30 Oct 2017

LAURA JAYES: Joining me now is the Shadow Employment Minister Brendan O'Connor. Brendan O’Connor, thank you for your time.

First of all can I ask you - this is now under investigation. We have seen in Senate Estimates, Senator Brandis among others saying that this is not something the Government can comment on, because it is under investigation. Is that good enough? Is that the outcome you wanted? The AFP, the top police force in the country is now looking into this.

BRENDAN O’CONNOR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS: The AFP is not saying the Senate can’t enquire. It was just the Attorney General running interference, stopping a genuine form of inquiry in to a regulator - the Registered Organisation Commission.

And no, of course we should allow the AFP to do their work, but there are questions to be answered.

Again, we find arising out of revelations on the weekend, there were changes in Minister Cash’ office that we would contend that the Minister has intentionally misled the Senate on a separate occasion - when asked whether in fact the Chief Media Adviser was leaving her office, the Minister said no.

Well, clearly the Minister’s Chief Adviser who has now resigned was already leaving before he took the fall for the Minister, and that was a direct, intentional, mislead we would contend which again underlines the need for this Minister to go.

JAYES: You don’t have any proof of these allegations though, do you? What she’s told Senate Estimates is that she didn’t know, she didn’t ask her staff, but when those questions came to her in Senate Estimates she then went back into her office in the early evening Tuesday, wasn’t it, and then a staffer came forward. Why isn’t that good enough?

O’CONNOR: Well firstly it breaches the Westminster system principle of Ministerial accountability.

JAYES: But there’s plausible deniability though, isn’t there?

O’CONNOR: You’ve asked me a question -

JAYES: Fair enough.

O’CONNOR: Just let me say, Laura, that the ministerial staffer – is a personal staffer, and an extension of the Minister. It beggars belief, we would argue, that she could not know. But if she is so incompetent as to not know and mislead the Parliament effectively five times, then that's enough for her to be sacked.

A second matter now has arisen, given the fact she indicated to the Senate Estimates inquiry that indeed her adviser was not leaving - when in fact he was intending to leave and it's now been revealed he was intending to leave. Now there is no plausible opportunity on this occasion for the Minister to argue that she would not have known that the chief media adviser was leaving, and yet she said to the Senate that in fact he was not intending to leave.

That is another mislead and we would argue an intentional mislead.

JAYES: OK, well you are arguing this now, and at the moment what do you have at your fingertips? Can you force a resignation, or will you be seeking a Senate inquiry to look into this, and then how does that mechanism work?

O'CONNOR: Well firstly, if the Minister won't do the honourable thing then the Prime Minister must seek her resignation, we would contend. We would say there are five misleads we say are intentional of course, but we also say now there's another mislead on this staffer.

There is no chance she did not know the staffer was leaving, and yet she said unequivocally "No" when asked by Senator Cameron, "Was in fact this media adviser already intending to leave before he resigned?", to which the Minister answered "No."

We've now found that the Fair Work Ombudsman media adviser was taking the place of the now resigned media adviser. Therefore it's clear that the Minister misled the Senate again on another matter, and again we would argue - intentionally.

JAYES: Back to the substantive issue here and the issue that is at the centre of all this. This is looking into Bill Shorten's time at the AWU - more than ten years ago I might add. Is it true the Union doesn’t have to keep documents for longer than seven years? Is it your understanding that they didn’t keep documents so this raid is really a moot point - they’re after the Board minutes, the National Executive minutes as I understand it - and the Union doesn’t even have to hold these documents?

O’CONNOR: I think there is a Statute of Limitations on what’s required to provide information to the Regulator from the Registered Organisations, whether they be an employer bodies or Unions. It doesn’t mean that these bodies don’t keep this information, but there’s no legal requirement after that time.

The Union has said these donations were authorised, and I guess that’s something that’s been put, and I’ve got no reason to know or suggest otherwise.

JAYES: Yes the Union has said that. Sorry to interrupt again, but then it used the court process in Victoria to stop these documents from being made public, to stop these documents from being released-

O’CONNOR: Well we don’t know that-

JAYES:  What’s the point in that? If the Union says it has nothing to hide, why are they using the court process?

O’CONNOR: Well how would you like your house raided with thirteen police? Now, the fact is there were more than a dozen police - who had to do their job because there was a warrant issued - but they’ve gathered all sorts of information. I mean, at the time the Union was aware of the raids, and of course they found out because the media turned up beforehand, but you know, they wouldn’t even know at that point what documents have been taken. It’s not like they go in and take one minute from one meeting.

From the amount of material that’s coming out of those offices in Melbourne and Sydney it looked like quite a lot of information, and therefore I understand the Union would obviously want to ensure to protect its interests to say to say hold on, what’s going on here?

But, I think the more important question is why were there enquiries? What was the Registered Organisation Commission conducting the enquiry for? It was directly referred by the Minister, the office of whom, of course, was involved in tipping off the media about the raids. We have Liberal Government MP’s who were using GetUp! in the last few elections – I don’t know if there have been any raids on their offices because of a donation from GetUp!, but it seems to me this is so targeted because it wants to smear the Federal Opposition Leader.

This is a direct referral from Minister Cash to that regulator that has led to all of this - and now the Minister is still there, of course – having misled the Parliament on more than 5, now at least 6 occasions.

JAYES: Your political opponents though, say that you are bringing up all of this information to deflect what is the real issue here – that Bill Shorten was using Union funds to feather his own political nest. What do you say to that?

O’CONNOR: There is just no evidence to that. That is just an assertion made by a Minister who is playing politics with Commonwealth agencies.

The idea that of all the matters that could be referred to the regulator, the only one that is referred to the regulator by the Minister is one that is seeking to implicate the Leader of the Opposition about something that occurred ten years ago - I think sums up exactly the motives behind the Government. It is an abuse of power, and abuse of Ministerial power.

The problem for the Minister is that she has been caught out. She has been caught out, and her office has been deeply involved in tipping off this information to the media.

Because the whole point of this was politically motivated, and because it is clear now that her office was directly involved in tipping off the media about these raids, the Minister has no alternative other than to tender her resignation, and if she refuses to do so, the Prime Minister must sack her.

JAYES: Ok Brendan O’Connor, we will see how that all pans out. Thank you very much for your time.

O’CONNOR: Thanks Laura.

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