POLITICS

Malcolm Turnbull Peppered With Questions In Parliament Over Michaelia Cash Controversy

Back and forth it went, over and over.

26/10/2017 3:56 PM AEDT | Updated 26/10/2017 3:57 PM AEDT
Fairfax/Andrew Meares
It's been a tough day at the office for the Prime Minister.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was forced to return serve on so many questions about Michaelia Cash on Thursday, you'd be forgiven for mistaking Question Time for a tennis match.

Labor repeatedly put the PM on the spot, calling for employment minister Michaelia Cash's resignation in light of her stunning admission on Wednesday night that her staff tipped off journalists ahead of raids by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) on the Australian Workers' Union (AWU) headquarters in Sydney and Melbourne.

And while five was the magic number of questions related to the incident faced by Cash on Wednesday night, on Thursday Turnbull was fronted on six separate occasions by Labor Party MPs looking for answers about how the parliament may have been misled.

First onto the floor of the House of Representatives was Deputy Leader of the Opposition Tanya Plibersek, wanting to know whether Cash and her staffer -- who was responsible for the leak and has now resigned -- attended a question time meeting on Wednesday along with other Liberal Party Members.

"Can the Prime Minister confirm the Employment Minister and her senior media adviser, who has now resigned for leaking details of imminent rates to the media, attended that Question Time meeting yesterday?," she asked.

"At what time did it take place? Did it take place in his personal office? And who else was present, including but not limited to, MPs and Members of the Prime Minister's office?"

But Turnbull moved quickly with his return shot by continuing to defend Cash's comments in Wednesday night's Senate Estimates hearing.

"Well, Mr Speaker, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition is not going to do a very good impression of Perry Mason today," he said.

"She may bark on a fishing expedition, but, Mr Speaker, I repeat what I said yesterday -- that the Minister for Employment is sure she did not advise any journalists about the raid and that is precisely what she has said in the Senate during Estimates."

But the barrage from the Opposition didn't stop there. In between discussions about energy prices, the Shadow Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations Brendan O'Connor was next to serve up another quick hit aimed at the Prime Minister's end of the room.

"Does [Turnbull] expect Australians to believe the Employment Minister's office watched the Minister misleads the Senate five times yesterday but didn't say a thing?" he said.

"The senior adviser, who has now resigned, attended the briefing with the Minister that said nothing, and the adviser then heard the Prime Minister asked twice about the matter during Question Time but still did nothing."

And the Prime Minister was quick to respond once more with a shot of his own about Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and Labor questioning the integrity of the Australian Federal Police (AFP).

"The media adviser concerned has properly resigned after a very, very wrong, improper act of indiscretion, and he was wrong to do what he has admitted to but he was right to resign," he said.

"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."

From there, Independent Member Bob Katter managed to get a question in and there was some more talk about energy policy -- but if you thought then that the swinging shots from the Opposition towards the Prime Minister were over, you'd be wrong.

From there, Labor's Tony Burke was next to lob another loaded question in Turnbull's direction, asking whether the Prime Minister expected the Australian public, in light of a Buzzfeed report on the matter, to believe he had not checked with Cash about the possibility that the leak had come from her office.

And still the Prime Minister managed to deflect any damage, repeating what he had already said twice before and diverting the direction of the question time conversation back onto his opponents.

"The Minister [Cash] gave me the assurance. I told the house about it yesterday, that she had not disclosed the matter to journalists before the raid," he repeated once more.

"And that was the assurance that she gave me. Subsequently, as honourable members know, her media adviser admitted of his wrongful conduct and he has resigned."

Next, Shorten himself.

"Even now the position of the government is that staff can mislead their Ministers. How are your Ministers meant to be running the country when they can't even run their offers?" he said.

This was the main event of the question time match and the Prime Minister had come prepared.

"The honourable Member knows very well that the Minister [Cash] is accountable. A Minister is accountable for what she says and her obligation is to speak the truth," he said.

"She was misled, as she said. And once her staffer told her the truth and made the admission that he had done the wrong thing, she corrected the record. She acted entirely properly.

"That stands in stark contrast to the actions of the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Speaker... It is not a question of his staff. It is a question of the people that own him. He is a wholly owned subsidiary of the CFMEU. He is a wholly owned subsidiary of a trade union -- a military trade union, cashed up and powerful -- that defies the law."

Fairfax/Andrew Meares
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull during question time at Parliament House in Canberra on Thursday 26 October 2017. Fedpol. Photo: Andrew Meares

It wasn't done there. Burke rose twice more in between separate questions on unions and the AFP to send yet another shot towards Turnbull. The Opposition Member called once again for Cash to be sacked and then requested a motion be passed, which later failed.

"The Minister for Employment, senator Cash, gave evidence in the course of estimates in which she described the facts of the matter as known to her at the time," Turnbull closed.

"When a staffer admitted to doing the wrong thing, she corrected the record in light of that admission. That is precisely what she should have done."

After being forced to play so much defence on the final day of the sitting week, Turnbull will no doubt welcome a fortnight off to try and bury the narrative under literally anything else.

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