Thursday, 14 February 2019
Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers
Minister for Small and Family Business, Skills and Vocational Education
That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Minister for Small and Family Business, Skills and Vocational Education (Senator Cash) and the Minister for Finance and the Public Service (Senator Cormann) to questions without notice asked by Opposition senators today relating to the execution of a search warrant on Australian Workers' Union premises.
Let me start where Senator Cormann finished. He indicated that the Prime Minister had confidence in Senator Cash, and then he went on to say that she was an outstanding minister. Let me say that if the Prime Minister has confidence in this failed minister, it's another demonstration that the Prime Minister we have in office now is not up to the job—not up to the job! As far as Senator Cash being an outstanding minister goes, let me remind you, Madam Deputy President, of some of the positions that have developed under Senator Cash in her various ministerial portfolios.
Firstly, she was the minister responsible for the ABCC when the Commissioner of the ABCC, Nigel Hadgkiss—another disgraced public servant—was forced to resign because he breached the laws that he was supposed to uphold. Senator Cash defended this disgraced public servant. This minister allowed a position to continue where, after it became public knowledge that he had breached the act that he was overseeing, she allowed him to continue in that position. And then when he was finally forced to resign, what did she do? She authorised, basically, a golden handshake for him to go away. That's the outstanding position that we heard from Senator Cormann in talking about Senator Cash.
Senator Cash is a disgraced minister. She is an incompetent minister—
Senator Macdonald, you can intervene all you like, but this is a minister who has just got no idea about how she should operate and what the position is that she should be undertaking to tell the truth in this place. On at least seven occasions before question time she clearly refused to answer questions about her behaviour when it comes to her ministerial responsibilities. That went on again and again during this question time.
Here we have a minister where two of her senior staff are now clearly implicated—clearly indicating that they breached criminal law in this country—and yet Senator Cash comes in here and tries to wave it all away, based on public interest immunity. It is an absolute nonsense. This minister needs to tell the truth. She needs to tell the truth and come clean in this place. She needs to go to court tomorrow and tell the truth, because she has continually refused to do that in this place. She's not bad when she's up there haranguing union officials for breaching right-of-entry provisions, yet her staff are engaged in criminal activity on her watch. She is hopeless, she is incompetent and she should resign. That's what Senator Cash should do. She should resign. She is a disgrace to the ministry of any government. She is a disgrace even in this disgraceful government—a government that is an absolute rabble.
Government senators interjecting—
This minister epitomises the rabble that this government is—a government that is on its knees, a government that's on its way out. This is a government that is incompetent, a government that would cover up. It's spending millions of dollars of taxpayers' money covering up for Senator Cash's incompetence and deceitful approach on this issue. If she won't go, then the Prime Minister should grow a backbone and sack her.
A point of order. He is reflecting on a senator. What he is saying is untruthful. It's an absolute lie. I do not know Eddie Obeid. I have never had any engagement with the man. So he should withdraw.
Thank you, Deputy President. Senator Cameron says that I have maligned a senator when he has just finished five minutes of deliberately and personally attacking and telling untruths about a senior minister in this government.
Senator Macdonald, resume your seat. I'm not taking any more points of order, thank you, Senator Watt. I asked for respectful debate. I also reminded the chamber to be mindful of the comments made when other senators were speaking. I didn't name anyone when I made that request. And I am respectfully asking you to withdraw the comments that you made directly to Senator Cameron, Senator Macdonald.
Madam Deputy President, if you are directing me to, I will. If you are asking me to in the spirit of whatever you're talking about and you didn't apply the same standard to Senator Cameron's attack, then I won't. I need your guidance. Are you directing me?
Senator Cameron's disgraceful attack is on a female minister—a female minister. You'll notice the style of the attack of the Labor Party. Two of the—I would call them bullyboys, although I know that's out of action—hard men of the union movement in the Labor Party, Senator Cameron and Senator Watt, are continually attacking a female minister. They're followed up by Senator Wong, who is an advocate for the ACTU and was involved in an incident at the front door of this parliament when the parliamentary front doors were knocked down before she was in this parliament. These are the people that are attacking Senator Cash—without, I might say, any interruption from the chair. Senator Cameron can give it out, but he can't take it back.
