POLITICS

Michaelia Cash Resists Calls To Resign After Staffer Admits Raid Tip-Off

But Labor and Greens say the minister's position is "untenable".

26/10/2017 9:55 AM AEDT | Updated 26/10/2017 2:41 PM AEDT
Andrew Meares/Fairfax
Employment minister Senator Michaelia Cash: "My staff member misled me. I am incredibly disappointed."

CANBERRA -- Members of the Turnbull Government cabinet are standing behind employment minister Michaelia Cash, saying she is a "fantastic" and "outstanding" minister, in the face of growing calls for her to resign for allegedly repeatedly misleading parliament over a police raid on union offices.

The under-pressure minister has now asked the Registered Organisations Commission (ROC) to refer the tip-off to the Australian Federal Police for investigation and has expressed her discomfort in the controversy. Her staffer, senior media adviser David de Garis, has quit after taking responsibility.

Labor insists she must resign or be sacked, but the minister has told senate estimates she has not considered resigning and will not reveal whether her possible resignation was discussed during a meeting with prime minister Malcolm Turnbull this morning.

"I'm not going to canvas the ins and outs of the discussions I've had with the Prime Minister, but I had discussions with the Prime Minister this morning," she told the hearing on Thursday.

"My staff member misled me. I am incredibly disappointed.

"I am very, very disappointed now in my staff member and as a result he has resigned his employment.

However, Cash described his actions as "brave".

The tip-off revelation has clouded the investigation into union donations and fuelled Labor and the union's claims that Tuesday's raids were nothing more than a "political witch hunt" designed to smear Opposition leader Bill Shorten.

Cash sensationally revealed on Wednesday night during a heated Senate estimates hearing that one of her senior staffers tipped off the media to AFP raids on the offices of the Australian Workers Union despite hours earlier saying -- five times -- that neither she nor any of her staff had anything to do with it.

The Prime Minister had also been asked in Wednesday's Question Time about knowledge of a media tip-off, but did not discuss the behaviour of the Cash's office.

"I advised the Prime Minister that I had not briefed the media prior to the raids. That is not a falsehood, that is a fact," Cash said on Thursday.

The minister claimed the tip-off happened without her knowledge and authorisation and she corrected the record as soon as she was properly informed.

But the federal opposition and the Greens insist Cash should go as well, describing her position as "untenable" and saying it "defies belief" that the minister did not know about it and regardless, under the Westminster system, the minister has full responsibility for the actions of staff.

The manager of opposition business Tony Burke said Cash is either incompetent or misleading parliament

But the leader of the government in the House, Christopher Pyne is standing firmly behind the minister.

"Minister Cash is doing an excellent job. She's a fantastic minister," he told reporters in Canberra.

"She told the truth to estimates. When she found out she'd been misled, she corrected the record, apologised and moved on."

Fellow Cabinet minister Darren Chester conceded and "error of judgement" has occurred while Social Services Minister Christian Porter said the staffer has committed something "seriously wrong".

But under the system of Westminster responsibility, a minister is ultimately responsible for the actions of their department and their staff.

Regardless, Pyne said this is not a case to let the minister go. He said the staffer is responsible.

"He had a lapse of judgement and he has paid a very heavy price to lose his job in this building and he has been a long-standing Coalition staffer," Pyne told reporters in Canberra.

"It is important not to let his lapse of judgement to cloud the issue here."

Further to that -- despite Cash reportedly telling other senators that she was too busy to address further questions on the matter -- in Thursday's question time the Prime Minister continued to defend her, saying she did not advise any journalists about the AWU raids.

"I repeat what I said yesterday, that the Minister for Employment is surely she did not advise any journalists about the raid, and that is precisely what she has said in the Senate during Estimates," he said.

Instead Turnbull worked at diverting attention back onto Shorten and the Labor Party, saying the Opposition leader now needs to stop "all of these disgraceful, reckless attacks on the integrity of the AFP by his members".

"The AFP makes all its operational decisions independently based on experience, operational priorities and the law," he said.

"The AFP's primary obligations are to ensure the safety and security of the Australian community and enforce the rule of law. The AFP prides itself on its integrity and has a proven track record of those values.

"The Leader of the Opposition should reflect on the fact that the Australian Federal Police, the men and women of that force, keep us safe. They are independent, they are upholders of the rule of law, and it's about time Labor did, too."

With that said, Labor's Burke told Sky News earlier that it "defies belief" that Cash's staff could watch her mislead the parliament five times.

He wants to hear more from the Prime Minister, saying his answers in Question Time on the issue of a media tip-off were very careful not to refer to Cash's office.

"Michaelia Cash has to go and the Prime Minister is up to his neck in this," Burke said.

Greens deputy leader Adam Bandt told reporters that Cash's position was untenable.

"There's really only three options -- either Minister Cash is incompetent at running an office, in which case she should resign as minister; Secondly, she either doesn't care whether she tells the truth to the Senate, in which case she should resign at minister; Or, thirdly, she deliberately lied to the Senate, in which case, she should resign as minister."

The Social Services Minister has told the ABC that Cash is a "very honest politician" and should be taken at her word.

"If she says that she did not know the staffer had done the very seriously wrong thing that the staffer did do, then she is to be believed," Porter said.

"She's not only a very competent minister, but she is an honest person."

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