The former chief of staff to small business minister Michaelia Cash knew that police planned to raid the Australian Workers' Union offices, and told another staff member, who leaked the information to the media before warrants were executed.
David De Garis, Cash's former senior media adviser, made the shocking revelation during day two of the AWU's Federal Court challenge into the legality of the October 2017 raids on its Sydney and Melbourne offices.
The controversial raids were executed as part of an investigation by the Turnbull government-established watchdog, the Registered Organisations Commission (ROC), into donations made by the union over a decade ago when it was led by current Labor leader Bill Shorten.
Court documents show a magistrate approved the Australian Federal Police’s (AFP) search warrants at 9:40am on Oct. 24, 2017. When police arrived around 4:30pm, a large media scrum was already gathered outside the union’s offices.
Cash denied five times her office had had any involvement during a now-infamous Senate Estimates exchange on Oct. 25, 2017 before announcing later that evening that De Garis was behind the leak to the media and had resigned.
Under questioning from the AWU's barrister Herman Borenstein QC on Monday afternoon, De Garis said he first became aware that search warrants were due to be executed "sometime after midday, before 4pm" on Oct. 24, 2017.
After refusing to reveal who gave him the information on the grounds it may incriminate him, the court ruled on Tuesday that in the "interest of justice" De Garis had to answer questions about the search warrants.
De Garis told the court that Cash's chief of staff at the time, Ben Davies, informed him the search warrants were going to be executed during a face-to-face meeting in the Davies' office in the ministerial wing of Parliament House on Oct. 24, 2017.
De Garis said it wasn't a "long conversation... a number of minutes" and he did not recall the specifics.
Following his meeting with Davies, De Garis said he "called several media outlets".
When asked why he called them, De Garis told the court he did it "in order to get media coverage" of one of the first investigations by the ROC.
He did not verify the information with the ROC or Fair Work Ombudsman before leaking it to the media.
De Garis said at the time he didn't understand the consequences of what he was doing and doesn't recall speaking to anyone else about what he had done.
Justice Mordecai Bromberg granted the former staffer a protection certificate, which prevents his evidence being used against him in any future proceedings in an Australian court.
The Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions confirmed in January that no charges would be laid for the leaks as there was little chance of a successful prosecution. The AFP subsequently dropped its investigation into the "unauthorised disclosure of government information", which carries a maximum two-year jail term.
Davies is scheduled to give evidence later this week.
The trial continues.