AFP union raids, GetUp, Cash and Turnbull's 21 pesky polls in a row

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ACTU Secretary Sally McManus and AWU Secretary Daniel Walton say AFP raids 'an abuse of power'. (Screen shot via @sallymcmanus)

Facing questions about the NBN and his ongoing lacklustre performance in the polls, Turnbull assumed the fail-safe position of blaming the unions and Labor, deputy editor Michelle Pini reports.

FOR SOMEONE with such a dismal record of achievement in office, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is nothing if not resilient.

Facing questions about his admission of the failure of his second-rate version NBN, nearing a possible disastrous outcome over Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce’s citizenship and with growing rumblings of a leadership spill after the 21st abysmal Newspoll in a row, Turnbull did not run or hide.

No, he did the next best thing. Pointing to a new shiny thing in the distance, Prime Minister Turnbull did what any master of spin in damage control would do — he created a distraction.

Yesterday, the under-resourced Australian Federal Police (AFP) raided the offices of the Australian Workers Union (AWU), looking for clues of – wait for it – 11-year-old political donations to none other than the scary GetUp. No, really.

And what better distraction than to demonise the unions (yawn) again?

According to the ABC:

The raids are part of an investigation into payments made when Opposition Leader Bill Shorten was secretary. 

The AFP issued a statement confirming it was carrying out the raids in Melbourne and Sydney on behalf of the Registered Organisations Commission (ROC), the independent regulator of unions and employer associations.

The investigation relates to whether donations made to activist group GetUp and to Federal Labor campaigns were authorised under union rules. 

In a statement, the ROC confirmed it launched the sudden raids because it was concerned evidence could be "concealed or destroyed".

Turnbull was quick to direct the media frenzy by announcing that the Australian Workers' Union and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten have "questions to answer".

SBS reported the following comments from the PM:

"The AWU should comply with the law," Malcolm Turnbull told reporters in the NSW town of Sutton on Wednesday.

"The AWU has got questions to answer, Bill Shorten has questions to answer."

Apparently, the earlier Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption and the re-establishment of the ABCC – for which a double dissolution election was called – failed to answer the vital question of a public donation (ten years ago) to the community organisation. 

Just days earlier, Attorney General George Brandis told the Senate Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee that he considered the “remuneration” Bruce Billson received from a lobby group as a government minister was fine, as it is: 

"... both consistent and commonplace for politicians to receive remuneration from third parties."


So, to recap, politicians being paid by external, profit organisations while on the public payroll is perfectly legitimate and doesn't raise questions of corruption, but unions donating money to not-for-profit community organisations require Federal investigation.

Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) Secretary Sally McManus said workers had a right to donate money to any political campaign.

Ms McManus said:

"That is called democracy … I am entirely confident everything is fine and the Australian people will find this out and everyone should be angry about the fact that resources have been used to raid union officers."

ACTU Secretary Sally McManus and AWU Secretary Daniel Walton discuss the raids. (Source: facebook.com/sally.mcmanus)

GetUp National Director Paul Oosting told IA in a statement that receipt of a $100,000 "very public" donation from the Australian Workers' Union, in the 2005-2006 financial year, had already been acknowledged, saying the

 ... raids were yet another example of the Federal Government’s crackdown on organisations, experts and the community who are standing up for everyday Australians.  

This is part of a pattern from this Government trying to silence its critics or anyone who challenges it.

During Question Time today, Senator Michaelia Cash denied accusations of tipping off the media circus that preceded the AFP raids of AWU offices, claiming she "wasn't given advanced notice".

With 21 disastrous polls and the vultures circling, perhaps attempting to silence critics isn't working so well for the embattled PM.

UPDATE: After repeatedly denying allegations (in Parliament) that her office tipped off the media ahead of AFP raids, Senator Michaelia Cash has now changed her story, saying a member of her staff has admitted to the leak and resigned.

You can follow deputy editor Michelle Pini on Twitter @vmp9


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