Pauline Hanson has complained that foreign interference ruined the results of an online survey on One Nation’s proposed changes to the citizenship test, in which 89.8% of respondents were against and 10.2% were in favour.
In February Hanson introduced a private member’s bill largely mirroring the Coalition’s failed attempt to increase the waiting time for permanent residents to become Australian citizens and increasing the English language requirements.
To help assess the bill the Senate legal and constitutional affairs legislation committee set up a SurveyMonkey online poll, giving people who provided a name and email address a yes-no vote on whether they supported it.
Respondents had to provide a name and an email address, though there was no requirement for those to be genuine. It was also possible to fill out the survey multiple times.
On Thursday the committee published the results, revealing that of the 140,646 responses received, 126,322 (89.8%) indicated the respondent did not support the bill and just 14,324 (10.2%) expressed support.
Before the poll closed on 27 April, Hanson wrote to the committee warning that some organisations – including international groups – had “campaigned heavily to promote the no vote” on social media and news websites.
Hanson highlighted the possibility of people voting multiple times and asked the committee to publish her letter “so that the people of Australia know of the efforts of certain sections of the community to interfere with the legitimate outcome of the poll and the decision of the committee”.
“I also strongly urge the committee to disregard this poll, whatever the outcome, because clearly it cannot be considered a reflection of the opinion of Australian citizens alone,” she said. “If the intention of this poll was to gauge the sentiment of the Australian public towards my citizenship reforms, it has clearly failed.”
On Thursday the committee’s chairman, the Liberal National party senator Ian MacDonald, responded to Hanson, noting that the committee had set up the poll because its inquiry into the Coalition’s original bill had been inundated with 14,000 submissions. Many of those were “form letters”, doing little more than expressing a position on the bill.
MacDonald noted that when the committee had decided to set up the poll “your office indicated its support but subsequently indicated to me that you had changed your mind”.
He defended the survey, noting that the Senate public information office had advised that “a respondent was able to complete the survey only once using a given internet browser and email address”.
The committee was “not able” to determine what proportion of respondents were foreign nationals, he said, but he accepted Hanson’s evidence that it had been posted on foreign social media. In future the committee may also ask respondents for their address, he said.
MacDonald noted Hanson’s request for the committee to “disregard the survey results and that they not be published” but said it had decided to publish them along with Hanson’s letter, for the public and committee to draw “their own conclusions about the survey”.
The committee is not due to report until 4 December.
The government proposed toughening the requirements for Australian citizenship last year. The bill attracted fierce political and public opposition, particularly over its requirement that migrants pass high-level English tests and its retrospective application of a four-year permanent residence period – up from the current one year – as a prerequisite.
It also proposed the signing of an Australian values statement by new citizens, and changing the pledge of commitment to a “pledge of allegiance”.
Hanson’s renewed amendment bill proposes raising the permanent residence requirement to eight years.