Liberal frontbencher Michaelia Cash has emphatically rejected the evidence of the Australian Federal Police that she declined to provide a witness statement over media leaks from her office tipping off the media to union police raids.
The clash of evidence prompted Labor’s Penny Wong to ask the question “who voters should trust” – the evidence of the deputy police commissioner Leanne Close or the cabinet minister?
As it was revealed that Small Business Minister has run up a $288,000 taxpayer-funded legal bill over the saga, Senate estimates continued to probe Ms Cash over the matter.
On Monday, the AFP’s deputy commissioner Leanne Close told Parliament that it was “correct” that Senator Cash and former Justice Minister Michael Keenan had both declined to provide witness statements.
But on Tuesday night, Senator Cash said that information was wrong.
— Senator Penny Wong (@SenatorWong) February 19, 2019
Senator Cash indicated she had provided a statement and also denied there was any follow-up requests as Ms Close had implied.
“At no stage after my statement was provided did the AFP request further information from me,” Senator Cash told Senate estimates.
“They were able to do that should they have had further requests for information. They did not do that.”
The saga centres on claims that Bill Shorten failed to properly authorise union donations to GetUp! and his campaign fund when he ran the AWU.
But when the union watchdog and AFP raided the AWU, the union claims that Ms Cash’s office improperly tipped off the media before the AFP arrived.
Earlier, the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions also told Senate estimates that the department believed there was “prima facie” evidence that an offence was committed when the police raids were leaked to the media.
“We have the DPP saying there was a prima facie case, but the prosecution could not proceed because of a lack of evidence. Is this the really the standard of behaviour? You have staff leaking to the media about police raids,” Senator Wong said.
“The question is out of order,” committee chair and Liberal Senator Ian MacDonald replied.
“Is this the standard of cabinet ministers? That they don’t co-operate with the AFP?” Senator Wong said.
But Ms Cash fired back, insisting it was the the Labor leader who should front the Federal Court and answer questions under oath.
“I have been accountable, unlike Bill Shorten, every step of the way,” Senator Cash replied.
“The only person who now has questions to answer is Bill Shorten.
“Did he seek the appropriate authorisation to make the $100,000 donation to GetUp! and to his own campaign of $25,000?”
Ms Cash was also asked about claims by the AFP that text messages between her ministerial staffers were destroyed before the investigation began.
“I had no knowledge of it,” Senator Cash said.
During heated exchanges Senator Ian Macdonald, who chairs the committee, complained about the tone of Labor’s questions.