Asian-wary former Australia lawmaker Pauline Hanson returns to lead anti-immigration party

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Controversial Australian former lawmaker Pauline Hanson, who flashed into prominence in the 1990s with populist right-wing policies designed to combat multiculturalism, has returned to lead the "One Nation" party she founded.

Ms Hanson, who claims to have influenced Australia's hardline immigration policies, returned to the helm after watching the party "floundering for many years", she said in a statement on the party's website on Wednesday. "It's time to let the political parties know they cannot take us, the Australian people, for granted," said Ms Hanson, who held office from 1996 to 1998.

In 2003, Ms Hanson was forced to quit the party, whose membership she had grown to 18,000, after being found guilty of electoral fraud and sentenced to three years' jail, although the conviction was overturned and she was freed after 11 weeks. She has since fought, and lost, seven federal and state elections, mostly without a party. She rejoined One Nation in 2013 just before standing in a federal election, which she lost.

Ms Hanson, known for her first parliamentary speech in which she warned of a country "swamped by Asians", returns as party leader two days after Australia signed a free trade pact with China.

China's President Xi Jinping is visiting Australia after a summit of leaders of Group of 20 nations in Queensland state, where Ms Hanson was elected.

Ms Hanson appears to have set her sights on new targets in her campaign.

"Halal is being forced on us by 2 per cent of the population," she said in her statement, in an apparent reference to Australia's 500,000 Muslims. "The push for multiculturalism is only segregating us as a nation and not uniting us as Australians with the same values, beliefs and laws," she wrote.

Ms Hanson's return to politics would let her take on Prime Minister Tony Abbott, her biggest foe. As industrial relations minister, he started a fund to bankroll challenges to Ms Hanson's cause, ultimately leading to her imprisonment.

Ms Hanson did not say which election she would contest, but said her party planned to field candidates in a Queensland poll in 2015.