darren.chester.mp@aph.gov.au 1300 131 785
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Subject: Federal police raids.

KIERAN GILBERT:

With me now another Cabinet Minister, Darren Chester. Thanks for your time. Can, in your view, Michaelia Cash survive as a Minister, given the very clear misleading of the Parliament last night?

DARREN CHESTER:

Well, good morning, and first of all can I say Michaelia Cash has been a very effective Minister for the Turnbull Government and will continue to be so. Now, there’s no question that an error of judgement has occurred and the staff member yesterday came forward and indicated to his boss that he’d made that mistake, and he resigned. Now, this is unfortunate, obviously it’s unfortunate. It distracts from the key issue around why those raids were taking place in the first place, but it’s not the first time this sort of thing has occurred.  Back in 2012, one of Julie Gillard’s senior advisors resigned after tipping off protestors about Tony Abbott’s whereabouts which led to those Australia Day protests. At that time, Prime Minister Gillard said it was unauthorised and unacceptable, but Prime Minister Gillard continued to serve and the advisor resigned from that position.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Isn’t this about misleading Parliament though?

DARREN CHESTER:

No, it’s about an error of judgement which occurred by a staff member to tip off the media about those raids. It was unfortunate. There is no question that it is unfortunate, but in terms of Michaelia Cash…

KIERAN GILBERT:

It’s more than unfortunate. It’s pretty ugly, isn’t it? I mean, you had the Minister – you heard, the viewers saw her comment last night: emphatic denial, no-one in the office, it’s offensive. The Government needs to be responsible to the Senate and the House of Representatives. This is parliamentary democracy, isn’t it?

DARREN CHESTER:

Well, absolutely, and the Minister did not know at the time she made that statement that one of her staff members had been in contact with the media ahead of those raids. So, I think her position is completely in accordance with ministerial responsibilities in the sense that once she knew that the statement she’d made was incorrect, she corrected the record immediately. Now, Michaelia Cash is an outstanding Minister. The Labor Party frankly will do every stunt they can today to try and discredit her, because they’re scared of her.

KIERAN GILBERT:

But aren’t they also…

DARREN CHESTER:

They’re scared of Michaelia Cash because she’s such an effective Minister…

KIERAN GILBERT:

Well, she might’ve been effective, but …

DARREN CHESTER:

And she’ll continue to be effective.

KIERAN GILBERT:

But isn’t the problem here, well, the Westminster tradition and our tradition of ministerial accountability is basically dead if she is able to continue as Minister?

DARREN CHESTER:

We can’t rewrite these things and traditions of responsibility and put our own spin on it because it suits our particular argument. The bottom line is if a Minister doesn’t know about the events which have transpired and makes a statement, and then finds out after that event that the information she’d given …

KIERAN GILBERT:

From one of her closest advisors.

DARREN CHESTER:

And then finds out after the event that the information she gave the Senate was incorrect and then corrects the record, what else is she supposed to do?

KIERAN GILBERT:

This isn’t some media liaison officer from the Department of Workplace Relations, this is one of her senior advisors, would’ve been with her all day.

DARREN CHESTER:

But Kieran, let’s just understand a typical Ministerial day in this place. Now, Michaelia’s diary will be something like mine: she’d have between 10 and 15 meetings, probably half hour intervals. She’ll probably do three or four media interviews with people like yourself, maybe make a couple of speeches in the house or to different organisations, and she’ll have 10 staff back in her office working on a whole range of issues. It would be simply impossible for a Minister to know what every staff member was doing for every minute of the day. Now, Michaelia made a statement…

KIERAN GILBERT:

But if a staff member sees a Minister misleading the Parliament, surely someone else in the office would be told or she’d be told?

DARREN CHESTER:

We can go back and look at the timelines from yesterday, and I’m sure those questions will be asked more extensively in the Senate today, but as I understand the situation, when Michaelia Cash made some comments to the Senate she was not aware of what had occurred within her own office, and that’s I think understandable when I just described the environment of a Ministerial office. Once she became aware that her staff member had made that error of judgement, had made that phone call, she corrected the record…

KIERAN GILBERT:

But isn’t there an argument that she should’ve asked and she should’ve known because of the suggestions and the controversy around the raids?

DARREN CHESTER:

But you and I have no idea what conversations may have occurred yesterday in Senator Cash’s office, so I don’t think it’s helpful for me to get into hypotheticals about that. Disappointingly I think, from the perspective of the Australian Workers Union members, is it’s distracted from the very issue, which is why did the AWU give money to GetUp!, then GetUp! used that money to campaign against AWU workers’ jobs? See, this is how GetUp! works. GetUp! campaigns against the establishment. So it campaigns against coal-fired power stations, it campaigns against the Adani mine, it campaigns against live exports. These are all industries where AWU members actually work. So AWU union members give their union fees to the AWU, and then Bill Shorten, in that role at the time, donates to GetUp!. I think the Leader of the Opposition owes an explanation to those AWU members. Why did he use their money to campaign against their jobs?

KIERAN GILBERT:

But this exposes the behaviour of the Government in this regard and, through this controversy surrounding Michaelia Cash’s office, just exposes this as a political attack, doesn’t it? I mean, if you have got a staffer phoning media and then the Minister caught up in misleading the Parliament, I mean, this has just blown up in your face.

DARREN CHESTER:

Well, the head of the Registered Organisations Commission gave evidence yesterday that he wasn’t instructed by anyone within the Government to pursue those raids on the AWU. He sought information from the AWU regarding those donations and…

KIERAN GILBERT:

But it was referred to him by the Minister.

DARREN CHESTER:

…and it wasn’t voluntarily given by the AWU, which put him in a position which led to those raids that occurred during the week. So there are…

KIERAN GILBERT:

Referred to him by the Minister though, Michaelia Cash, who has now been – you know, misled the Parliament. Unwittingly or not, that’s exactly what happened. Five times. It’s an ugly situation. It’s blown up in the Government’s face, hasn’t it?

DARREN CHESTER:

Well, there’s no question it’s a bad result for us when you have a senior member of staff resigning, making an error of judgement, but as I described to you at the very start of our conversation, it’s not the first time it has occurred. The former Prime Minister’s media advisor unfortunately tipped off protestors on Australia Day in 2012, resigned at the time, and the Prime Minister continued in the role. I think it is overreach by Labor to suggest that Minister Cash has done anything wrong.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Minister Chester, thanks for your time.

[ENDS]

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