The Great Union Raid Backfire

The Turnbull government thought they were onto a winner this week when the Australian Federal Police raided both the Sydney and Melbourne offices of the Australian Workers’ Union on Tuesday afternoon on behalf of the Registered Organisations Commission as part of an investigation into a $100,000 AWU donation to GetUp in 2006 when Bill Shorten was the union’s National Secretary.

The political week began with the Australian Electoral Commission moving to have GetUp registered as an associated entity which would require it to disclose its funding. This was after lobbying from conservative MPs such as Eric Abetz for the AEC to do so. GetUp had campaigned successfully against Liberal MPs Sophie Mirabella and Andrew Nikolic and has long been accused of being a Labor/Green front.

The fact that the week began with this news and the AFP raiding a union the next day over a donation to GetUp gave the impression that the government was using the resources at its disposal to persecute their political enemies rather than defeat them in the battle of ideas and activism, not a good look for a democracy. Commentators both on the left and right highlighted that the government had already held two royal commissions into their opponents, one on the pink batts deaths and trade union corruption. Both commissions dragged former Labor Prime Ministers before it.

The purpose of the raid on the AWU was to find out if the donation to GetUp was properly authorized by the union, this appears to be such a minor detail for a government body to investigate. Imagine if federal authorities did this with every single donation made from one political organisation to another? This is the same week in which the AFP was complaining about not having enough resources to stop illicit drug importation.

The whole investigation by Registered Organisations Commission was authorised by the Employment Minister Michaelia Cash, it was a body established by the Turnbull Government to go after the union movement. The Labor Party claims of politically motivated witchunt certainly do hold muster. It has correctly been pointed out Labor could do the same thing when they are next in government by going after right-leaning organisations such as the Institute of Public Affairs.

The government hoped that the raids would embarrass Bill Shorten but the ordinary person on the street would not think it really that scandalous that a union would donate to a left-wing activist group. Bill Shorten had already survived the Trade Union Royal Commission so it is hard to see why the government thought they could still cause him political damage about his time at the AWU.

The raids have now spectacularly backfired on the Turnbull Government as it has been confirmed as was speculated at the time that the media was tipped off about the raids by a staffer in Michaelia Cash’s office. What is even worse is yesterday afternoon Michaelia Cash told a Senate Estimates hearing five times that she or no one in her office tipped off the media about the raids and that the first time she heard about it was on television.

She came back in the evening to state that her media advisor had indeed tipped off the media about the raids and only told her then and had now resigned. This staffer had been in the room when Cash denied to Malcolm Turnbull that the media were tipped off about the raids which would demonstrate that Cash did not exercise due diligence with regard to her staff or is still not being completely honest.

It is hard to see how Michaelia Cash survives as a Cabinet Minister as misleading the parliament is a sackable offense in the Westminster system. Malcolm Turnbull in Question Time today has stood by her and her record as a Minister but the fallout from her statements to the Senate yesterday will only continue and cause even greater political damage. It would mean that Turnbull would lose a second female Cabinet Minister this year which does help the case for affirmative action in the Liberal Party.

This whole saga demonstrates that the Turnbull Government is obviously getting desperate with its attacks on the Opposition and Bill Shorten that they have to go after a donation that was made over a decade ago. It is also has called into question the political judgement of one of the government’s most high profile Ministers and maybe even the Prime Minister himself. It is a mess of the government’s own making, drawn attention away from its agenda and given Labor a golden political opportunity.