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Thursday, 14 February 2019
Page: 10264


Senator CASH (Western AustraliaMinister for Small and Family Business, Skills and Vocational Education) (14:00): As senators would be aware, The Australian Workers' Union is currently taking legal action against the Registered Organisations Commission. The case has been brought about because the AWU is refusing to demonstrate whether a number of donations made by the AWU when Mr Bill Shorten was national secretary were properly authorised. This includes a $100,000 donation to GetUp!, of which Mr Shorten was a founding member.

Senator Wong interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order, Senator Wong! Senator Cormann is on his feet. Senator Cormann.

Senator Cormann: Interjections are disorderly at the best of times, but the minister was asked to appear in the Senate chamber to make a statement. I believe that the minister deserves the courtesy to be listened to consistent with the Senate standing orders.

Senator Wong: On the point of order, this minister is under order of the Senate to attend 'to make a statement to explain the apparent inconsistency between the evidence of her media adviser and her statements to the senate.' It is not in order for her to use the opportunity to try to fear and smear again.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Cormann on the point of order raised by Senator Wong.

Senator Cormann: Responding to the point of order raised by Senator Wong, I refer not just to our standing orders but to our constitutional arrangements. In the Westminster system, it is up to the minister to determine what a minister says in response to certain questions. It is not up to the leader of the opposition to try and answer in her biased way. I think the leader of the opposition should be reminded of the standing orders and our constitutional arrangements and listen to the minister with courtesy and consistently with the standing orders.

The PRESIDENT: On the point of order, Senator Wong?

Senator Wong: Responding on the point of order to Senator Cormann's point: there is a Westminster system. There is a thing called ministerial accountability. We're simply asking that she exercise it.

The PRESIDENT: On the point of order, the first point of order—

Senator Cameron: She should be relevant.

The PRESIDENT: Order on my left while I'm speaking, Senator Cameron! On the first point of order raised by Senator Cormann, the Senate has ordered the minister to attend and make an explanation. The minister is doing that. The minister has also been speaking for 21 seconds, so it's a little presumptuous to claim they are not addressing the order. The minister should be heard in silence. There is question time immediately following this. I'm going to insist the minister be heard in silence while the minister makes the statement by order of the Senate, as a courtesy to all senators. There is question time after this. There are motions to take note of answers after this, and at any time someone may seek leave to do something else. It is appropriate the minister be heard in silence.

Senator CASH: I was referring to what the case was about. It includes a $100,000 donation to GetUp!, of which Mr Shorten was a founding member, and a $25,000 donation to Mr Bill Shorten's own election campaign.

As senators would be aware, I have been subpoenaed by the AWU to give evidence in the Federal Court proceeding. I can confirm to the Senate that, on 25 October 2017, I advised the Senate Education and Employment Legislation Committee that a then staff member in my office had resigned his employment. I told the Senate committee at the time:

I have just been advised that, without my knowledge, one staff member in my office, in the course of discussions with journalists, indicated that he had received information … that a raid may take place. I am advised that this information came from a media source.

The statement I made to the Senate estimates committee was based on the advice given to me.

The AWU's legal action is in the course of hearing before the Federal Court of Australia this week. As I am yet to give evidence in the case, I am subject to restrictions in relation to what I can be told about the evidence that is being given by other witnesses. Although Senator Wong and other Labor senators have provided commentary on the case during question time, I have no way to verify if what Senator Wong has said is correct.