The amazing man behind Pauline Hanson
Bill Birnbauer, David Elias and Duncan Graham profile John Pasquarelli
JOHN Pasquarelli has been around and he is remembered wherever he's been, be it the far-flung reaches of the Sepik River in Papua New Guinea or pubs stretching from Melbourne to Mooloolaba to Kalgoorlie. In his wake are a string of strained relationships.
Pasquarelli makes enemies. People say he is abrasive and domineering. They remember language and attitudes that are racist. But most of all, they remember that he's big. The temptation is to look at his size and hard-edged Kojak appearance, and dismiss him as an archetypal right-wing thug.
Tempting, but wrong. Because the 59-year-old Pasquarelli also is articulate and shrewd. He is said to be a friend of the Sydney painter Margaret Olley and owns some of her paintings. He is writing a crime novel. He's highly energetic and entrepreneurial. He is a capable organiser. He was a member of the first PNG House of Assembly when he was 27. He understands politics and the media.
But when he goes out drinking, he usually doesn't talk about any of this. Instead, it's raucous yarns of crocodile hunting in PNG and running the natives with a baton.
"Pasqua is basically quite a good person, but he doesn't like being good because it doesn't get him enough notoriety,'' says a senior Western Australian public servant who knew John Pasquarelli in New Guinea.
"I'd go along with that, absolutely,'' says Dame Rachel Cleland, widow of a former New Guinea administrator, Sir Donald Cleland. "He's a nice bloke, but always someone to be careful of,'' she says.
"He loves being noticed. I'm sure he'd fascinate a little person like Pauline Hanson.''
While Big John has lived big and bad, Ms Hanson - the woman he advises and was introduced to by the maverick Western Australian MP Graeme Campbell - seems only to have been in a fish-and-chip shop in Ipswich until recently. A common thread is that she, too, seems to have a knack of turning people against her.
Can this bizarre relationship, almost a one-in-a-million convergence, last? Pasquarelli's background suggests not.
A lose friend, film director Tim Burstall, who was fellow bridegroom in a double wedding with Pasquarelli in the mid-1980s, says Pasquarelli "is taking his job as minder and mentor quite seriously, giving Pauline (historian Geoffrey) Blainey's The Tyranny of Distance to read and generally doing a bit of a Pygmalion on her''.
"I think it was rather touching. I certainly don't think John's some sinister sort of Svengali or puppeteer.''
But a former colleague says: "He's very energetic and quite capable in an organisational sense but always finishes up fighting with whatever group he's involved with. One thing for sure is that the Hanson-Pasquarelli group will destroy itself by infighting.''
The influence of Pasquarelli's direct style is being felt by groups that like to be seen as united.
Denis McCormack of Australians Against Further Immigration says Pasquarelli has obvious skills and talents but also "he has an unfortunate personality that seems to inevitably rub people up the wrong way".
"We are all hoping against hope that with the passage of time that John will be able to see past some of his personal problems and prejudices and just be a little bit more harmonious with those that are pulling in the same direction.''
Despite his constant presence in the halls of Parliament House, and an abundance of rumours, not much is known about Pasquarelli or his influences. Certainly, a strong one seems to be John Bennett, the head of the Australian Civil Liberties Union and the man described by commentator Gerard Henderson as the leader of the Holocaust-denial movement in Australia.
While friends say they mined opals together around Cooper Pedy in the late 1950s, the firmer link is the use by Pasquarelli of Bennett's private Carlton residence as the address for a company that he was a director of. Bennett would not return The Age's calls.
Former associates of the right-wing political identity, B.A. Santamaria, say that Pasquarelli has advised him on PNG issues and has contributed to the National Civic Council's political publication, News Weekly. However, Santamaria denied knowing Pasquarelli, saying he had only met him once, in the company of Graeme Campbell.
Pasquarelli's grandparents migrated from Italy and settled in Queensland at the turn of the century. His father, Joe, a doctor, brought his wife, Marie, and two young sons to Colac in the early 1950s and worked as a partner in a local practice and later in Collins Street, Melbourne.
