By Joe Montero
As the old saying goes, Jobs Minister Senator Michaelia Cash is “in more…than a Werribee duck.” She is sinking over the fallout from the Australian Workers Union Affair.
There is no hiding that last year’s raid on the union office was intended as a political set up. It was admitted by former staffer David De Garis, who says his job was to tip of the media as federal police launched the raid. It was supposedly over an alleged connection between the union and online activist group GetUp.
Michaelia Cash maintains that she knew nothing about the media being informed until after the event, when De Garis told her. He denies this.
Cash and the Turnbull government claims there had been a breach of declaration of interests. The connection is tenuous at best. If the evidence is there, the affair would have been handled in the normal police manner.
But no. A stunt was devised to carry out a trial by media. It backfired, and ended up in a drawn-out court case. The minister, De Garis, former Fair Work Ombudsman media adviser Mark Lee, and Registered Organisations Committee (ROC) official Chris Enright have been called to give evidence over their involvement in the alleged conspiracy.
The minister has been refusing to answer questions and after a request from the union, she and the other parties were subpoenaed to appear. On Wednesday she made a preemptive move, by appearing before the media, to fire a few shots say that she will not be “bullied” into answering questions.
Michaelia Cash has also failed to turn up at Senate Estimate Committee hearings, which is another place where she could be questioned.
If the subpoena stands, certain requested documents will have to be presented by 28 June.
She wants any cross examination to be held away from public eyes.
“I do not intend to play the court process out publicly,” she said.
She says she has public interest immunity from the investigation around this case.
Whether she will turn up before the court and under what circumstances is not yet clear. There is a sense that the tactic is to buy time to find a way to get away without declaring too much.
Cash insists she is not a party to the case and should not be on trial. In a sense this is true, because it is the ROC is on centre stage at present. Nevertheless, as the case unfolds, there is a good chance that witnesses may want to save their own necks start talking. This has the potential to further implicate the minister.
Given this possible scenario, Michaelia Cash and the Turnbull government have a clear incentive to buy time to derail the case.
The problem is that Cash’s position is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain, and if becomes too much of a liability, the prime minister may be forced to get rid of her.
From what we have seen so far, if the minister manages to remain, the strategy will be to step up branding the case as a political stunt by the union, for the purpose manipulating legal process for its own ends. This message will be made loud and clear through the media.
It is hard to see how this can succeed. That is, unless the case is dragged out to an election campaign about the unions trying to run the country. The strategy has already been announced.
The affair is doubly important. It is not just about whether the minister survives or falls. More important than this are the implications for the industrial relations environment and the livelihood and rights of millions of Australian workers.