There are two dimensions to the AFP raid on the AWU.
The first is the administration of justice. The government had credible information that Bill Shorten may have made donations to GetUp and his own campaign without obtaining proper authorization and was within its rights to refer the matter to the Registered Organisations Commission. Whether or not the ROC felt that this was a case they should pursue was up to them. Being a statutory authority they do not act on the government’s direction. They could have declined to pursue the matter for any number of reasons, including:
- it was so long ago,
- it was an internal procedural matter within the AWU,
- the AWU may not see itself as an injured party on the basis that the donations would have been approved anyway had proper approval been sought, etc.
They chose to pursue it. Fair enough.
The other dimension to the affair is ‘politics’. There is no doubt that the government saw this as an opportunity to embarrass Bill Shorten. That alone should have given the ROC pause and, at the very least, caused it to act with the utmost discretion.
At the point of accepting the brief the ROC should have ceased all contact with the Minister’s office on this matter. The Minister should have instructed her staff likewise. It is not believable that the AFP would have alerted a staffer in Minister Cash’s office to an impending raid, so the information must have come from the ROC.
That speaks to an unhealthily cosy relationship between the government of the day and a statutory authority. Why would not the ALP cry ‘stitch-up’?
Minister Cash, by her failure to enforce strict standards of probity within her office, has not only screwed up the politics in a spectacular way, damaging the whole government in the process, she has also managed to debase the Registered Organisations Commission to such an extent it is quite likely now unfit for purpose.
Cash should resign or be sacked. Fat chance of that though, ministerial accountability being not even a shadow of its former self.
Incidentally, the real political damage to Shorten arising from this affair is not that he made donations without obtaining proper authorization, but that he gave a substantial amount to an organization devoted to destroying AWU jobs. That is more likely to resonate with both unionists and voters than the arcane matter of authorization. And that advantage could have been pursued vigorously without ever having to resort to the ROC.