Pasquarelli says his father went to university with Edward "Weary'' Dunlop and assisted him in surgery. During the war, while Dunlop was a prisoner, Joe Pasquarelli worked in a field hospital in PNG. Pasquarelli says that Dunlop, a POW surgeon, referred to his father as a great doctor in a book he inscribed. He gave the book to his nephew.
John Pasquarelli and his younger brother, Leon, attended high school in Colac and John apparently was expelled in fifth form. He finished his schooling in Ballarat. In the late 1950s, Pasquarelli began a law degree at Melbourne University.
Fellow students recall Pasquarelli living in a corner room of a two-storey Edwardian terrace that overlooked Royal Park. The terrace was part of International House, whose students were a mix of locals and those from Hong Kong and Singapore.
One student says Pasquarelli's father would drop by monthly in a Rolls Royce or Bentley with money for John.
Pasquarelli is remembered as being a hale fellow who played football, gatecrashed parties, gambled, was raucous and foul-mouthed, but left study for others. His views were regarded as right-wing, but not politically so.
According to former student colleagues, he ditched law and went to Cooper Pedy with John Bennett, who in the late 1960s was expelled from the ALP for an article about the Left that said the Victorian branch was dominated by a secret communist-inspired clique.
Drawn partly by his father's experience, Pasquarelli then went to PNG where he worked as a Department of District Administration patrol officer.
A former patrol officer says Pasquarelli referred to natives in "aggressively racist terms'' and acted in a racist way. The officer, who did not want to be named, says his recollection was that Pasquarelli left the service under a cloud.
Referring to this period about seven years later, Pasquarelli said: "Referring to this period about seven years later, Pasquarelli said: ". . . Mr Hasluck (Australia's Territories Minister) was busily trying to deport me from this territory''. This week, he confirmed the deportation attempt but refused to elaborate.
Martin Kerr's book, New Guinea Patrol - which is heavy with anecdotes of sex with native women - provides an insight into Pasquarelli during this period.
Kerr, a former patrol officer and crocodile shooter, was with Pasquarelli when he set up a business, Las Kompani, which bought crocodile skins and artefacts from natives along the Sepik and May rivers.
Giving orders about how the company was to be run, he quotes Pasquarelli saying: `No burgling under-aged girls and don't let sex get mixed up with the company. I have enough trouble with the locals around here as it is.' And he gave one of the native women a boot in the bum.''
Kerr goes on: ". . . his attitude towards natives bore the satisfaction of a completely dominant master-servant relationship.
"A kanaka was a kanaka to John, because he had spent six years with them. It would always be the same relationship to John because he always gave the orders and the natives usually jumped because they respected his domineering personality.
". . John was a white skin with no black-skin friends.''
In 1964, Pasquarelli, who was well known to natives in the region, managed to get himself elected to the first House of Assembly in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea.
While unusual due to his comments about blacks, the first House of Assembly poll relied on patrol officers to mobilise voters and the electorates won by expatriates often were fragmented between local ethnic groups.
Professor Hank Nelson, a professor of history at ANU, says white expatriate members often were rambunctious, hard-drinking and womanising while the blacks were uneducated and had scarcely been into a town, let alone an Assembly with a Speaker and ceremonial rules.
There were no political parties. One group used to drive around with "recognise Rhodesia'' stickers on their cars. Some referred to the University of PNG, where Professor Nelson worked, as the "Mau Mau factory''.
Professor Nelson, who also was a lecturer at the local administrative college training young public servants, says Pasquarelli was a larrikin conservative and one of the youngest of the white members.
He says: "Pasquarelli is very direct. There is no hypocrisy. There is nothing sanctimonious. While most Papua New Guineans would have been repulsed by much of what he said and did, they would have respected that he was a straight man.''
Kerr says his mate stood for Parliament, "it was claimed, as revenge for the way he was treated by the Catholic mission and some administration officials. His amorous interludes with some Catholic parishioners had seemingly upset the bishop.''
