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Thursday, 7 December 2017
Page: 10007


Senator CAMERON (New South Wales) (09:40): I move:

That the Senate take note of the statement.

If that is well done, we have got serious problems. This minister has basically trashed the Westminster system. This is a minister whose office is under criminal investigation and, because of her responsibilities, she is under criminal investigation. This goes to the very integrity of our democratic political system. This minister has got no respect for the Westminster system or its conventions. The democratic principle that underpins this is that this minister is accountable to the parliament and the people. There is a convention of ministerial responsibility, and this minister has got responsibility for the conduct of her portfolio, the conduct of her staff who are responsible for the leak, and the conduct of the Public Service that she presides over. She has misled parliament five times. This is normally the basis for ministerial resignation.

The Westminster system determines that there has to be a politically neutral Public Service. Under this minister, the Public Service have been politicised and they are acting against the government's political opponents on a regular basis. Over a period of time there's been an increased number and influence of political advisers. For anyone to argue that political advisers are not an integral part of the political office reporting directly to the minister is unacceptable. There is a political patronage being established in these so-called independent bodies. There is a web of influence of former Liberal political advisers in these so-called independent bodies whose job it is to attack the political opponents of this government. This applies to the Registered Organisations Commission, the ABCC and the Fair Work Ombudsman.

On 15 August, Senator Cash wrote to the Registered Organisations Commission to establish an inquiry into, allegedly, the AWU. This followed a report in The Weekend Australian on 12 August. In that report that was supposed to be about the AWU, the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Shorten, received 13 mentions. He received 13 mentions in that Weekend Australian report. It was clear what this was about. It wasn't about the AWU; it was a political attack on the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Shorten. I maintain and assert, unequivocally, that this report was the product of the minister organising this article in The Australian. This is clearly the modus operandi of this government and of this minister—create a story and then react to the story. There were 13 mentions of Mr Shorten in this story. Then we get the letter from the minister to the ROC, referring an article in The Weekend Australian to the ROC. The ROC does the bidding of the minister. The ROC is the organisation established to attack the political opponents of this government. What's been happening is an absolute disgrace. Then we have Mr Bielecki claiming that the correspondence was the only correspondence that he has ever received from the minister on any issue. It's clear that this was a set-up by the minister to attack the Leader of the Opposition. Mr Bielecki conceded he had never received anything like this before, and it was only because it was a political attack on the Leader of the Opposition.

Then we got another article by Brad Norington. Brad Norington was responsible for the first article. There is a link between News Limited, Brad Norington and the minister's office to set up a straw person so that it can be attacked and precipitate this attack on the Leader of the Opposition. Mr Bielecki claims that this was about the AWU, but you only have to look at Brad Norington's article in The Australian on 16 August where Mr Shorten gets 14 mentions by News Limited and The Australian. This is clearly a set-up and an attack on the Leader of the Opposition. Senator Cash herself is quoted five times in this article alluding to the alleged conduct of Mr Shorten. This was clearly a political attack on Mr Shorten and the political opponents of this government, with a public servant being used to conduct the attack on the Leader of the Opposition.

Senator Cash is a minister in disgrace, a minister who has trashed the Westminster system. This is a minister who doesn't know what the Westminster system means. Don't just take my word for it; let's look at the report in The Conversation by Michelle Grattan. No-one here would argue that Michelle Grattan isn't one of the most respected reporters this place has ever seen. What she says in this article on 26 October relates to the opening statement of Mr Mark Bielecki to Senate estimates, when he declared there was a misapprehension about what this was about—that the investigation was not into Mr Shorten; it was into the AWU. Looking at Michelle Grattan's reports, anyone who has any view that this was not a personal attack on the Leader of the Opposition is not politically astute and does not understand what's going on. Michelle Grattan says:

Whatever the Registered Organisations Commission might think or say, there's been no doubt in the minds of the Government what the inquiry is about.

When Employment Minister Michaelia Cash referred the donation to the commission in August, she and her colleagues knew it was all about Bill Shorten.

That is not me saying this; it is Michelle Grattan, one of the most respected correspondents ever in this place. She goes on to say:

Once again the Government was trying to put Shorten in the frame over his behaviour in his union days. Previous attempts have fallen short of hopes.

She goes on to say:

It seemed extraordinary that Cash could have been left in ignorance all day.

This is about the hearing where Minister Cash made five claims that she knew nothing about any leak from her office. Michelle Grattan says it's extraordinary that Cash could have been left in ignorance all day. She continues:

Even more odd was that she (and the staffer in question, David De Garis) attended Malcolm Turnbull's pre-Question Time briefing on Wednesday, when she assured him she had not given the tip-off, but neither he nor others present asked the obvious question: 'what about your office?'

When media are being alerted, it is rarely by a call from the minister—it's done by the media adviser. Everyone at the briefing would have known that. Assuming we're hearing the truth, failing to ask was sloppy at best.

She goes on to say:

But even before this week, her reputation had started to tarnish, when the head of the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC), Nigel Hadgkiss, had to resign after admitting to breaching the Fair Work Act while in his previous position. Cash was aware of the civil proceedings against him when he took over the ABCC.

