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Michaelia Cash, invalid union raids and 'Ensuring Integrity' legislation

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Senator Michaelia Cash faces scrutiny for unreasonable union raids (Image via cfmeuorg.au)

With the Federal Court ruling that there were "no reasonable grounds" for the 2017 union raids, Labor has called for the Registered Organisations Commission to be shut down. William Olson reports.

SHADOW MINISTER FOR INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS TONY BURKE has labelled the October 2017 union raids, following investigations into the Australian Workers Union (AWU), as both invalid and politically motivated, with key legislative action beckoning.

Moreover, Burke has called for the shutting down of the Registered Organisations Commission (ROC) — the body which first investigated the AWU prior to raids carried out by the Australian Federal Police (AFP). This comes just weeks away from the Federal Parliament voting on the Coalition-sponsored Ensuring Integrity and Workers Benefits bills, alleged to be aimed at stifling union activity.

On Friday, the Federal Court found that there were “no reasonable grounds” for the investigation into AWU donations to political action group GetUp over ten years prior. Justice Mordecai Bromberg concluded that the ROC’s actions were 'based on suspicion' and that it 'did not act reasonably'.

As such, Justice Bromberg’s ruling has taken another step towards all but confirming what many observers – not the least of which include Burke and those within the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) – possess strong opinions about: that the Morrison government is hell-bent on breaking up the union movement.

Burke said after the Federal Court’s ruling came down:

What little credibility the Registered Organisations Commission still had has been shredded by this finding.

It’s a politicised and discredited body set up by the Liberals for the sole purpose of attacking unions — the organisations that fight for better wages and safer workplaces.

And yet Scott Morrison and the Liberals are right now seeking to give the ROC sweeping new powers to attack unions through its so-called “Ensuring Integrity” legislation. 

We should be shutting down the ROC over its role in this scandal — not giving it more power.

The Morrison Government will be relying on legislative means to carry out its attacks on the union movement, now that this particular judicial attempt has failed.

The ACTU charges that the ROC would be receiving more powers if the Ensuring Integrity Bill and Workers Benefits Bill are passed.

It is clear that between those two bills, the ACTU has earmarked the Ensuring Integrity Bill as the one which may potentially harbour more damaging consequences for their campaigns and day-to-day activities.

ACTU Secretary Sally McManus said:

“This raid wasn’t justified and was used as a political weapon by staff in two Ministerial offices. If the Ensuring Integrity Bill becomes law, the same Registered Organisations Commission who organised these discredited raids, will be given the power over a union’s very existence." 

The AWU, meanwhile, can celebrate the court’s ruling.

“This has been an exhausting, resource-draining and distracting process for our union, but it's a vital part of democracy that the actions of public agencies can and should be held to account,” said Daniel Walton, the AWU’s national secretary.

“We were determined to bring the facts in this case to light and that has taken a huge effort. When our union is attacked, when our members’ interests are attacked, we will always push back,” added Walton.

The AWU raids – done simultaneously on the union’s Sydney and Melbourne offices, following the ROC’s initial investigations – were carried out in an attempt to discredit former Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten

In doing so, the desired result was to establish that a conflict of interest was afoot over Shorten’s donations to GetUp, when he was the head of the AWU and then elevated to GetUp’s board of directors prior to launching his initial bid into the arena of Federal politics as the Member for Maribrynong in Victoria.

They were done under the auspices of Michaelia Cash, who at the time was the employment minister under former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and then-Justice Minister Michael Keenan.

While Keenan’s ministry was indirectly affected and implicated in the raids – only in that his ministry oversees the AFP, who carried out the raids – Cash faced great scrutiny for her perceived role in the affair. And Cash did everything she could to avoid that scrutiny, and any questioning by media and federal police while she was at it. Cash went as far as hiding behind whiteboards, not turning up to related media conferences, not giving witness statements to the AFP on two occasions and eventually proclaiming that while she had ordered the investigation, she knew nothing about the raids.

It has been widely reported that Cash ultimately found out about the raids by seeing them unfold on the evening news — made possible as media members had been tipped off by senior media adviser David De Garis from her own office. Media in Sydney and Melbourne even turned up to the respective cities’ AWU offices before the AFP officers did, such was the degree of the leak.

De Garis later resigned over his actions in the incidents, although the AFP never laid any charges with respect to the leaks.

In the aftermath and analysis of Justice Bromberg’s ruling, not only are both sides claiming victory and exoneration, each stakes its opinion onto the level of guilt that Cash had in the episode. Cash’s Coalition colleagues claim that she has won her innocence. Meanwhile, Burke, his Labor Party brethren and the ACTU all maintain that Cash deserves to have her record tarnished due to the Federal Court ruling.

But despite who is claiming victory and conversely pointing blaming fingers for losing the case, the big question remains upon what may happen in Parliament with the upcoming industrial relations bills. 

According to McManus:

The so-called Ensuring Integrity Bill must be opposed. It will allow unprecedented harassment of unions and the people workers elect to lead them. It will give employers more power at a time when wage theft is rampant, pay rises are nowhere to be seen and too many people are forced into insecure work.

 

The Morrison Government’s only plan to address these issues is to ramp up their attacks on unions. Make no mistake, this Government, some of their donors and some employers would love to get unions out of the way so they can have free reign.

William Olson is a freelance journalist and hospitality professional. You can follow William on Twitter @DeadSexyWaiter.

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