Let me be very clear on what this is all about. This is an attack by the Labor Party on one of the most effective ministers, who continually exposed the graft and corruption within the Labor Party, and they don't like it. She continually exposes the graft and corruption in the union movement, and their mates over there don't like it. If you look at this carefully, this is an action taken by the AWU against the Registered Organisations Commission, who made a decision to investigate the donations by the AWU to GetUp! of $100,000 when Mr Bill Shorten was involved in GetUp! and looking at a further donation from the AWU of $40,000 to Mr Bill Shorten's campaign. That's what this is all about. This isn't about a police raid. This has nothing to do with Senator Cash. This investigation was started by the independent Registered Organisations Commission against the AWU. The leaking that is the subject of the Labor Party's disdain happened three or four days after the decision had been made by the independent organisation to investigate the AWU. It had nothing to do with the leak, but the Labor Party are determined to muddy the waters, to make sure that nobody understands the real purpose of this whole action, which was to investigate Mr Bill Shorten and the $100,000 given to GetUp! when he was involved as a director of GetUp! and to also look at what's alleged to be the improper gift by the AWU of some $40,000 to Mr Shorten's campaign when he first was elected to this chamber.
This is a disgraceful attack by the Labor Party on a female minister, one who has the courage and fortitude to expose the graft and corruption that happens within the Labor Party and the union movement. They don't like it. They will do anything to challenge it. I'm surprised that the judge has even heard the evidence in this case before the court at the moment. I can only look with some wonder at what Senator Kimberley Kitching said. She said in relation to the Bolt case that she knew this same judge, Bromberg, through the Labor Party. He unsuccessfully ran for Labor preselection. He's an active ALP person. He was active enough that he was in a faction. He ran for preselection.
Thank you, Madam Deputy President. I appreciate your protection, because this is Senator Kimberley Kitching, a Labor senator, who said that she was surprised that Justice Bromberg would hear the Bolt case because she knew that he had certain views on Mr Bolt and on the subject that he was talking about. She was surprised that Justice Bromberg didn't excuse himself from that case. One wonders why he's dealing with this case.
Some days in this parliament it's hard to believe the nonsense that we're asked to swallow by those on other side. This is a divided, dysfunctional, deceptive government—and we saw that in full strength today here in the parliament—with a minister, who's usually pretty free and flowing with her language, who today did everything she could to continue to avoid answering any questions about her responsibility as a minister in this government. We see this party across the chamber from us fighting amongst themselves, but they seem to be united in a class action of support for Minister Cash and her web, which I can only describe as 'a web of fiction', around what really went on as many as, I think, 480 days ago—
Four hundred and seventy-eight days ago, Minister Cash was forced to come in to the Senate, to a committee, and say: 'Whoops, I made a pretty big mistake'—she didn't call it a lie—'I made a bit of a mistake. Somebody in my staff didn't tell me the truth.' Well, you know what's been going on for the last 480 days? This minister has not been telling us the truth. Ordinary Australians out there, who aren't like this government, who don't have intimate relations with the top end of town, need great unions to look after them, and, for this government, it sticks in their craw. This is all happening in here today because this divided, out-of-touch, dysfunctional government sought to use the power of government to set up the ROC and, through the ROC, exercise a raid on a union.
But it wasn't good enough that they could abuse the power of government; they decided that they needed some pretty good pictures as well. So what we're seeing now is a court that's actually revealing some of the truth that Minister Cash has been attempting to hide from this parliament. But ordinary people around the country know that there's no way that she wouldn't have known what was going on. She was in on it—everybody knows that. This has been going on for 480 days, and, despite the number of questions that have been put to her today, she just keeps going back to statements she made in the past. One thing I learnt when I was growing up is that, if you tell lies all the time, you'll never remember the truth; you'll never be able to remember what really went on. She cannot tell the truth. She cannot tell the truth, so she's relying on written records of the construction that she's attempted to put before the Senate today.
