Michaelia Cash Won't Say If She's Been Interviewed By The Police About The AWU Raid Leaks From Her Office
"So, the cover-up is still on minister?"
It's been 217 days since the Australian Federal Police (AFP) launched an investigation into the media being tipped-off about police raids on Australian Workers' Union (AWU) offices, and jobs minister Michaelia Cash is still refusing to answer questions.
Claiming public interest immunity, Cash refused to answer questions from Labor senators during Senate Estimates about whether she had been interviewed by police or provided a statement. Cash told BuzzFeed News in March that she had not spoken to the police.
"This was canvassed in several estimates hearings and several Question Times both last year and this year, and I have nothing further to add to the previous evidence that I've given," Cash said on Tuesday.
The minister also refused to say whether she had any contact with police about her former senior media adviser's role in leaking the information to the media.
"Have you contacted AFP to tell them that you understand that you're a witness with evidence important to their investigation and that you're willing to assist them?" Labor senator Doug Cameron asked. "Have you done that?"
"Senator Cameron, I have answered that question by reference to the public interest immunity claim that [AFP commissioner Andrew] Colvin made last week, which was accepted by the relevant committee," Cash replied.
"These matters are subject to an investigation by the AFP and I do not wish to add anything to my previous [statements] which may prejudice those investigations."
"So, the cover-up is still on minister?" Cameron asked.
"Senator Cameron, that is your summation," Cash replied. "As I've stated, the extent of my knowledge is as set out in the Senate Estimates transcripts."
"After your outrageous performance at the last estimates hearing, I would have thought at least you would be trying to be a bit open and a bit honest with the Senate Estimates and the Australian public," Cameron said.
In March, Cash was forced to withdraw threats to name "every single young woman" from Labor leader Bill Shorten's office that she claimed to have heard rumours about. Following those comments, security guards rolled out a whiteboard to block the media from filming and taking photos of Cash.
"Why don't you just be honest with estimates and honest with the Australian public? What are you covering up here?" Cameron asked, to no reply.
AFP commissioner Andrew Colvin refused to give estimates any information about its ongoing investigation last week, nor say when it will be completed. The commissioner claimed public interest immunity and would not provide any details about the investigation, including who or how many people have been interviewed, and why it had not been finalised, as he said it could jeopardise police efforts.
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.
Last month BuzzFeed News published internal AFP documents that reveal the investigation into the media tip-off had the same priority for police as the inquiry into the "liking" of a porn tweet by health minister Greg Hunt's Twitter account.
The documents suggest the raid investigation would take from three to six months. It's been running for seven months. No additional budget has been assigned to the Cash investigation, but six to 10 AFP officers have been allocated to the case.
The Federal Court has adjourned the AWU's challenge into the legitimacy of the raids until the AFP's investigation is finalised. The union successfully argued the trial should be delayed until it can be granted access to three confidential AFP affidavits relating to the raids, which have only been seen by the police and a judge. The case is back in court for an update on the AFP's progress on June 8.
The union has flagged that when the case goes ahead it will seek to subpoena Cash, as well as De Garis and former Fair Work Ombudsman official Mark Lee.