Small business minister Michaelia Cash has confirmed to the Federal Court that she was not interviewed by police about the leak from her office to the media before search warrants were executed on the Australian Workers' Union (AWU) offices.
Cash gave evidence in front of a packed courtroom during day five of the AWU's Federal Court challenge into the legality of the Oct. 24, 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.
In her capacity as then employment minister, Cash sent two letters to the ROC in August 2017 referring them to several articles in The Australian newspaper that alleged the AWU donations were not correctly authorised. The ROC later commenced an investigation, which led to the raids.
Cash told the court she didn't have any expectations of the outcome of her referral letters as the "consequences were the decision of the [ROC], I had no role in that".
Under questioning from the AWU's barrister Caryn van Proctor on Friday morning, Cash said she first became aware the raids on the AWU offices were taking place when she saw it on the television in her Parliament House office around 4:40pm.
When asked what her reaction was Cash said: "I probably queried why. I would have wondered why.
"I looked up, saw something was happening and then it came to my attention, called my senior adviser and said 'Can you tell me what’s going on?'. She said she’d only just recently received a call from the [ROC] advising that the [AFP] were in the process of executing a warrant."
Cash said she couldn't recall any discussion with her staff, including her then chief of staff Ben Davies and then media adviser David De Garis, following the raid, or any response her office gave to the media about the raids.
"There would have been discussions in the evening, yes... I couldn't recall."
Cash told the court it wasn't until Oct. 25 during a Senate Estimates hearing that she was "potentially" made aware that information "may have been inappropriately divulged" to the media ahead of time.
Earlier this week De Garis told the court that Davies informed him about the impending raids on the AWU. De Garis said he then organised with a media adviser for the justice minister at the time, Michael Keenan, to leak the information to the media.
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. The minister said at the time that De Garis learnt about the raids from a "media source".
De Garis told the court on Wednesday that he did not give Cash a reason for his resignation: "I think it was reasonably self explanatory. I don’t recall exactly telling her why but I think it was obvious."
De Garis said after resigning he left Parliament House within 10-15 minutes and went to his hotel room. Around half an hour later, he said, his work phone was collected by another Cash staff member.
Cash confirmed to the court that the AFP requested she provide a voluntary witness statement about the leak. She declined to be interviewed and instead sent police a letter on 27 April, 2018, which contained a transcript of what she had told Senate Estimates.
Cash told the court that was her "best recollection of events". She said the AFP had no follow up questions after her letter.
When asked if she told police that De Garis had leaked to the media, Cash said "they did not ask".
Cash told the court that after De Garis resigned she asked all remaining staff if they knew in advance about the raids. All replied "no", and she said she did not make any further inquiries.
During her evidence Cash agreed that one of her goals as a politician is improving the popularity of the Liberal party and drawing negative attention to other parties.
Cash said it would have been of "potential interest" to her that Shorten was the secretary of the AWU at the time of the alleged donations.
"I am a politician, it would have been of potential interest to me as a politician. Many things are of interest as a politician," Cash told the court.
Cash said she has never done anything to promote adverse media attention to Shorten personally, only to draw attention to policy or philosophical differences between their political parties.
Justice Mordecai Bromberg has granted Davies and De Garis a protection certificate, which prevents their evidence being used against them in any future proceedings in an Australian court.
Under questioning from the AWU's barrister Herman Borenstein QC on Thursday afternoon, Davies refused to answer who told him police planned to execute search warrants, on the grounds that it may incriminate him.
“Regardless of if Mr De Garis is prosecuted, there remains a real risk that Mr Davies could be prosecuted,” Davies’ lawyer Richard Dalton told the court, adding that Davies could also be found to be in contempt of parliament.
But Justice Bromberg disagreed and ruled that Davies must answer in "the interests of justice".
The court heard Mark Lee – who was the acting media adviser for the ROC at the time of the raids – had been named in a police statement given by Davies as the source of the leak of the raids.
Cash told the court that Lee had accepted a job in her office as a senior media adviser, but did he not take up the role after the leak scandal was exposed.
Davies and Lee are due to give evidence next week.
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.
The AWU launched its court challenge after BuzzFeed News revealed on Oct. 25, 2017 that Cash’s office had tipped off the media ahead of the raids.
BuzzFeed News also broke the story last year that Keenan's office called a TV journalist to inform them of the raids an hour or so before they took place.
The trial continues.