The Politics    Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Cash comments

By Nick Feik


The minister fronts the media after being subpoenaed

The trade union royal commission, which wrapped in 2015, keeps on doing damage, but it’s almost all collateral: instead of the unions it’s senator Michaelia Cash in the firing line. Cash has been subpoenaed to appear at the Federal Court in August to give evidence in the Australian Workers’ Union (AWU) raids case.

Cash had originally asked the Registered Organisations Commission (ROC) to consider investigating the union’s donation to GetUp!, following royal commission investigations. The Australian Federal Police raided the AWU offices as a result, but not before someone from Cash’s office leaked news of the raid to the media. They turned up with cameras, of course, hoping for a unionist “perp walk” or something that looked similarly bad, and the raid hit the news.

We already know that it was Cash’s staffer, David De Garis, who tipped off the media that Federal Police raids on the AWU’s Sydney and Melbourne offices were imminent. When this emerged (only after Cash had misinformed parliament), he promptly resigned, but it’s as yet unknown what Cash or others in her office knew. This is what the court wishes to find out, one assumes.

Until today, she had refused even to say if she had been interviewed by police, and has dodged further questions in both the media, parliament and Senate Estimates.

The AWU, wanting the court to throw out the investigation as unlawful, has gone to the Federal Court to try to prevent the documents seized in that raid from being examined by the ROC. They argue it’s all politically motivated; hence the media tip-off, and the Cash subpoena, presumably.

With the ALP also calling for her resignation, Cash called a press conference today. Was she going to step aside finally?

On the contrary, she doubled down, and launched fresh attacks on, well, everyone. “I will not be bullied by the Australian Labor Party,” she said, after attempting to force the media to accept that “the fundamental question” was whether or not Bill Shorten, when he was head of the AWU, had donated $100,000 of union money to GetUp!. “This is a protection racket to protect Bill Shorten.”

She was irritated by journalists’ questions, accused the media of misreporting, and with considerable condescension rejected legitimate comments that she’s been dodging questions – and then promptly cut off further questions. In short, it resembled the press conference before the one in which the minister resigns because her colleagues are sick of the bad headlines.

Cash has not exactly excelled as a minister. She has been more or less absent since this controversy started last year (yes, this has been going on since October), and this latest development is damaging. (Anything involving the words “minister” “subpoeana” and “court” has a tendency to make governments uncomfortable.) As Ewin Hannan in The Australian points out [$], “She and her replacement, Craig Laundy, are being blamed by their business allies for failing to stop the merger of the nation’s two most militant unions, the CFMEU and the maritime union.” Further, “her botched handling of raids on Bill Shorten’s old union has left the government’s newish union regulator, the Registered Organisations Commission, diminished, even discredited.” 

It’s hard to reconcile this mess with what’s at the heart of it – which is whether a donation made 10 years ago was accompanied by the correct paperwork. To be clear: there’s nothing illegal about a union donating money to a body like GetUp!. The argument, pursued by Cash or the ROC or the royal commission, was that the union may have made the donation incorrectly according to its own rules, because “a loan, grant or donation, must not be made by the union or any branch, unless the national executive of the union has”. Seriously. It’s not even a criminal matter, it’s a civil one.

The $46 million royal commission set up by the Abbott government and headed by Dyson Heydon barely laid a glove on the unions. Just a few weeks ago, the case against CFMEU officials John Setka and Shaun Reardon collapsed, and it was just the latest in a string of failures. The royal commission uncovered no major scandals, has led to no big prosecutions, nor found any serious impropriety. Accusations made from the outset that it was a political witch-hunt, an attempt to use royal commission powers to attack the government’s opponents, have so far borne out.

Cash has agreed to comply with the legal process, but has requested that the subpoena be set aside (i.e., she is seeking to avoid appearing in court).

She continues to deny that she has any further knowledge than what she gave to parliament last year. In that case, why avoid court?

The whole affair, like the royal commission itself, has just proved to be a pointless distraction. And it’s set to drag on, perhaps until August, perhaps even longer. Unless her colleagues quietly tap her on the shoulder before then.

since this morning

The tax commissioner, Chris Jordan, has sharply criticised a Four Corners report about the ATO’s dealings with small business.

in case you missed it

Barnaby Joyce has taken a month’s personal leave from his parliamentary duties, effective immediately.

The Federal Circuit Court and Family Court will be merged from 2019, with the new court to resolve all family law matters.

A court has found that the Benalla Ensign defamed former federal Liberal MP Sophie Mirabella, costing the regional Victorian newspaper $300,000 in total.

Fairfax’s Nick McKenzie reports that in 2017 Chinese security officials detained UTS academic Chongyi Feng. During the interrogation, the officials demanded information about adviser John Garnaut, who at the time was working on an ASIO inquiry commissioned by the prime minister.

Speculation about collusion between Bob Carr and Senator Kristina Keneally, which they both deny, has incensed [$] other Labor MPs.

by Richard Cooke
Tired of Winning
Diving to Atlantis
Goodbye, Philip Roth

by Jess Hill
Suffer the children
Trouble in the Family Court

Nick Feik

Nick Feik is the editor of The Monthly.


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