31 May 2018
BRENDAN O’CONNOR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS: Thanks for coming. I wanted to comment about the revelations that Minister Cash has been subpoenaed to give evidence in the Federal Court in relation to the unlawful raids on officers of the Australian Workers Union.
For seven months now, Minister Cash has refused to make account of the conduct of her office and possibly herself in relation to the unlawful leaks of two police raids to the media. We already know, of course, that one of her staff has made admissions that he provided that information to the media, which broke the law. We also know, of course, that he made those admissions of him acting in such a manner to Minister Cash, and he has resigned.
We now really want to know, of course, what Minister Cash knew of the leaking of the information to the media so that we can get to the bottom of this.
Minister Cash has a responsibility to account to the Parliament, and yet for seven months she has refused to answer questions about the extent and nature of her role in this unlawful matter. For that reason, we expect the Prime Minister to now indicate to the Parliament whether in fact he still holds confidence in the Minister.
These are very serious matters. This is about whether in fact a genuine investigation by the Australian Federal Police would be compromised because of the leaking of information by a Minister's office.
The fact is this Government is lurching from crisis to crisis. A Minister refusing to answer questions in relation to this matter, a Minister who now refuses to turn up to Budget Estimates because she is not able to answer questions in relation to this matter.
Minister Cash absented herself from budget estimates yesterday. Minister Cash has not attended Estimates today. Her day job is to represent Minister Laundy in Budget Estimates yesterday and today and has taken leave. Minister Cash needs to explain why she is not here to do her day job.
This is a very serious matter. As I say, it is a matter that is unresolved. The Minister has an extra obligation beyond that of just a citizen of this country. She needs to comply with ministerial responsibility. She should have taken responsibility for the conduct of her office seven months ago and resigned, which would have been consistent with the Westminster principles of Ministerial Responsibility.
She refused to do so.
Minister Cash should have answered questions that were put to her seven months ago in relation to this matter, and she refused – using Public Interest Immunity as a defence.
She has continued to refuse.
And now Minister Cash absences herself from her day job in the Senate. Budget Estimates only comes around once a year. It is incumbent on Ministers to be there to answer questions. And yet, she is not there today, and left yesterday.
Minister Cash is not attending to her day job. She is in hiding. There is not a whiteboard big enough for Minister Cash to hide behind. She needs to answer these questions, and answer them fully to the Parliament - otherwise the Prime Minister should take action.
Happy to take your questions.
JOURNALIST: Considering that Minister Cash’s name has been mentioned throughout this case the entire time, it’s not too surprising that she has been subpoenaed to give evidence. Why is this a change in circumstance?
O’CONNOR: Firstly, the Minister should have taken account of the conduct of her office seven months ago. The federal Opposition had called for her resignation given the nature and the extent of the involvement of her office.
We sought then to ask other questions in the Senate and in Senate Estimates of the Minister, and the Minister has declined to answer any questions.
This is not just about a crime - it is also about ministerial responsibility. The fact that the Minister hid behind Public Interest Immunity, and on one occasion tragically and comically hid behind a moving whiteboard to avoid media scrutiny says everything about this Government.
It’s cover up. It’s not being transparent. It’s not being accountable to the Parliament, and indeed, for those reasons, the Prime Minister needs to consider the position of the Minister.
If the Minister herself won’t make a decision to resign, the Prime Minister should consider the position, because quite frankly, it is untenable for this to continue.
Of course, now with the issuing of subpoenas for the Minister to produce evidence in relation to this matter – it’s gone on for seven months. I do believe that it was incumbent on the Minister originally to answer these questions, and to date, of course, she has been unable to account for her conduct or the conduct of her office.
Now she’s not even in a position to do her day job – not turning up to Estimates today, and leaving estimates early yesterday instead of representing the Minister that she is supposed to be representing in Budget Estimates.
JOURNALIST: Let’s get to the bottom of the line here – are you trying to claim that the Government has directed police to raid the Union?
O’CONNOR: No. I’m saying that there was a raid on two offices by the police on behalf of the Registered Organisation Commission, and we know that the Minister’s office leaked – unlawfully - the raids to the media.
That’s already been admitted. The Minister’s even said that - that admission had been made to her. The Minister has then refused to answer any questions of the Parliament. This is about ministerial accountability in so far as an unlawful act is concerned.
