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Aussie party tried to get money from US pro-gun group: Report

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Al Jazeera secretly films One Nation party officials allegedly meeting US gun lobby executives

SYDNEY: Australia's nationalist One Nation party allegedly sought millions of dollars from the US gun lobby and discussed weakening the country's strict gun control laws with the US National Rifle Association (NRA), Al Jazeera reported.

Posing as the head of a fake Australian pro-gun lobby, Al Jazeera secretly filmed top officials from Ms Pauline Hanson's One Nation allegedly meeting NRA executives in Washington last year.

It reported the One Nation officials discussing the possibility of raising A$20 million (S$19 million) prior to a meeting with a US gun lobby supporter.

Concerned about foreign influence in Australian politics, particularly from China, the government introduced laws banning foreign political donations in November last year. The One Nation meetings took place in September.

"Reports that senior One Nation officials courted foreign political donations from the US gun lobby to influence our elections and undermine our gun laws that keep us safe are deeply concerning," Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison tweeted yesterday.

The two party representatives recorded in the Al Jazeera report, chief of staff James Ashby and Queensland state leader Steve Dickson, confirmed they attended the meetings but denied accepting a donation from the NRA.

"These conversations with the NRA were to look at nothing more than their (campaign) techniques," Mr Ashby told reporters in Brisbane.

"This was not about sourcing money from the NRA."

Australia has some of the world's strictest firearm laws, implemented after a lone gunman killed 35 people at Port Arthur on the island state of Tasmania in 1996.

Australia banned semi-automatic weapons, launched a firearm buy-back scheme after the massacre and imposed strict licensing rules, which require weapons to be locked up when not in use.

Al Jazeera said on its website the report was three years in the making.

In the report, Mr Ashby and Mr Dickson can be seen allegedly telling NRA officials that with its help the party could win enough seats to gain the balance of power in Australia's upper house of Parliament.

"We get the balance of power, very simply that means that we have the testicles of the government in our hand at every given stage," says Mr Dickson.

"Guns, in the scheme of things, are still going to be the be-all and end-all."

In another meeting with a US gun lobby supporter, Mr Dickson says: "It's going to get down to money at the end of the day. We can change the voting system in our country, the way people operate, if we've got the money to do it."

The footage allegedly records an NRA lobbyist telling both Mr Dickson and Mr Ashby that it would benefit the US pro-gun movement if Australia's gun laws were relaxed.

"That helps us because the biggest argument we get from folks is, 'Well, look at Australia.'"

Mr Ashby described the recordings as "skullduggery" and said he had referred the matter to the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation and the Australian Federal Police over concerns of foreign political interference in the lead-up to an election in May.

The head of Al Jazeera's investigative unit Peter Charley said the allegation he was acting on behalf of a foreign government were "risible".

"We're journalists doing a job," he said. - REUTERS