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Thursday, 1 March 2018
Page: 2575

Mr BRENDAN O'CONNOR (Gorton) (12:14): I rise to indicate that, given the performance by Minister Cash yesterday and the 125 days it's now been that she has refused to answer questions in relation to her office's involvement in the raids at the AWU offices on 24 October last year, it's now time for Minister Cash to resign.

Minister Cash yesterday slurred and slandered young staff in this building. It was a horrendous thing to do and it was unprovoked. I note that Liberal ministers and members of parliament have been indicating that, somehow, Minister Cash's outburst yesterday was a response to some provocative questioning by Labor senators. That is not true. The questions that were being asked by Senator Cameron in relation to staff in Minister Cash's office were only about whether they had been working in other agencies or other ministers' offices. The reason those questions were being asked is because of the history of Minister Cash in placing staff in highly politicised partisan agencies to act, I would argue, in an improper way.

We know, for example, that Minister Cash had placed in her office a media adviser who had worked for the former Victorian Liberal state leader Denis Napthine, at the same time that a media adviser was placed in the Registered Organisations Commission. So we had two Liberal Party identities, one of whom was working directly in the Registered Organisations Commission at the time that commission sought to raid the offices of the AWU and authorise the AFP to do so. We were trying to establish whether there were more patterns of collusion and involvement of staff in what we had foreshadowed would be highly partisan agencies if they were established. Labor is on the record as indicating in our debates in the parliament that if the Registered Organisations Commission and, indeed, the ABCC were established after the election they would be used for political purposes—and they have been. The Registered Organisations Commission is a discredited commission because of its conduct, but so too is the minister's office, by its activities and conduct, and that's why we've seen the resignation of a former staff member of Minister Cash's office.

We were absolutely entitled to ask whether there were other arrangements in that office that led to any further politicisation of agencies of government. That was the only reason why Labor senators were engaging in those questions to Minister Cash. But what we got in response was an outrageous and unprovoked response by Minister Cash, slurring and slandering young women in this parliament. She should apologise without qualification and she should resign. Minister Cash shouldn't resign purely because of what happened yesterday, but, as I say, because she has hidden behind a public interest immunity defence for 125 days so as not to answer questions about the extent and nature of her and her office's involvement in the tipping off of the media about the raids on AWU offices.

This is a very serious matter, and yet there's been obfuscation, denial and delay by the minister. Indeed, the Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police confirmed in estimates on Tuesday that the AFP did not suggest in any way that the government should use the public interest immunity as a defence against answering questions put to the minister in the Senate. Yet that is the defence that the minister has claimed for not answering questions. Well, 125 days later there still have been no answers about the extent of the involvement. May I say that as recently as yesterday there have been allegations of a tip-off by the office of the former Minister for Justice, Mr Keenan, to a TV journalist. It's an allegation only, but it's a serious allegation. Minister Keenan, now the Minister for Human Services, should respond in parliament as to the truth or not of that allegation.