I thank the senator for his comment, even though it wasn't a valid point of order, because the reality is that it gives me the chance to put on the record that we went to extraordinary lengths on multiple occasions, through committees and in this chamber, to give Senator Cash the opportunity to tell the truth. We've given her the opportunity. We voted here yesterday to give her five special minutes of question time to come in and put a straight statement to this chamber.
What we know is that, as a cabinet minister, Senator Cash has to make choices around probity and the right thing to do. For 480 days she's been avoiding coming clean and telling the whole story about what's been going on with her office. We've had a suspicion—Australians aren't stupid; they understand like we do—that there's something not right about what she's been saying.
She gave evidence in a committee that she'd had a one-sentence conversation with the Prime Minister when he called her to his office to brief him before he went into parliament about this matter. One sentence from Senator Cash to the Prime Minister? You've got to be joking! She told us that it was a media source that gave the information. We've found out in the last couple of days that that is not the truth. In terms of what we've been finding out as the week's gone on, pretty well everything the senator has been saying is not the truth. We knew, and this week is confirming, that it's a long way between what the minister has decided to tell this parliament and what really went on in her office. I believe it will be proven very, very soon that she has undertaken the most egregious dereliction of her responsibilities as a minister of the Crown. (Time expired)
I rise to contribute to this waste of taxpayers' money, this political game that is being played here. We learnt years ago that the best form of defence is to attack. That's an old saying and probably a very good one. Those opposite are defending the inquiry into the money from AustralianSuper. Quite amazingly, I got an email from AustralianSuper just last week. They're upping their fees. I'm with AustralianSuper. I didn't have any super before I came to this place. They've done a pretty good job, but I've managed most of it myself—thank goodness. But where does their money go? The inquiry is into $100,000 that went from AustralianSuper to GetUp!. What is GetUp!? What actually is the organisation GetUp!? We know what GetUp! is. It's a not-for-profit, left-wing, Labor-supporting, union-supporting publicity group. Their political agenda is to promote the Left of politics in this nation and, what's more, they do it very well. They're well-funded, and we want to know why this $100,000 went from AustralianSuper to GetUp!. Who was the originator? Who set up GetUp!? What did Mr Bill Shorten have to do with setting up GetUp!?
Senator Watt says that I'm showing it's politically motivated—'politically motivated' or just prepared to get anyone you can, with anyone's money, to team up behind your political campaign?
Senator Watt is obviously paying attention. Perhaps he might be able to answer this question for me—through you, Madam Deputy President. In 2007, AustralianSuper donated $27,500 to the Australian Workers' Union. Who were the directors of AustralianSuper at that time? Senator Watt might not be aware who the directors of AustralianSuper were at that time. Let me give him some names. Does 'Greg Combet' refresh Senator Watt's memory? He was a minister in a Labor government. He was a director of AustralianSuper. Mr Bill Shorten, the current opposition leader, was a director, in 2007, of AustralianSuper. Another name, someone I referred to in my valedictory yesterday, is one Senator Doug Cameron. He was a director of AustralianSuper.
What did AustralianSuper do? They donated $27,500 to the Australian Workers' Union. What did the union do? The union registered it on the Electoral Commission website as a donation. Why would an industry super fund be donating to the Australian Workers' Union? They registered it as a donation and, within weeks, the Australian Workers' Union made a donation of $25,000. To who? Senator Brown's listening very carefully. I wonder who they donated $25,000 to? They donated it to the election campaign of Mr Bill Shorten. That's very odd, isn't it? A cynic would say, 'What's going on here?' We have an industry super fund donating money to the AWU, which Mr Bill Shorten is very much a part of. He was a director of AustralianSuper, along with Greg Combet and Senator Cameron. Twenty-seven and a half thousand dollars goes to the Australian Workers' Union, listed as a donation, and, within weeks, $25,000 from the Australian Workers' Union goes off to the campaign fund for Mr Bill Shorten to come into parliament.
Sheer coincidence. Exactly, Senator Molan.
