AWU raids trigger explosive claims of abuse of power, destroyed documents
A raid of Bill Shorten’s former union has triggered explosive allegations of illegal destruction or concealment of highly sensitive documents by union officials and abuse of executive power by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
Australian Federal Police officers executed court-issued search warrants on the Melbourne and Sydney headquarters of the Australian Workers’ Union on Tuesday afternoon, on the same day as claims emerged that the AFP had been forced to redirect scarce resources to protect Mr Turnbull’s Sydney mansion.
Federal officers were acting on behalf of the Registered Organisations Commission – a watchdog established by the Turnbull government in May 2017 – which says it had “reasonable grounds” to suspect the union was potentially concealing, or had destroyed, crucial documents.
The ROC successfully asked a magistrate for the warrant in order to further its government-referred investigation into donations from the AWU to left-wing advocacy group GetUp! in 2005.
The donations were allegedly improperly approved by Mr Shorten when he was AWU boss, before he entered Parliament as an MP.
Union lawyers are expected to challenge the investigation at the Federal Court in Melbourne, an AWU spokesman told AAP.
“The application will be to object to the validity of the investigation and the warrants,” the spokesman said.
Dozens of officers, estimated by the AWU to be more than 20 in number, spent hours on Tuesday evening in the union’s offices in Sussex Street, Sydney and Spencer Street, Melbourne, reportedly searching for documents relating to the donations.
In response to the raids, Shadow Employment Minister Brendan O’Connor accused Mr Turnbull of being “grubby” and abusing police resources in treating the AFP “like his own personal asset”.
Mr O’Connor also said the Coalition government was “treating the police as its plaything”.
“It’s clear from what’s happened today that Malcolm Turnbull has intervened and abused the resources of the police to make an attack on the leader of the opposition,” Mr O’Connor told journalists in Canberra.
“Malcolm Turnbull now must explain what role his office and he played, what role his minister and her office played, in engaging with the Registered Organisations Commission.”
Employment Minister Michaelia Cash referred the AWU-GetUp! donations matter to the ROC following recent reports in The Australian that the union gave about $100,000 to the left-wing advocacy group in 2005.
The raids followed a day of accusations of AFP under-resourcing.
Earlier in a Senate estimates hearing on Tuesday, AFP Commissioner Mark Colvin revealed a $184.36 million funding shortfall over the next four years would affect fraud, drug, organised crime and child exploitation operations.
Hours later, in the middle of a heated Question Time, the ABC published a report based on an internal AFP document that claimed the federal force was unable to properly investigate 23 drug crimes because, in part, resources had been diverted to guard Mr Turnbull’s Sydney mansion.
Mr O’Connor sought to connect the two events.
“It is clear from anyone watching, any reasonable person or any independent person would be well aware that this is the intervention by the Prime Minister, an abuse of ministerial power, the abuse of police resources, at a time when police should be dealing with far more serious matters,” he said.
AWU national secretary Daniel Walton branded the raids “quite possibly one of the greatest abuses of political and public power by the Turnbull government”.
“The investigation which is being commenced today is nothing but an abuse of power,” Mr Walton told reporters.
“It’s an extraordinary misuse of police resources that could be better spent on far more important actions.”
ACTU boss Sally McManus said it was a “shocking attack on democracy” and a “sad day for democracy”.
“It just shows how far this government will go to attack working people,” Ms McManus said.
“This is an out of control, dangerous government that calls police to raid union offices about small donations.”
The AFP raids followed the news that the High Court would deliver its verdict on the ‘citizenship seven’ on Friday.
A verdict that Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce was invalidly elected due to his dual New Zealand citizenship would force a by-election in his NSW seat of New England, triggering weeks of political distraction – and a potential minority government if the Coalition lost the seat.