The House, which was made up of elected members and Administration officials, who ran the various departments, replaced the former Legislative Council. His seat, Angoram, covered the remote regions of the Sepik District with a population of about 240,000.
In the Assembly, Pasquarelli tried to encourage development of cattle, fisheries and other industries.
While seeking to promote his own far-flung region, he issued dire warnings, often in Pidgin, that unless there was development, Communist agitators would move in and subvert the district. He claimed the public service had card-carrying members of the Australian Communist Party in it, and saw communists behind riots on Bougainville's Buka Island, and visits by Australian students.
"These people are our enemies,'' he told the House. "They claim to be friends; they say they are going to change our lives and that they are going to create a heaven on earth. They will create it all right - in blood, in rape. . . . "These people have used babies as hostages. How much lower can they get? These are their tactics; their standard procedure all over the world wherever they operate.''
Pasquarelli's time in the House was marked by an obsession about the activities of Christian, particularly Catholic, missions. He asked many questions about them and complained bitterly about their income tax-free status.
In a book review in the National Civic Council's News Weekly in February, 1992, Pasquarelli says a coastwatcher in the 1960s had become aware that the Australian Communist Party was making regular contact with Bougainvilleans. "It is impossible to separate politics from the Catholic religion when studying the disaster on Bougainville,'' he wrote.
In a colonial society run by churches and an administration, Pasquarelli soon offended both. In one of his first speeches - quite possibly the first - he complained that the administration had become over-centralised. "Red tape seems to be accumulating more and more every day,'' he said. He frequently complained about highly paid public servants doing unnecessary clerical work.
Pasquarelli also warned that without unity, Papua and New Guinea might well erupt in violence. "We have examples in Africa and other countries of the world where different classes of people were not united when independence came to them and we have all read and heard about what has happened in many of these instances - rape, plunder, riots and murder, as well as mockery of the judiciary and other institutions.''
He spoke out strongly about the need for tariffs to protect local industries. "I am sick and tired of eating fish from Denmark. "By putting a tariff on frozen imported fish and oysters, the local consumers would have to start asking for the local product and this would create more of a demand for it no matter how small it might be in the beginning.''
By the time he left Parliament, Kerr writes that Pasquarelli was disillusioned. The creation of political parties to fight the 1968 poll "doomed his individualistic, if not racialist cause, to extinction''.
Pasquarelli built and operated a safari-style venture from a lodge situated on the mountains in the Sepik area. Sources say he was accompanied by two white bull terriers and was known locally as "Simon Legree'' (the cruel taskmaster in Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin.)
It is believed the venture did not do well. Pasquarelli stayed in PNG until what he calls "the bitter end'' - independence in 1975.
He went to Sydney, where for some time he apparently imported furniture from the Philippines.
Tragedy struck the family in the late 1970s, when Pasquarelli's brother, Leon, who had been a doctor in South Australia, died. Very soon after, Joe Pasquarelli apparently took his own life when he discovered he had cancer.
In the mid-1980s, John Pasquarelli worked as a private investigator in Melbourne, mainly pursuing worker's compensation fraud. He hung around the fringes of the somewhat alcoholic, bohemian set that lurked in Fitzroy and Carlton pubs.
Then, to the amazement of many members of that set, he married a founding editor of The Melbourne Times, Ann Polis - a fervent left-winger and friend of Germaine Greer's.
"It was quite staggering to us that this man who was obviously . . . absolutely way off to the right - was having a happy relationship with Ann,'' recalls Glen Rohan, managing editor at Melbourne Independent Newspapers, which publishes TMT.
"The hatred of blacks was extraordinary,'' says Rohan. "It came out of every pore . . .'those bloody bastards, you know living off the Government.'"
It was described in a newspaper as the double wedding of the century. It took place at Exhibition Gardens with Tim Burstall and Neela Dey, the Indian actress who played Junie Morosi in The Dismissal, doubling with Pasquarelli and Polis. The reception was at Burstall's house nearby. It was the second marriage for everyone except Pasquarelli.
