Police Refuse To Say When The Investigation Into The AWU Raids Will Be Finished

    It's been 211 days.

    The Australian Federal Police has refused to reveal any details about its investigation into jobs minister Michaelia Cash's office giving the media advance warning about raids on Australian Workers' Union offices. Nor has the AFP said when the investigation will be completed.

    KELLY BARNES / AAP IMAGE

    BuzzFeed News revealed in October that Cash's former senior media adviser David De Garis had tipped off several media organisations about the raids, and in February a journalist claimed they had received a phone call from then–justice minister Michael Keenan's office informing them of the raids before they took place.

    The raids were part of an investigation by the Turnbull government–established watchdog, the Registered Organisations Commission, into donations made by the union over a decade ago, when it was led by current Labor leader Bill Shorten.

    Cash denied her office had had any involvement in the leak five times in Senate Estimates last year, before announcing De Garis was behind it. After admitting he'd tipped off the media, De Garis resigned in October.

    211 days into the AFP's investigation – which launched on 25 October, the day after the search warrants were executed on the AWU offices – commissioner Andrew Colvin told Senate Estimates that inquiries are ongoing.

    "I don't have a timeline on when it will finish ... as quickly as possible," Colvin said.

    "It certainly frustrates me that this was about a leak of police activity and ... I am sure [the investigators] are moving through it as quickly as they can."

    The commissioner refused to provide any details about the investigation – including who or how many people have been interviewed, and why it had not been finalised – because he said it could jeopardise police efforts.

    "It is about the harm that is created to the investigation," Colvin told Labor senators. "If I was to tell you what is outstanding, I'm effectively giving you and making public the strategy of my investigation."

    Colvin didn't answer any further questions, claiming public interest immunity.

    The AFP will not reveal the identities of those it has spoken to or whether it has interviewed Cash or Keenan. Cash told BuzzFeed News in March that she had not spoken to the AFP.

    BuzzFeed's @workmanalice grills jobs minister Michaelia Cash about the AFP's investigation into her office tipping off the media about union raids. https://t.co/zKvCLMkpLG

    In February, police revealed they had taken witness statements from 14 people. Thirty-four additional witnesses had spoken with police and provided information.

    Interviews have been conducted with more than 10 staffers in ministerial offices, but no ministers. The AFP has also spoken to people from the ROC and the Fair Work Commission. No charges have been laid.

    Cash was scheduled to appear alongside the AFP this morning, but instead sent junior minister Zed Seselja along in her place.

    Greens senator Nick McKim accused Cash of "running for cover".

    Michaelia Cash was the Minister designated to appear at AFP #Estimates this morning. She sent someone else. That AWU raid investigation mustn’t be going well. https://t.co/ig8OYARxrt

    The AFP commissioner said the investigation was "important" but "not the highest priority".

    "This is an offence that carries a penalty of two years imprisonment," Colvin said. "In the scale of the matters that the AFP is generally dealing with, it's not a matter that affords the highest priority, but having said that, it is an important investigation, and I understand that it gets to the core of some important issues."

    Last month BuzzFeed News published internal AFP documents that reveal the investigation into the media tip-off had the same priority for police as the inquiry into the "liking" of a porn tweet by health minister Greg Hunt's Twitter account.

    The documents suggest the raid investigation would take from three to six months. It's been running for seven months. No additional budget has been assigned to the Cash investigation, but six to 10 AFP officers have been allocated to the case.

    The Federal Court has adjourned the AWU's challenge into the legitimacy of the raids until the AFP's investigation is finalised. The next hearing is scheduled for June, but the investigation is expected to take at least another three or four months.

    The AWU successfully argued the trial should be delayed until it can be granted access to three confidential AFP affidavits relating to the raids, which have only been seen by the police and a judge. The case is back in court for an update on the AFP's progress on June 8.

    The union has flagged that when the case goes ahead it will seek to subpoena Cash, as well as De Garis and former Fair Work Ombudsman official Mark Lee.

    Alice Workman is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Canberra.

    Contact Alice Workman at alice.workman@buzzfeed.com.

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