02 Mar 2018
BRENDAN O’CONNOR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS: Minister Cash has two things to do today. Firstly, she needs to apologise for the gross slander and slur towards young women in this parliamentary building. The second thing she has to do is resign as Minister.
She has to resign as Minister not just because of the things she said yesterday. She has to resign as Minister because for 125 days she has refused to cooperate with the parliament of Australia about the extent of her involvement in leaking sensitive information to the media about raids on AWU offices in October last year.
Senator Cash misled the parliament on five separate occasions in October last year, and since then has been hiding under a public interest immunity defence so that she doesn’t have to answer questions about the extent of her involvement, and the involvement of her staff.
What we do already know about this matter is that Minister Cash’s office was directly involved in leaking information to the media about raids by the Australian Federal Police. Leaking information in this manner can lead to a prison sentence of up to two years. It is a very serious matter, and yet, for the last 125 days, Minister Cash has not cooperated with the parliament - has refused to answer questions of the Senate - and needs to now resign, or Malcolm Turnbull must sack her.
We found out yesterday that the Minister in Cabinet that has workplace responsibilities - namely Minister Cash - has no authority as Minister. The Prime Minister confirmed in parliament yesterday that he has stripped Minister Cash of all authority as Minister for Workplace Relations.
In fact, whilst he says that she’s a Cabinet Minister with responsibility for workplace relations, she has no standing in the Fair Work Commission, she is not the Minister referred to in the Fair Work Act, she is a Minister without authority or standing - but that is not good enough.
The Prime Minister may demote the Minister without her knowing, but the reality is she cannot remain as a Minister because she has refused to explain the extent of the involvement of her office and herself in leaking information, which is an unlawful act, to media. For that reason she must resign, and she must apologise. She must apologise without qualification to the women she slandered and slurred yesterday in Senate Estimates.
I also want to go to the new allegation against the former Minister for Justice, Michael Keenan. There was an allegation made yesterday that a TV journalist received information about the raid before the raid commenced from Minister Keenan’s office.
Minister Keenan, when he was Minister for Justice, it is alleged that his office provided information about the raids on the AWU offices by the Australian Federal Police on behalf of the Registered Organisations Commission - that now discredited commission.
These allegations are the most serious of allegations. As a former Justice Minister, the idea that the Justice Minister’s office would disclose sensitive information about operational matters of the Australian Federal Police beggars belief. The idea that Minister Keenan’s office may have indeed provided such information on the basis that they were briefed by the Australian Federal Police and then passed on that information to a journalist so that the media could be there to film the raids of those offices is an outrageous allegation, and Minister Keenan must stand up and explain whether in fact those allegations have any basis in fact or not.
It is not good enough for him to issue a statement. Minister Keenan must address the parliament, and explain that if in fact when he was Minister for Justice the allegations that are now running as according to the Buzzfeed reports are true or not. What we need to know, and what the Australian public deserve to know, is the extent of this scandal.
We know that Minister Cash’s office was directly involved and a Minister’s staff member has resigned. We know that the Minister for Justice knew information before the raid, because he has confirmed that. We also know that Minister Keenan as Minister for Justice provided that information to the Prime Minister’s office as well. So we know the Prime Minister’s Office knew of this information. Minister Keenan’s office knew of this information, and Minister Cash knew of this information.
So far what we know is we’ve had one resignation out of Minister Cash’s office. We’ve had Minister Cash refuse now to answer any questions for 125 days. We now have new allegations about Minister Keenan’s role when he was Minister for Justice, and he needs to actually confirm or deny those allegations. They are of the most serious nature.
What is becoming very clear is that this is a conspiracy of involvement by more than one Minister’s office. What was confirmed in Senate Estimates this week is that the Australian Federal Police have confirmed that more than 10 staff of Minister’s offices have been interviewed by the Australian Federal Police in relation to this matter.
This is a very serious matter. When you are dealing with information about potential raids, and if you are in a position to disclose that information, you put at risk the officers that may well be the authorised officers involved in such operational matters.
It is a most serious matter. We are yet to hear the full extent of Minister Cash’s involvement. I think, quite frankly, given her conduct over the last three months she must resign. Indeed, after yesterday’s performance, after that outrageous slur and slander towards young women in this parliament, she must apologise without qualification and resign.
Minister Keenan must explain whether the allegations made last night in relation to his involvement and that of his office are indeed true. If they are true, then he is in a similar position to Minister Cash, and in some ways, given he was the Minister for Justice, he is in a worse position.
Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Do you think Bill Shorten has any questions to answer over the free trip to the Great Barrier Reef that he received, and discrepancies in public and private beliefs he has expressed on the Adani mine?
O’CONNOR: As I understand it, Bill Shorten did go on a trip to examine the implications to the Barrier Reef in relation to these matters, and to look at the environmental concerns. He did so, and declared those matters as is appropriate.
JOURNALIST: Just on Julie Bishop, her office says that she doesn’t have to declare her partners interests as they are not married or living together. Do you think that passes the pub test?
O’CONNOR: I am not across all the detail in relation to the expenses that Ms Bishop has been involved in with her partner. I understand she has indicated he is not her de facto partner or her husband, and therefore is seeking to distinguish whether in fact he needs to declare his interests.
I’d have to say that’s a very fine line. I think there would be people who would reasonably argue that there needs to be more accountability in relation to that matter.
JOURNALIST: On another issue, the PM has written to school principals across the country today urging them to sign up to a national day of action to counter bullying, essentially. Do you think the government is doing enough to that end to reduce bullying in Australia?
O’CONNOR: I think, frankly, it’s a very serious matter, and of course we will support a government that does anything it can to reduce bullying. We have seen some tragic, tragic consequences because of bullying – both physical bullying and cyber bullying. We do need to do more as a country to deal with this scourge. We will of course work with the government in order to work out ways to prevent such terrible consequences. People suiciding, young people self-harming, we need to do more.
I have to say, in light of yesterday’s performance by Minister Cash, the idea that the Prime Minster today wants to talk about dealing with bullying – when we have a Cabinet Minister slur and slander young staff in the office of the leader of the Opposition really does cut across the sincerity and intention of the government to deal with bullying.
You cannot lecture people about bullying and then allow your Minister to be bullying and to be slanderous in relation to young staff in offices in this parliament.
Quite frankly, I am also appalled at the fact that the Minister has made clear that she will not apologise. It was confirmed today in The Australian newspaper that Minister Cash would not be apologising.
Her qualified withdrawal yesterday was disingenuous, and quite frankly disrespectful. She has to apologise in full for her conduct yesterday. There is no doubt that her outburst yesterday was in part because she was obfuscating and denying and refusing answers for 125 days on the extent of her involvement - and the involvement of her office - in an unlawful act, in providing information to the media about raids on AWU offices by the Australian Federal Police.
She must resign now. Her position is untenable. She must resign – but before she resigns, I hope she apologises to the women whom she slandered and slurred yesterday.
JOURNALIST: There are reports today that China has imposed a diplomatic freeze on Australia over its proposed foreign interference laws. What are the implications of that for the Australia – China relationship?
O’CONNOR: Look, I am not aware of what China may have done in relation to that matter, I’d rather not answer until I am briefed.