JOURNALIST: You’re talking about protecting the integrity of the AFP investigation, in saying that they’re leaking to the media to show up at the offices at that time, it put that at jeopardy. Aren’t you being hypocritical, with you then asking of Michaelia Cash to go into Estimates Hearings and comment on an ongoing investigation?
O’CONNOR: Minister Cash has been involved in this matter. Firstly, she had one of her staff make admissions about the unlawful conduct almost seven months ago. Minister Cash is a Minister of the Crown and should be accountable, in so far as the conduct of her office is concerned, and she’s hiding behind Public Interest Immunity.
I’m not talking about the investigation proceedings before the Federal Court. I’m talking about the conduct of a Minister who took admissions in relation to an alleged crime, has not cooperated with the Parliament, has not been accountable to the Parliament, and needs to do a lot better.
But of course, we now have a situation where her position is so untenable she doesn’t even attend Budget Estimates on behalf of the Government.
JOURNALIST: She still maintains that she wasn’t aware that her media advisor tipped off the media. So, is there accountability?
O’CONNOR: Well, we don’t know what she’s aware of and what she’s not aware of because she’s refused to answer questions of the Parliament. She’s hid behind Public Interest Immunity.
It was after two days of examination by Senate Estimates that the then Attorney-General claimed that she could argue Public Interest Immunity. It’s been a cover for her to not answer question to the Parliament.
The Minister has a responsibility. It is the highest responsibility of a Minister of the Crown to be accountable to the Parliament. Now we have a situation that not only will she refuse to answer questions - she doesn’t even turn up to Parliament to refuse to answer questions.
We have her now not attending Budget Estimates today, and she didn’t attend in the afternoon yesterday, and quite frankly this is becoming untenable. We have a Minister who has refused to cooperate, to comply with ministerial responsibility - and now she will not even appear and attend Parliament.
That means her position is untenable - and the Prime Minister needs to consider her position.
JOURNALIST: Why was the subpoena reissued? Does that indicate that the AFP investigation is concluding so the Federal Court case can now continue? What is the relationship between those two processes?
O’CONNOR: Look, I’m not aware of the details of the subpoena. I, like you, became aware of the issuing subpoena for the Minister to produce evidence to the Federal Court today.
But this is a culmination of the conduct by this Government, and by certainly, firstly, the Ministerial office of Minister Cash. It has been a refusal - an outright refusal - to account to the Parliament and instead hide behind Public Interest Immunity.
It has got to the point now Paul where she is not even attending Parliament to do her day job. She can't do her day job, then surely the Prime Minister has to act.
JOURNALIST: So you think there’s no basis for that Public Interest Immunity playing out?
O’CONNOR: I said at the time we were very sceptical about the fact that it has such a reach that the Minister won't even answer questions to the Parliament.
We are talking about a Minister of the Crown who is asked about the conduct of her office - and in relation to that, what role she had in the leaking of that information, and indeed other staff that may or may not be involved - and yet refuses to answer questions.
There are two things here. Of course she needs to now respond and present to the Court pursuant to the subpoena. But seven months ago she should have been accountable and transparent to the Parliament, and she has been in breach of ministerial responsibilities for that seven months. I guess this subpoena underlines the fact that this matter is not going away.
This Government lurches from one crisis to the other, and the Minister has to front the Parliament and explain the position - because if she does not explain her position, she cannot do her day job.
JOURNALIST: Brendan O’Connor, aren’t you being hypocritical given that you used - that Labor used - the Senate to frustrate AFP investigations into the leaking of corporate information about NBN co? Now, we never got to the bottom of that either because Labor stood in the way.
O’CONNOR: I have to say that it is not analogous at all. The fact is we have got a Minister's office that we know leaked information unlawfully - leaked the information, admitted to leaking the information - but what the Minister won’t do is explain her role in that.
If she wants to stand up in the Parliament and give a full account of her role and her conduct, so be it. But to date she refuses to answer any questions about that and quite frankly, this goes to her role as a Minister.
She refuses now to even attend the Senate, because she has chosen not to appear at Budget Estimates today or yesterday.
JOURNALIST: So if she was to actually stand up in Parliament today and give an account of what’s happened, you would be satisfied?
O’CONNOR: We don't know what her account is. She has an obligation to account to the Parliament. Of course, after her account, we will consider the position of the Minister.
Our job is to hold Ministers to account, and indeed if they are - as is the case with Minister Cash - if they are involved in what has been a very controversial, improper role of a Minister's office, then of course she should account to the Parliament.
Thank you very much.