The police probe – which did not yield any charges – related to raids on the Melbourne offices of the Australian Workers’ Union in October 2017. News of the imminent raids was leaked to the media by Senator Cash’s former staffer David De Garis, resulting in TV cameras being in place to document the event.
The raids were conducted to look for documents relating to donations the union made to activist group GetUp in the 2005/06 financial year when Labor leader Bill Shorten was the union’s secretary.
It was revealed at a Senate estimates inquiry that Senator Cash and Mr Keenan refused to be interviewed by the AFP in relation to the leaks, and twice refused to provide formal witness statements.
The documents provided to the Senate show both ministers took five weeks to provide any written statement to investigators. Meanwhile, five of Mr Keenan’s staff members refused to provide any statement at all, despite being asked by police.
The AFP first asked to speak to Senator Cash and Mr Keenan on March 16, 2018, regarding the leaks, “with a view to obtaining a witness statement”.
Six weeks later, on April 27, Senator Cash provided a two paragraph statement via an email attachment referring AFP deputy commissioner Leanne Close to evidence Senator Cash had already given to a Senate inquiry on the matter.
Mr Keenan provided a three paragraph statement on April 20 in which he told investigators his office had dealt with the execution of the AWU search warrants “in the usual way”.
The Department of Home Affairs, which is responsible for the AFP, told the Senate, “Five members of Minister Keenan’s office who were asked to provide statements did not do so”.
Public prosecutors received a brief of evidence from the AFP but felt there was no reasonable prospect of a conviction and declined to press charges. The Commonwealth Solicitor, Andrea Pavleka, has said the lack of witness statements was an “important factor” in this decision.
Taxpayers are still incurring fresh legal costs related to the matter because the AWU has taken the ROC to court to try to quash the investigation into its 2005/06 donations to GetUp, arguing it is politically motivated.
Senator Cash, as employment minister in 2017, had asked the ROC to consider investigating whether the AWU’s donations to GetUp had been properly approved under the union’s rules.
Liberal senator Eric Abetz also made a referral to the ROC to consider examining the issue.
Labor described the subsequent investigation as a “witch hunt” against Mr Shorten, and has vowed to abolish the ROC if it wins the May 18 election.
Senator Cash and Mr Keenan have consistently denied any knowledge of the leaks about the raids, and have said they fully co-operated with the AFP investigation.
The documents provided to the Senate were in response to questions on notice from Labor senators Murray Watt and Louise Pratt.
Michael Koziol is a political correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.