Attempts by lawyers to prove that Australian Federal Police (AFP) raids on the Australian Workers’ Union (AWU) offices last year were a politically motivated saga, may have reached a turning point.
Last Thursday, 11 January, was the date a Federal Court order stipulated that key subpoena documents relating to the investigation which led to the raid be handed over to the AWU.
The union’s legal representatives at Maurice Blackburn Lawyers want an investigation initiated by the Registered Organisations Commission (ROC) into the AWU dismissed. The ROC, a regulator established to look into unions, is investigating whether donations the AWU made to political activist group GetUp and federal Labor campaigns were authorised under union rules.
Turnbull government minister Michaelia Cash had asked the ROC to consider investigating the contributions.
The union has also launched separate proceedings against the AFP.
Maurice Blackburn principal Josh Bornstein described last year’s raid on the AWU as “disgraceful” and said that requests for relevant documents and records between key parties had been actively refused.
“We first requested all documents, including records of phone calls, between Minister Cash and her office and the ROC in October,” Mr Bornstein said.
“Since that time, at every turn we have seen Turnbull government Minister Michaelia Cash, the ROC and others involved in this matter seek to thwart scrutiny of their role in the disgraceful raids on the AWU by federal police.”
In December the Federal Court made an order to compel Senator Cash and other key parties to disclose copies of documents and correspondence to the AWU.
Senator Cash faced criticism in the weeks the followed the raid, following reports that a staffer at her office had tipped off the media beforehand. After strenuously denying claims that media had been tipped off by an insider, the minister was forced to apologise when it emerged staffer David De Garis had indeed leaked information about the pending raid.
“The union’s case challenges the legality of the raids conducted on the offices of the AWU and alleges an unlawful political motivation for the ROC’s investigation, at the request of Minister Cash,” Mr Bornstein said.
“The court has also recognised that after these documents are produced to the AWU, it may be appropriate for the union to seek further relevant documents from these parties,” he said.
Mr Bornstein added that he court criticised reliability of information provided by the Fair Work Ombudsman to the Federal Court.
“If the minister, her former advisor and the ROC have nothing to hide in this matter, then why seek to take every avenue possible to block access to documents?” he said.
The matter is due to return to court for an interlocutory hearing next week.