushed ahead with the climb.
She arrived in Uluru on August 21, but her planned climb that day was cancelled due to strong winds.
The next day she set out on the climb, camera crew in tow, only to make it about 40m into the 1.6km climb – barely out of the car park – before sitting down and refusing to go any further.
“I am not going up any further,” Hanson said.
“Seriously I cannot walk down here, my boots are that bloody old,” she tells the camera crew, while wearing shoes that do not appear to be old.
While Hanson sat, she was approached by numerous people seeking autographs or selfies (the Nine-led controversy about the climb closure sparked a surge in people seeking to climb Uluru ahead of the October 26 closure),.
One man walked breezily past her, with a baby strapped to his chest.
Following Hanson’s climb attempt, and without any apparent irony – given the whole saga kicked off with her publicly ridiculing the idea of closing a national icon, Bondi Beach, due to safety concerns – Hanson said she now “sees the sense” of banning the Uluru climb “due to safety reasons”.
“We had a list of questions to ask (Hanson) – and told not to ask about this and that”
— Tjimpuna Ruby
When speaking with The Klaxon last week, Ruby said she had been unimpressed with “how A Current Affair treats her (Hanson)”.
“She starts off really good and then gets really upset,” Ruby said.
“We were behind the camera at the time and we turned our back and he (A Current Affair reporter Martin King) had riled her up and she needed to calm down.
“He kept egging her on saying ‘you know you want to keep it (the climb) open’,” she said.
Ruby said this stuck out because it was as odds with the strict instructions she and her group had been given by Nine about how they could engage with Hanson.
“We had a list of questions to ask (Hanson) – and told not to ask about this and that,” Ruby said.
“They said we can only talk about approving the climb for one minute…but then, when we turn our back, he is riling her up”.
When The Klaxon pressed further about the circumstances around her group’s approval for Hanson to climb Uluru, and about Nine’s alleged “one minute” directives, Ruby repeatedly appeared to become evasive or forgetful.
Later in the interview she said: “(We were told) when other media found out, if Uluru comes up, we can only talk for one minute about the closure.”
It was unclear whether the “one minute” restriction allegedly imposed by Nine applied to both Ruby’s discussions with Hanson regarding Hanson’s climb “approval” as well as to the Ruby and the group’s discussions with the media – or whether it applied just to discussions with the media.
Later in the same interview Ruby suggested the one-minute limit was tied to cultural considerations.
Nine reporting on the social division it actually orchestrated. Source: Channel Nine
Despite Nine having orchestrated the Hanson spectacle, it later reported that the closure of Uluru caused “social division” – including in one article headlined “How the Uluru climbing ban split the nation”.
“The social division over the rock has echoes of other disagreements about Indigenous issues, which often split on progressive and conservative lines,” Nine’s 9News reported in December.
“The site’s board of management – with a majority of Indigenous traditional owners – decided in 2017 to close Uluru to climbers. At the time, the decision attracted little fanfare.
“But as the closing date drew closer, many far-right and conservative figures, One Nation leader Senator Pauline Hanson among them, led an outcry against the closure,” 9News reported.
For Ruby’s part, she was disappointed with the end result.
The day after the A Current Affair show aired last year, Ruby told NITV’s Wellington that the television show “did not accurately reflect the intentions” of her group.
“It did not say for Anangu side (point of view) and I had a hard time trying to think why, because when we invited her out to meet with us Anangu and learn as to why we were closing the climb – our voice never got told through their current affairs show,” Ruby told NITV.
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