Cash does Turnbull no credit — so why is she not a spent force?

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Time to Cash in your chips, Malcolm (Image via @CFMEUWA)

The Government tale about the AFP raid on the AWU is riddled with holes and looks likely to completely fall apart, says political editor Dr Martin Hirst.

This is looking like a septem diebus for Malcolm Turnbull and the COALition.

While we all await the High Court’s decision later this morning on the Citizenship Seven, the Prime Minister is still hosing down spot fires over the bungling of an AFP raid on the Australian Workers’ Union on Tuesday afternoon.

So far, Fizza Turnbull has refused point blank to demand the resignation of his troubled Employment Minister, Michaela Cash, despite her lame admission in front of the Senate Estimates committee on Wednesday evening that a media advisor had misled her about media leaks prior to the AFP raid.

What a mess Minister Cash has made of what should have been a routine publicity stunt to take the heat off Turnbull over the failure of the NBN roll-out and the damaging story on this farce aired on Monday night’s Four Corners.

We’ve been saying for some time that the Turnbull Government is built on distractions, but now, it seems, it can’t even get this part of its ragged strategy right. Nobody, not even Malcolm Turnbull, I would venture, believes the concoction of obfuscations that has been thrown up, like a smokescreen created from a dumpster fire.

If we run through what we know, it seems fairly obvious that Michaela Cash misled the Senate and did so on five separate occasions — despite being given ample time to get the story straight.

In the end, all the Minister could do was shoot the messenger to keep him quiet.

The raid on the AWU offices in Sydney and Melbourne was ostensibly to look for documents that would incriminate the Union’s national executive in mishandling union funds. The Union maintains it has done nothing wrong, but the Government – via the Registered Organisations Commission – is arguing that a ten-year-old donation the political ginger group, Get Up!, might not have been properly authorised according to union rules.

However, it doesn’t matter to Turnbull that what unions do with their funds, collected from voluntary membership dues, should really only be a matter for them and not interfering political industrial overlords with the bosses’ interests at heart. All the PM wants is a diversionary stick to thump Opposition Leader Bill Shorten over the head with and deflect attention from his own collapsing poll numbers and the fact that a significant proportion of his own front bench now hates him almost as much as the electorate does.

To achieve his goal of deflecting public and media attention away from his dismal performance as Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull has seen fit to embroil the Australian Federal Police and the ROC in this dirty scandal.

Yet, as dirty scandals tend to do, this one began very well.

The AFP officers turned up at the AWU offices late on Tuesday afternoon and, to the surprise of many, a large media contingent was conveniently waiting for them. The authorities had not bothered to tell the AWU the raid was coming, but someone had managed to tip off a large number of journalists. That’s how it should be; it is part of the government’s plan — launch the raid on the designated target just in time for it to be splashed on the evening news bulletins and thereby guarantee any other political story would be buried.

This is exactly what happened. So dramatic was the raid and so giddy are the majority of television news editors that the AWU raid story was still top of the bulletin at lunchtime on Wednesday. So dramatic, in fact, that another planned distraction – the arrest of an alleged terrorist fundraiser – disappeared within hours of the raid on his premises.

By early Wednesday afternoon, it looked like the Government had got away with the deflection and distraction. Unfortunately, someone couldn’t keep a secret and journalists began telling Buzzfeed’s Alice Workman that they had been tipped off by someone in Michaela Cash’s office.

It is unusual for journalists to out a source like they did in this case, but let’s hope that this is a signal that some are finally gaining a conscience in the face of being repeatedly lied to and covering up for the misdeeds of politicians.

Dirty deeds, done Dave cheap

The tip-off occurred an hour before the raid, giving the media plenty of time to get their cameras ready. We now know that the source of the leak from Cash’s office was senior media advisor, David De Garis. He has since resigned.

But where did De Garis get his tip from? So far, all that the Minister has said in response to this very good question is that it came from an unnamed "media source". But this scenario sounds totally implausible: A journalist rings the Minister’s office and tells them about an imminent AFP raid and then the staffer rings around other journalists to tip them off?

For a start, journalists are competitive and getting a scoop like the AFP raid on the AWU offices is not something they are likely to share. Secondly, why would a staffer then call other media outlets to tell them unless he or she felt that there was political mileage to be gained.

Even more unlikely is the idea a staffer, someone as seasoned as De Garis, would not tell his boss and seek their approval before megaphoning the hot tip to other media.

What seems likely, and what may well be proven in coming days, is that De Garis has close links to another media advisor who works in the ROC offices. Such a link – and thus plausible source for De Garis’ information – has been suggested, further digging by the opposition and by journalists may yet firm up this rumour as being very close to the truth of the matter.

The story, as being told so far by the ROC commissioners, is that the AFP raid came about because the Commission itself received an anonymous tip about the possibility of files held at the AWU offices being "tampered" with. But the ROC version is also full of holes. One commissioner told the Estimates committee that the AWU had not complied with an order to produce documents, tthen another one said the Union had complied.

The Registered Organisations Commission is a political weapon of the Turnbull Government and is not, in any real sense, independent of Minister Cash — it is untenable for her to deny any prior knowledge of the AFP raid.

#CashOut or checkmate Turnbull?

It is also untenable that she should hide behind a staff member to protect herself in a situation where convention is clear: If a minister misleads the Parliament, they should resign, or be sacked.

Cash is clearly guilty and this is a political diversion that has backfired horribly.

So she should resign, yet Turnbull spent most of Question Time yesterday defending her. This bungled diversion has blown up in Turnbull’s face, but he is a coward and will not accept any responsibility for the actions of his disgraced minister, nor for any actions of his own.

Turnbull is a prisoner of the hard-right faction in his own party and Michaela Cash is a member of that group. She has the backing of key rightwing ministers and Turnbull knows that in this Seven Days of Hell he is enduring, to dump Cash would be to cut his own throat.

Turnbull has trashed his own credibility and led his Government even further into the shit bucket.

It’s a bucket of his own making — now he has to live with the consequences.

You can follow political editor Dr Martin Hirst on Twitter @ethicalmartini.

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