One Nation leader Pauline Hanson has written to the National Broadband Network (NBN) Committee asking for her chief of staff James Ashby to take her place during hearings and site visits next month, according to a letter leaked to BuzzFeed News.
Hanson claimed she was unable to attend committee hearings and site visits in New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania on April 19-21 due to "another parliamentary engagement".
"In view of this I seek the Committee's approval for my Chief of Staff, James Ashby, to attend the site visits associated with the Public Hearings, so that he is able to fully brief me on the NBN-related facilities in those states," she writes.
Hanson wrote that "if the Committee agree" to her request, she would seek to extend it to include "other meetings of the NBN Committee which I am unable to attend".
Her request was rejected by the committee, but has raised concerns among the majority parties about the way One Nation is operating, and the power that Ashby may yield.
"I am not aware of any other situations where staff attend committee hearings in place of their members and senators," a current member of the NBN Committee told BuzzFeed News, on the condition of anonymity.
"In my view it would not be possible for a staff member to participate ‘in the shoes’ of the member or senator at a hearing."
The Coalition government removed one of its own senators, the Nationals' John Williams, from the NBN watchdog committee to make way for Hanson last year after a majority of senators voted against her appointment.
Hanson said in October she would use her role on the committee to represent regional Australia and work to improve the level of its telecommunications and internet services.
Williams told BuzzFeed News he was disappointed Hanson was not turning up to committee hearings after she took his spot on the committee.
"Welcome to the busy world of Senate hearings Pauline," Williams said.
"They are Senate hearings - not Senate staff hearings and inspections... I would be surprised if the committee allowed a staffer to represent their senator," he said.
One Nation doesn't have an official policy on the NBN but Hanson has previously said she wants the rollout revised, and is in favour of a combination of fibre to the node and wireless technology.
Alice Workman is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Canberra.
Contact Alice Workman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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