Employment minister Michaelia Cash has been ordered by a Federal Court judge to turn over any documents to the Australian Workers Union (AWU) about her office’s involvement in tipping off media about a police raid on the AWU.
The AWU launched a Federal Court challenge seeking a declaration that the Registered Organisation Commission (ROC) investigation was politically motivated and invalid, and that the subsequent raids on their office were unlawful.
The union served subpoenas to Cash; Mark Lee from the ROC; the Fair Work Ombudsman; and Cash's former senior media adviser David De Garis. Parts of each subpoena were challenged by the recipients on a number of grounds.
Cash applied to the court to have her subpoena set aside, but on Wednesday Federal Court justice Mordy Bromberg ruled that she would have to provide the union with materials about who was involved in the media tip off.
The judgement is mostly a victory for the union, however Cash succeeded in having some documents struck out.
The court action followed revelations from BuzzFeed News that Cash’s office tipped off media and aims to probe the validity of the Australian Federal Police (AFP) raids. The raids were part of an investigation by the Turnbull government-established watchdog the ROC into donations made by the union over a decade ago when it was led by current Labor leader Bill Shorten.
Justice Bromberg ordered that Cash and each party should disclose a number of documents and communications prior to the raids on the AWU.
Cash's office challenged parts of the subpeona that sought any documents that "concern any offer of engagement or employment made to Mr Lee" and any subsequent decision to suspend or withdraw this offer.
The subpoena followed a report alleging he was set to begin working for Cash's office. The court ruled that any documents that did show the details of any employment arrangement were relevant and should be disclosed to the AWU.
Several categories of documents sought from Cash's office by the AWU were struck out by the court. The judge found: "Whilst the Minister may have an interest in the outcome of this proceeding, she is not a party to it and ought not be burdened with making substantial enquiries in the search for documents unless and until it is apparent that the documents sought may be of assistance to the AWU’s case".
Media arrived at union offices before the raids took place, and BuzzFeed News revealed that media outlets had been tipped off by Cash's office.
Cash denied her office had any involvement in tipping off media five times in Senate Estimates, before conceding after she spoke with her staff that the leak did come from her office.
Cash is using the current AFP investigation to block freedom of information requests to release communication that would provide more information as to what she and her staff knew about the raids, when they knew it, and who they told.
The union requested any correspondence between Cash, her office and the ROC, in addition to any correspondence between the minister and relevant staff members. This could include any text messages, emails, phone lists and other correspondence.
A similar request made by BuzzFeed News was also denied.
On Wednesday, Cash was promoted by prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, adding jobs and innovation to her list of portfolio responsibilities.
De Garis has taken a job with the Australian Hotels Association, which made a $10 million deal with Cash in August to take 10,000 interns under the government's PaTH program.
Cash's office indicated she would be in a position to produce the documents by December 22, while De Garis said he would need up to two weeks after the delivery of the judgement. Lee said he would be able to deliver them by the middle of January 2018.
Alice Workman is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Canberra.
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Paul Farrell is a senior reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney.
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