Published: 26 Oct 2017
On Tuesday, the Australian Federal Police, under the direction of the newly established Registered Organisations Commission (ROC), raided the offices of the Australian Workers Union in both Sydney and Melbourne.
The raids were conducted in pursuit of documentation related to a political donation (from the AWU to GetUp!) in Bill Shorten’s time as AWU Secretary (10 or so years ago). This matter had been referred to the ROC by Senator Cash.
Registered Organisations Commissioner Mark Bielecki told Senate estimates on Wednesday that the AWU had "expressly declined" to provide all the documents requested of them in August.
The AWU has previously said the ROC never requested documents from it before Australian Federal Police raided their offices in Melbourne and Sydney in support of the ROC investigation on Tuesday. Mark Bielecki, had repeatedly insisted that the raid was necessitated by the failure of the AWU to cooperate with the ROC in furnishing documents relating to the donation. Then, at 10.40 last night, Bielecki abruptly reversed himself and blew away a rationale for the raid.
“can I just go back to an answer I gave you previously when I said that not all notices to produce had been fulfilled by the AWU? That’s not correct. I got them confused with a different registered organisation. So, I withdraw that answer.”
The ROC told estimates it had grounds to suspect documents at the AWU's offices may be tampered with on Monday after a "caller" provided information to a member of staff — documents that had already been furnished to the Trade Union Royal Commission some years ago.
However, the ROC refused to say whether or not the caller had identified themselves.
Anonymous caller or otherwise, the raids are further evidence of the extraordinary politicisation of the Federal Police, who - are so under-resourced and busy guarding Turnbull’s Point Piper mansion, that they were unable to pursue a massive drug-bust.
The CFMEU said it when they illegally raided our Canberra offices after an exhaustive and powerful royal commission, and we’ll say it again:
That such substantial resources were devoted to this raid smacks of overkill for purely political purposes. The community should be concerned that the police are being tied up to further the anti-union agenda that is the legacy of Tony Abbott, when there are more pressing, serious crimes that need their attention. It has since emerged that the Office of Workplace Relations minister Michaelia Cash was involved in leaking information about the raids to the media. Cash was caught out in explosive senate estimates hearings last night, and forced to backtrack after her senior media advisor supposedly came clean that he had leaked the information to the media. Cash’s staff member only came “clean” and resigned after Buzzfeed published an article claiming that two media outlets had been tipped off by Cash’s office.
The journalists say Cash's office phoned them around 3.30pm on Tuesday with the location and time of the raid, emphasising that it would take place at a union office. The staffer pointed out the union in question, the AWU, used to be run by Labor leader Bill Shorten.
Labor has backed Nick Xenophon’s call for an independent inquiry to establish who tipped-off the media prior to the AFP raids.
"If Turnbull and his Liberals have nothing to hide, then they must support this inquiry," MP Brendan O'Connor said.
"Turnbull and his Liberals need to immediately answer what they knew, when they knew it and who they told." In the aftermath of this staff member’s resignation it was revealed that the Registered Organisations Commission and the Fair Work Ombudsman share staff members, including media officers, and that the staff members in question had formerly worked together during the Victorian Napthine Government.
Labor Senator Doug Cameron continued his questioning of Senator Cash in Senate Estimates on Thursday morning, clearly suspicious of Cash’s dubious explanation that only one staff member was responsible and that he had since resigned. She claimed it was very “brave” of him to resign. This raised some eyebrows on twitter seeing as he only resined once he’d been backed into a corner by the Buzzfeed article and had spent all day letting Cash lie about their office being involved.
Indeed, it would only be “brave” if this staff member was falling on his sword to protect the rest of Cash’s staff, the minister herself and the Prime Minister. Cash indicated she would not be willing to hand over the staffer's text messages and emails to the Senate. The AWU has since made a freedom of information request on Employment Minister Michaelia Cash's office to find out how it knew of police raids on its branches and to what extent the minister was instructing her staff. Senator Pauline Hanson also joined the questioning of Senator Cash for a bizarre exchange in which she praised Senator Cash as very effective, and asked if she thought this was all a “witch hunt!”
No doubt there’s more to come..In the meantime, a petition has been started demanding that the Senator resign.