The lawyer behind actress Rebel Wilson's $4.5 million defamation payout has signed up to represent a public servant involved in the court challenge over employment minister Michaelia Cash's office tipping off the media about police raids on union offices.
Documents filed with the Federal Court in Victoria show Fair Work Ombudsman official Mark Lee is being represented by Richard Leder from Corrs Chambers Westgarth.
Leder was integral in obtaining the largest defamation damages award in Australian legal history for Wilson – $650,000 in general and exemplary damages and $3.92 million in special damages from Bauer Media. Six media organisations have united to appeal the decision.
The Australian Workers Union launched the Federal Court challenge following revelations from BuzzFeed News that Cash's office tipped off the media about Australian Federal Police raids on the union's Sydney and Melbourne offices.
The union aims to probe the validity of the raids, which 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.
The AWU claims the ROC investigation was politically motivated and invalid, and that the subsequent raids on their office were unlawful.
The Australian Federal Police commissioner Andrew Colvin told Senate Estimates on Tuesday that he's not ruling out whether more people, including a police officer, were involved in the potential leak of unauthorised disclosure of government information – a crime which carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison.
At the time of the raids, Lee was on loan from the Fair Work Ombudsman's office to the ROC.
Heavily redacted text messages, phone screenshots, and emails released under freedom of information law to news site the New Daily show exchanges between Lee and David De Garis – the Cash senior staffer who resigned over the leaks – on the day of the raids.
On the evening after the raids, De Garis messaged Lee saying "Hey mate please call". Days later, Lee then asked De Garis to call him, when Cash denied five times to Senate Estimates that her office had tipped off the media about the raids.
The call log between De Garis and Lee also shows the pair calling each other as the news broke that Cash's office had leaked the information.
BuzzFeed News' story was published at approximately 6pm that evening, and Cash returned at 7:30pm that evening to announce that De Garis had resigned.
The call log from Lee's phone reveals that Lee and De Garis attempted to call each other, and that the call did connect twice for approximately two minutes after Cash had announced to Senate Estimates that he had resigned from her office.
At the time, Cash claimed her chief of staff had collected all of De Garis' electronic equipment to ensure it would be retained, but the calls reveal De Garis' phone was still switched on and active after he had resigned.
"I basically said to him that he was to secure the electronic material and any documents in relation to this particular staff member," Cash said in an estimates hearing on 26 October, 2017. "He advised me that he had done that. I understand that arrangements are obviously now in place to hand over the IT to the employment department, who own the IT."
De Garis has taken a job with the Australian Hotels Association, which made a $10 million deal with Cash's department in August to take 10,000 interns under the government's PaTH program.
Lee was due to take up a job in Cash's office but that has not yet happened.
The Federal Court in December ordered Cash's office, De Garis, and Lee to turn over to the AWU any documents about the office’s involvement in leaking information about the police raid on the union.
Alice Workman is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Canberra.
Contact Alice Workman at email@example.com.
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