Michaelia Cash AWU raid senate estimates
Attorney-General Michaelia Cash (Image: AAP)

In ordinary times, in any democracy worth its name, the AWU scandal involving Michaelia Cash, Michael Keenan, their former staff and the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions, would dominate politics, especially after the details that emerged at this morning’s estimates hearings before the Legal and Constitutional Affairs committee.

With Michaelia Cash — who is supposed to represent the Home Affairs portfolio — inexplicably missing and replaced with Linda Reynolds, the Australian Federal Police revealed more details about their investigation of the leaking of pending raids in 2017, relating to an investigation of AWU donations to GetUp more than a decade ago.

Cash herself had instigated the investigation in order to pursue Bill Shorten, then head of the AWU, and the raids were leaked to the media by her former media adviser David De Garis, who had been told by Cash’s chief of staff Ben Davies. Last week the Federal Court heard a staffer for Michael Keenan, Michael Tetlow, also leaked news of the raids.

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However, the AFP at estimates this morning confirmed that neither Cash nor Keenan properly cooperated with its investigation of the leaks, refusing to provide witness statements to the police about the matter. Another six unidentified people, also refused to cooperate. Cash and Keenan gave written statements to the AFP instead. You can only imagine the media furore if Labor ministers had refused to cooperate with the police.

The AFP also suggested evidence had been destroyed by people involved in the scandal. “We understood that could have been the case,” said an AFP officer at the hearing. Again, imagine the outrage if Labor staffers — or perhaps more senior figures — had destroyed evidence. 

The evidence from the AFP also shines a spotlight on the problem of why exactly the Coalition’s handpicked Director of Public Prosecutions — Sarah McNaughton SC of the trade union royal commission — rejected the AFP’s brief of evidence to prosecute an individual in relation to the leaking, even though we now have sworn testimony from a Coalition staffer that he leaked the raids to media outlets. AFP head Andrew Colvin this morning said

The AFP undertook a thorough investigation into the unauthorised disclosure of our operational activity, and compiled the strongest brief of evidence we could, which was then referred to the Commonwealth DPP. In this case the Commonwealth DPP determined that, despite our best efforts, the brief did not have sufficient prospects of success for them to prosecute.

McNaughton seems to have an interesting approach to deciding to prosecute or not. She charged Witness K and Bernard Collaery with leaking ASIS’ illegal bugging of the Timor-Leste cabinet five years after the event. In doing so she carefully avoided mentioning News Corp, who broke the story of the bugging, while citing a number of ABC journalists and producers who followed up the story.

But the refusal of ministers of the Crown to cooperate with police is a glaring and outrageous moment of political self-interest. According to the government’s own Statement of Ministerial Standards, “ministers must accept accountability for the exercise of the powers and functions of their office — that is, to ensure that their conduct, representations and decisions as ministers, and the conduct, representations and decisions of those who act as their delegates or on their behalf — are open to public scrutiny and explanation”.

Cash and Keenan, in failing to fully cooperate with a police investigation, have clearly breached that standard.

The whole affair — and the refusal of this government and its handpicked prosecutor to do anything about it — stinks. No wonder voters regard politicians with such contempt.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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