Labor senator Doug Cameron grilled Senator Cash today, saying he had been advised the staffer had already made the decision to leave the office before resigning.
“Is it possible he took a bullet for the team and yourself?” Senator Cameron asked.
“No,” Senator Cash replied.
The Minister praised the former adviser for confessing, and said she did not believe any other staff were aware of the leak.
“It is actually very brave of him to also come forward and to admit his mistake and lose his employment as a result of what he did,” Senator Cash said.
Journalists were tipped off about Australian Federal Police raids on Australian Workers Union offices in Melbourne and Sydney on Tuesday.
Senator Cash told the committee she asked the Registered Organisations Commission to consider referring the leaks to the federal police.
“I do not have the power to direct you in relation to such a matter, however one course of action which I would ask you to consider is referring the matter to the Australian Federal Police,” Senator Cash said, reading from her letter.
Labor is calling on Senator Cash to resign or Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to sack her.
She insists she hasn’t considered quitting, but refused to say if that possibility had been discussed when she met with Turnbull this morning.
“I’m not going to canvas the ins and outs of the discussions I’ve had with the Prime Minister,” Senator Cash said.
She stood by her evidence yesterday, which Labor says amounts to misleading parliament five times.
“All evidence provided to me in relation to the questions that you asked me were based on my knowledge at the time,” Senator Cash said.
The adviser told Senator Cash he got the information from a “media source”, but declined to elaborate.
Senator Cash said she assured Turnbull yesterday afternoon she did not personally contact journalists, but there was no discussion about her staff’s actions.
“I think the Prime Minister at that stage was concerned as to whether or not I had tipped off the media and I assured him that I had not,” she said.
Labor says Senator Cash’s later explanation, in which she continued to deny prior knowledge of the raids, is unconvincing.
“It defies belief your staff can watch you mislead the Senate five times,” opposition frontbencher Tony Burke told Sky News.
“If the best she’s got is total incompetence she has to go.”
The Government sent out senior ministers Christopher Pyne, Christian Porter and Mathias Cormann to defend their cabinet colleague and dismiss calls for her resignation.
“We are not going to be lectured by the Labor Party about the Westminster system of government,” Pyne told reporters in Canberra.
“The reality is Michaelia Cash told the Senate the truth and as soon as she found out she’d been misled, she corrected the record.”
Senator Cormann insisted Senator Cash had acted entirely appropriately.
“As soon as her information and her knowledge changed, she disclosed it at the earliest opportunity,” he told Sky News.
Crossbench senator Nick Xenophon is prepared to take Senator Cash at her word.
“In my dealings with Senator Cash she’s always been pretty straight up and down with me,” he told ABC radio, adding the Labor call for her resignation was not reasonable.
But he said an independent inquiry was needed to determine how information about the raids was leaked.
Crossbench colleague David Leyonhjelm told reporters the Minister’s admission was not a “hanging offence”.
The Australian Federal Police raided the AWU offices after the Registered Organisations Commission gained a warrant from a magistrate, amid concerns documents could be destroyed.
Following a referral by Senator Cash, the commission has been investigating the legitimacy of the AWU’s $100,000 donation to activist group GetUp! in 2005 when Labor leader Bill Shorten ran the union.
The Australian Workers’ Union has lodged a freedom of information request with the office of Senator Cash to try and determine exactly when she learned about police raids on the union’s offices in Sydney and Melbourne.
AWU national secretary Daniel Walton said today the union had requested any correspondence between Cash, her office and the Registered Organisations Commission, in addition to any correspondence between the minister and relevant staff members. This could include any text messages, emails and phone lists.
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