When this came out in the media 10 years later—remember that this was 2007—the Australian Workers' Union changed it on the website from 'donation' to 'other'. What is 'other'? Other what? So this is why this is being investigated. Should it be investigated? Of course it should be investigated. Those opposite with their huge ties to GetUp! and the union movement are probably very embarrassed by what I've been saying now. So what are they doing? They've decided: 'We'll attack the minister. We'll go with this line of attack on the minister.' It's to blanket out and cover up what the Registered Organisations Commission is actually doing. What a good way to attack and defend. The best way to defend is to attack. That's what they're doing to Minister Cash. I can tell you now, Madam Deputy President, it will not work.
I also rise to take note of the answers to questions from Senators Cameron, Keneally and me this afternoon. We've seen yet another display of desperation and fear and smear from this government. We see it day in and day out. They've tried it in the House of Representatives and the Senate by whipping up this fear campaign about asylum seekers and boats. I just had a look at a great cartoon in my own state's Courier-Mail today where the cartoonist has drawn the Prime Minister, Mr Morrison, out on the beach with a big sign about boats, saying, 'Where the bloody hell are you?', encouraging asylum seekers and encouraging people smugglers to put people onto boats. They have the big fear campaign going on about boats and are inventing all sorts of stories about that. Then, in here, with Senator Cash, we have the continual cover-up of what she and her office were up to in seeking to denigrate the reputation of the opposition leader, even if that required illegal tactics.
I was reflecting on the day that this whole sorry scandal with Senator Cash first blew up back in estimates 478 days ago. I remember that, heading into that week of estimates, on the opposition side we were preparing to ask Senator Cash lots of questions about the latest scandal involving her hand-picked head of the ABCC, Nigel Hadgkiss. Then—what do you know?—along came a police raid to try to distract attention from the trouble she was in. Hasn't that blown up in her face? Another smear campaign from Senator Cash and another desperate attempt to distract from her problems with the ABCC has actually extended to being a 478-day scandal which has enveloped this government and her office.
What we've learned from question time and Minister Cash's statement today is that, yet again, she wants to rely on this argument that she doesn't know anything about the evidence that has been given in the court case this week by her former staffer. She has her eyes covered. She is apparently not reading any newspapers or any of the media reports about it. Apparently none of her media advisers are telling her about the reports, which are all through the media, about the evidence being given by a former staffer of hers which puts her in a very bad light. But she doesn't know about that, just like she apparently didn't know about the leak in the first place.
In answer to a number of questions, she has refused to comment on various propositions that have been put to her by the opposition today, which only makes you wonder why. Senator Cameron asked whether she was the source of the leak. The answer from Senator Cash was: 'I can't possibly comment on that. I'm not going to confirm that.' In answer to a question from Senator Keneally about whether then-Prime Minister Turnbull's office asked her office to leak this information to the media, she said, 'I can't comment on that. It's too sensitive. I've got to claim privilege. I'm going to claim an immunity. I'm not going to give an answer on that.' In answer to a question from me about the shocking evidence which came out yesterday in court where her former senior media adviser admitted that he had deleted text messages sent between him and a staff member in Minister Keenan's office where they conspired to leak this police information and whether she directed her staff to delete text messages, what did Senator Cash do? She said, 'I'm not going to talk about that. I can't possibly talk about that.'
So we have all sorts of legitimate questions here based on evidence that has been given to a court this week by members of Senator Cash's own staff that she is re fusing to answer, clearly leaving open the possibility that she has directed her staff to delete text messages, that she did get a direction from then-Prime Minister Turnbull's office to leak this information and that, in fact, she was the very source of this leak in the first place.
But, as I say, if we've got to a point where staff members are deleting text messages between themselves that involve leaking police information to the media, potentially at the direction of a minister, that just shows you the level of desperation that this government has come to. It was also very revealing today that Senator Cash on multiple occasions clearly tried to put distance between herself and her former staff. She is clearly throwing her former staff under the bus and expecting them to take the fall for this whole sorry saga. It's like a scene of criminals pointing the finger at each other, splitting off, trying to save their own skin. That's what we have happening here between Senator Cash and her former staff members. All are blaming each other, and she is chief among them in trying to put her own former staff fairly and squarely in the middle of this and to make sure it has nothing to do with her. Again, this is just the latest example from a government that has run out of ideas, a desperate government that only has fear and smear. Bring on the election.
Question agreed to.