Australia’s hard-right One Nation Party faced a barrage of outrage on Thursday after its leader Pauline Hanson was captured on camera suggesting the county’s worst gun massacre was a government conspiracy.
“An MP said it would actually take a massacre in Tasmania to change the gun laws in Australia,” she told an undercover journalist posing as a gun lobbyist.
“Those shots, they were precision shots,” she continued. “I’ve read a lot and I’ve read the book on it – Port Arthur. A lot of questions there,” Hanson added.
Australia was rocked in 1996 when gunman Martin Bryant went on a rampage with semi-automatic weapons at the historic Tasmanian colonial convict site of Port Arthur.
Then centre-right Liberal prime minister John Howard swiftly enacted tougher gun laws.
Hundreds of thousands of weapons were destroyed in a nation-wide amnesty, marking a turning point for a country that had a traditionally high-rate of gun ownership.
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The reforms made Australia the gold standard for gun control advocates, and the laws retain overwhelming public support.
Hanson made global headlines in 2017 when she wore a veil that covered her face at the country’s parliament to protest against Muslim immigration into Australia.
The footage of her comments was a second hammer blow to Hanson ahead of elections expected in May.
The same Al Jazeera investigation earlier this week revealed senior members of her party travelled to the United States late last year to solicit millions in donations from gun lobby group the National Rifle Association.
Hanson was condemned by all political quarters on Thursday.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison, whose conservative Liberal Party has for years courted One Nation voters, slammed the far-right party’s officials as “appalling”.
“The comments particularly last night and the linkages to Port Arthur, I’m sure all Australians would be shocked about,” he told reporters.
Gun laws “have kept Australia safe for 20 years”, Morrison said.
“When it comes to this issue, we cannot allow it to be compromised or sliced away,” he added.
In meetings with powerful gun lobby groups, the Al Jazeera investigation filmed One Nation officials vowing to soften Australia’s strict gun laws imposed following the Port Arthur massacre.