Michaelia Cash has written to the Registered Organisations Commission suggesting it refer leaks surrounding its raids on the Australian Workers Union office to the federal police.
The Employment Minister faced increasing calls for her resignation Thursday after it emerged on Wednesday that, despite repeated denials, someone from her office informed media that the AFP was set to raid Opposition Leader Bill Shorten’s former union, the AWU.
Fronting a parliamentary hearing on Wednesday morning, Senator Cash denied five times that the media tip-offs originated from her office.
By Wednesday night – having earlier said she was “frankly offended” by the allegation – she confirmed one of her media advisers had quit over the leak.
Senator Cash tabled a letter before a Senate estimates committee on Thursday morning that she wrote to the ROC after her staffer’s resignation.
“I do not have the power to direct you in relation to such a matter, however one course of action which I would ask you to consider is referring the matter to the Australian Federal Police,” she read from her letter.
Senator Cash faced intense grilling from Labor Senator Doug Cameron for a second day as he pushed the minister to clarify who in her office had prior knowledge of the raid and who was involved with leaking details to media.
“No one knew what this particular media adviser had done,” she said of her other staff members.
The Senate committee also sought to establish why Senator Cash was unable to contact her former media adviser on Wednesday, given a Fairfax journalist claimed he had no trouble phoning the staff member in question.
Michaelia Cash says she was unable to get on to the staffer who resigned last night. Funny, I got through to him pretty easily.
— Adam Gartrell (@adamgartrell) October 25, 2017
The political chaos for the Turnbull government comes with the High Court set to rule on the eligibility of Deputy PM Barnaby Joyce on Friday afternoon.
Senator Cash maintained she had calls Wednesday night and Thursday, but had been unable to contact the staffer and clarify what he told media.
She said she told her chief of staff to ask the former media adviser to meet with her in her office Thursday afternoon.
Senator Cash defended the bravery of her staff member for admitting to his actions, saying it was brave of her aide to admit what he did and lose his employment, “unlike others who lie every day of the week”.
Calls for resignation
Labor’s manager of Opposition Business Tony Burke on Thursday morning repeated demands he made in Parliament late Wednesday night in which he demanded Senator Cash resign.
That call was echoed by Labor deputy leader Tanya Plibersek, who said ministers have resigned for “less than” what Senator Cash admitted Wednesday.
“It defies credulity that Senator Cash gave false information five times to the Senate and her staff said nothing,” she said.
Greens MP Adam Bandt described Senator Cash’s position as “untenable”.
Defence Industry Minister Christopher Pyne defended his colleague, telling reporters Senator Cash had been misled.
“Michaelia Cash told the Senate the truth and as soon as she found out that she’d been misled she corrected the record. Nnow that’s all all you can ask her to do in the circumstances and I think she’s done the right thing,” Mr Pyne said.
Independent Senator Nick Xenophon said Senator Cash should not resign, but there should be an inquiry into the scandal engulfing her office.
Senator Xenophon said Labor’s call for her to resign is unreasonable.
“[We were] Literally passing each other in the corridor and stairwell, and she said it had absolutely nothing to do with her office,” he told ABC radio.
ROC AWU raid
On Tuesday, more than 30 Australian Federal Police officers raided the Sydney and Melbourne offices of the AWU as part of the investigation into donations made by the union a decade ago to the left-wing activist group GetUp!.
Camera crews were waiting when the police arrived on Tuesday evening to seize documents.
The donations were made while Mr Shorten was AWU national secretary and it has been alleged the payments were not properly approved by the union’s national executive. Senator Cash referred the allegations to the recently established ROC for investigation.