Neither marriage lasted long. Former state Labor Minister, Race Mathews, describes a dinner at Polis's house as "one of the most unpleasant evenings I can ever remember. He treated her abominably. He spoke to her in a most overbearing and unpleasant way. "He seemed to me on the basis of the conversation that evening to be about as close to fascist as you'd get in the Australian political ambit.''
Burstall, who directed the films Kangaroo, Eliza Fraser and comedies like Stork and Alvin Purple, met Pasquarelli through Polis and they are still close.
He says a novel Pasquarelli is writing - put aside for now - is "kind of an insider dopester's angle on the racing world, as told by Philip Marlowe-type private eye. His writing's certainly got lots of oomph.''
In 1987, Pasquarelli stood unsuccessfully as the endorsed Liberal candidate for the seat of Jagajaga. The sitting Labor member, Peter Staples, says his opponent got little help from local Liberals.
"He did a lot of door-knocking by himself,'' says Staples, a former Hawke Government minister. "I was happy for him to do that. Reports were coming to my office he was berating people at their doors . . . When confronted by someone who disagreed with him, instead of thanking them and turning away, he would argue.''
In the same year, Pasquarelli turned up as publican of the Commercial Hotel at Moonambel, near Avoca. He was a big man in a small one-pub town and he enjoyed regaling local drinkers with his stories of croc hunting up the Sepik River. They say he bored the pants off people telling them how he kept the blacks under control with a baton.
The drinkers stopped going there and in less than two years he had left the district for a return to political life.
John Stone, then a Queensland National Party Senator and a proponent of dry economic rationalism, confirmed he employed Pasquarelli as his electorate officer in Mooloolaba, Queensland, for nine months from mid-1989 up to March 1990.
For about six months in 1995, Pasquarelli worked as secretary manager of the Liquor Stores Association of Victoria. Its president, Bruno Scarcella, says he did an excellent job, especially as a political lobbyist.
It is believed Pasquarelli, once again a private investigator, was introduced to Kalgoorlie MP, Graeme Campbell in early 1994 and went to work for him at the start of the last federal election campaign.
Campbell, who had been outspoken on Asian immigration and had been filmed addressing a League of Rights meeting in Queensland, had by then been disendorsed by the ALP as its Kalgoorlie candidate. He was standing as an independent.
It seems that Campbell's office had a few problems with Pasquarelli's in-your-face style.
Campbell's electorate secretary, Ms Rosemary Braybrook, says Pasquarelli was difficult to work with. "It was his general behavior. He never made an impression in Kalgoorlie. Perhaps they're more impressionable in Canberra. There's no way he could eclipse Graeme's robust personality. We won't be seeing him again.''
Mrs Michelle Campbell, who works in her husband's office, said Pasquarelli had very good writing skills. "However at a personal level he was not easy to live with or work with,'' she said. "'He was overpowering, but he suddenly found his match with Graeme.''
When Hanson, disendorsed by the Liberals after condemning what she regarded as preferential treatment of Aborigines, was elected as the independent member for Oxley, Campbell gave her the benefit of Pasquarelli's experience. Pasquarelli, a long-standing Liberal member, quit the party two weeks ago after the Labor and Liberal parties agreed on a preference swapping deal to gazump any re-election bid by Hanson.
As Pauline Hanson's profile rose after her maiden speech two months ago Pasquarelli tried to stay in the background but television cameras could not fail to pick up his large frame two paces behind his charge.
Soon Pasquarelli was at the centre of a political row. In mid-October Gary Hardgrave, Labor MP in the inner Brisbane constituency of Moreton, used question time to bring up allegations of sexual harassment.
"A female member of my staff has been subject to intimidation and threat, also aimed at me through her, by a certain male member of the staff of the honorable member for Oxley.''
Pasquarelli's reaction was typically colourful. He was happy to identify himself as the man involved but he denied the accusation, saying he had stood at least three metres from the woman throughout the conversation. "I must have a 10-foot dick to have harassed her,'' he said.
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