…   …   …

The government—which, incidentally, is on a jihad against GetUp, a campaigning body far too effective for its liking …

Further, she says:

But the government’s obvious attempt to use the recently established Registered Organisations Commission for political purposes is an abuse of power …

That's what we are witnessing—an abuse of power. Michelle Grattan went on to say that that abuse of power was potentially damaging to the fledgling organisation. I disagree with Michelle Grattan on that—it is fatally damaging to this organisation. We know what is going on. She says that this matter was more than a decade old and she asks whether it would have been referred if it had not involved Bill Shorten.

Even conservative commentator Andrew Bolt—I don't often quote Andrew Bolt in this place—wrote that the raids 'seem part of a disturbing pattern of the Liberals using state power to persecute a political enemy'. Andrew Bolt is no friend of the Labor Party and no friend of the trade union movement, but he has nailed this minister; he has nailed this government. They are using political power and political institutions to attack their political opponents. He goes on to refer to 'the Liberals' astonishing record of dragging Labor leaders before commissions and royal commissions created—at least in part—to humiliate them'. That's what we see from this government. We know what it's all about. This minister can get up and claim public interest immunity and read out Odgers all she likes. We know what this is about. This is an attack on her political opposition, an attack on the Labor Party, and she is using public resources to mount that attack. She's the one who created the story, her office created the story, and then it was used to create an investigation.

Then we have this so-called independent organisation where Mr Chris Enright, a former Australian Crime Commission officer, compiled a secret dossier on a minister, the minister that he reported to—a dossier that made comments about the nationality of the minister's wife and a dossier that made comments about the drinking habits of the minister. It is a document that talked about his political allegiances. It is a document that clearly involved a breach and clearly took a partisan position. It was a secret report, and when it became public the Ombudsman then reprimanded this officer—yet he gets appointed to the Registered Organisations Commission and claims he has a 40-year good record. Well, Nigel Hadgkiss claimed the same thing, and we found out what Nigel Hadgkiss was up to.

This is clearly an organisation that is partisan and political. BuzzFeed reports that, when the opposition were trying to disrupt questioning in an estimates hearing, Mr Enright said, 'This has been a very productive half hour', and Mr Bielecki replied, 'It has.' These are supposedly independent officers. This is really a demonstration of the lack of independence and the control and political position this government takes with its so-called independent organisations. BuzzFeed further states:

BuzzFeed also heard ROC and FWO officers say "I could do this all day" and Labor was "getting pretty desperate" during the committee break.

This is clearly a demonstration of what's going on here: use your political power, use so-called independent organisations to attack a political party—the Labor Party.

With regard to this so-called document from the AFP saying that they should not deal with the issues because there's an investigation, the document doesn't say that at all. The document doesn't go anywhere near that. The best you could take out of this document is that there is a criminal investigation taking place into the minister's office and the minister, and that the matter is under investigation and it wouldn't be appropriate for the AFP to discuss the matter with the minister, or the minister's office, any further. That's the basis of the claim. It's an absolute nonsense to say that this is the AFP making a claim for public interest immunity. If the AFP want to make a claim for public interest immunity, they should do that, but the minister and this government shouldn't be using that document, which is not a claim for public interest immunity, to try and hide the involvement of this minister and the involvement of this minister's office in misusing public authorities and misusing their power.

We've got the minister claiming that advertisements for job vacancies in her office between 1 August and 27 October should be subject to public interest immunity. There is the claim that the arrangement with the Fair Work Ombudsman director of media to take up a role should not be discussed. What's that got to do with this document? There is the decision of the Fair Work Ombudsman director of media on 28 October not to take up a job in the minister's office—these are political apparatchiks who are moving from one so-called independent body to another to exercise influence, to exercise the will of the government to attack their political opponents. The Fair Work Ombudsman, the Registered Organisations Commission and the Australian Building and Construction Commission are acting purely on the basis of political intent to damage the enemies and the opponents of this government. Why should contact between the minister's office and the Fair Work Ombudsman director of media be subject to a claim for public interest immunity? Why should contact between the minister's office and the Prime Minister's Office be the subject of public interest immunity? Why should question time briefs relating to the ROC on each day between 20 and 26 October be the subject of public interest immunity? Why should correspondence between the minister and the ROC relating to any inquiry and any investigation on matters under assessment or the opening of a file be subject to public interest immunity?

This is a cover-up. This is a cover-up the likes of which I have never seen in the almost decade I've been in the Senate. This is a misuse of public interest immunity. This is a minister who has lost all credibility. This is a minister who stands in this place day in, day out, attacking individuals, using unsubstantiated allegations to trash the reputation of individuals. This is a minister who is using her office and the public commissions that she oversights to attack her political opponents. This is a minister whose office illegally tipped off the press to be at the AWU office to take pictures of what was happening to damage the Leader of the Opposition, the trade union movement and her political opponents. This minister is a disgrace. This minister is in hiding on this issue. This government has not made proper public interest immunity claims, and it should provide the documentation and be open.

Again I call on the AFP, if it wants to make a public interest immunity claim, to do so. This minister should stand aside. This minister has got no credibility. This minister has got no capacity to stand here and lecture anyone. This minister has got no authority to take any claims against anyone while she is under criminal investigation, when her office is under criminal investigation, when she misuses her power, when she trashes the Westminster system. This minister should resign. This minister should go. This minister is an absolute disgrace. She is unacceptable in that position. (Time expired)