Michaelia Cash’s former media advisor told of AWU raids by Senator’s chief of staff, court hears

Updated February 12, 2019 15:05:38

A Federal Court judge has heard the chief-of-staff for Small Business Minister Michaelia Cash advised her former media advisor of an Australian Federal Police (AFP) raid on offices of the Australian Workers’ Union (AWU) in October 2017.

Key points:

  • The Federal Court ordered Michaelia Cash’s former media advisor to answer questions on how he learnt about the raids
  • The AWU is seeking to shut down an investigation into its donations to GetUp!
  • Senator Cash will give evidence on Friday

David De Garis tipped off the media to the raids in Sydney and Melbourne after the Registered Organisations Commission (ROC) launched an investigation into $100,000 in donations from the AWU to help start up activist group GetUp! in 2006.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten was national secretary of the AWU and also a member of the board of GetUp! at that time.

Mr Shorten was elected to the federal parliament in 2007.

Mr De Garis previously refused to answer questions about who told him of the raids.

“I respectfully decline to answer that question on grounds it’ll incriminate me,” Mr De Garis told the court on Monday.

Jason MacLaurin, his lawyer, told the court Mr De Garis was “just the media officer” and was “not central to the decision-making”.

“There are other witnesses and other documents … he’s far away from the central issue,” Mr MacLaurin said.

But Federal Court Justice Mordecai Bromberg ruled Mr De Garis must answer the questions.

“There appears to have been considerable communications between the Fair Work Ombudsman director of media, Mark Lee — who also worked for the ROC and had been offered work in the Senator’s office — and Mr De Garis,” Justice Bromberg told the court.

In delivering his ruling, Justice Bromberg also acknowledged the AWU’s contention that there was a “close association between Mr De Garis and Mr Lee, [as well as] a work-based relationship of Mr Lee and [Chris] Enright”.

Chris Enright is the executive director of the ROC, and has also been called to give evidence.

When asked today in court, Mr De Garis said he was told by Senator Cash’s chief of staff Ben Davies about the raids before 4:00pm on October 24, 2017.

The two men had a short conversation in Mr Davies’ office at Parliament House in Canberra.

“I honestly don’t recall how … or precisely how long it lasted but he told me the information,” Mr De Garis said.

Mr Davies is also expected to give evidence this week.

Union argues investigation had ‘political purpose’

The civil trial brought by the AWU against the ROC has heard Senator Cash sent two letters of referral to the body — the first on August 15, 2017 and another on August 17, 2017.

Court documents show she raised questions about whether the donation was “in accordance with the AWU’s rules.”

The union contends that the investigation was made “for political purpose”, AWU lawyer Herman Borenstein SC said during the opening of the trial yesterday.

“The investigation was instigated because it was known to [Enright] that there was a political interest in it,” Mr Borenstein said.

“There was a keen political interest on the part of the Senator.

“It was demonstrated in the beginning by the letters, and it’s demonstrated again later in October in making the decision and the media exploitation of the decision after it’s made.”

The AWU is also arguing the ROC did not have the power to investigate events before the organisation came into being in 2017.

The donations to GetUp! and other donations were made between 2006 and 2008.

Senator Cash will give evidence on Friday.

Topics: government-and-politics, federal-government, unions, courts-and-trials, law-crime-and-justice, federal-parliament, parliament, alp, political-parties, liberals, melbourne-3000, vic, australia, canberra-2600, act, perth-6000, wa

First posted February 12, 2019 13:12:43

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