Jobs minister Michaelia Cash says she'll fight the Federal Court subpoena to give evidence about the leak from her office to the media of the Australian Federal Police raids on the Australian Workers' Union offices in October last year.
In a rare media appearance, Cash labelled the timing of the reissued subpoena a "stunt" by Labor at the request of the AWU.
"I will not be bullied by the Australian Labor Party," Cash told a press conference on Wednesday afternoon.
Cash, as well as her former media adviser David De Garis, and former Fair Work Ombudsman official Mark Lee, were first issued subpoenas by the AWU in December, and again in March. They were reissued on Wednesday due to the ongoing delay caused by the AFP investigation into the leak.
The minister said she will fight the subpoena, but refused a unanimous request by the Education and Employment Committee to reappear alongside the Registered Organisations Commission at Senate Estimates to answer further questions about the AWU case.
"I will comply with the legal process," Cash said. "As part of that process I have issued instructions to the lawyers to have the subpoena set aside."
The AWU told BuzzFeed News it served documents on the solicitors representing Cash, De Garis, and Lee to appear in court for oral evidence on 1 August. But if the AFP investigation is not complete, the case will again be pushed back.
“We have long believed last year’s raid – and the investigation itself – to be unlawful," AWU national secretary Daniel Walton said.
“We think it’s vital the court is assisted by the evidence of witnesses who we believe are relevant to the issues in the case. That is why we sought subpoenas. If we are to understand exactly what happened then we believe the testimony of these individuals is critical.”
The Fair Work Ombudsman's office told Senate Estimates it has spent $180,000 in external legal fees fighting subpoenas.
Cash denied allegations that she has been in hiding or purposely avoiding the media, including by literally hiding behind a whiteboard in March.
"Can I be very clear – I had nothing to do with the whiteboard. Can I tell you? Do you think YOU were surprised? You should have seen the look on my face. I was the one who was surprised."
Overzealous Parliament House security officers later took responsibility for the decision "to position the whiteboard across the corridor to obstruct media from filming towards the committee rooms as the minister approached the committee room".
Cash also used her rare press conference appearance to deny she was involved in a cover-up.
"I am absolutely not covering up," Cash said. "I am standing here at this point in time; how many journalists are here? Fifteen, 20 of you? I am on national television as we speak. I am absolutely making myself available. I front Question Time every single day."
Despite this, Cash again refused to answer whether she had been interviewed by, given a statement to, or had any contact with the AFP as part of its investigation.
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.
Alice Workman is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Canberra.
Contact Alice Workman at email@example.com.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.