Shorten alleges ‘political witch hunt’ after police raid AWU offices with TV crews watching on

Key points:

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008px;”>Union heads to federal court to challenge raids

Shorten accuses government of ‘witch hunt’

Turnbull strongly rejects alleged political influence on police

Labor leader Bill Shorten has accused the Turnbull Government of indirectly instructing the federal police to carry out Tuesday night raids on the offices of his former union, the Australian Workers Union.

The raids were in support of an investigation into the AWU by the relatively new Registered Organisations Commission, which was set up by the government in May to regulate unions and employer groups.

In August, employment minister Michaelia Cash instructed the ROC to investigate the AWU over a $100,000 donation from the union to the activist group GetUp in 2005, when Mr Shorten was the leader of the union.

0:00 Bill Shorten has questions to answer: Turnbull on AFP raids on AWU Share Bill Shorten has questions to answer: Turnbull on AFP raids on AWU

“This is a little-known organisation, which was set up in the last few months by the government, to do exactly what we predicted they’d do – hunt down and smear the reputation of the opponents of the government,” Mr Shorten said on Wednesday morning.

“The regulator, at the behest of the government, is conducting a political witch-hunt designed to throw mud in the hope that some will stick.”

Lawyer for the the AWU Josh Bornstein called the investigation “unlawful”.

“Today we brought an urgent application before the fed court to seek to stop the fed police from handing over the documents that it seized yesterday in those raids that were broadcast to all,” he said.

“It wasn’t necessary to pursue that undertaking – (to) pursue that order before the court because the federal police and the regulator have made commitments, the federal police has committed that it will not hand over the documents that it seized and the regulator has also committed that it will not accept any document seized by the federal police until the court has had time to hear the parties and hear our case.

“The warrant in this case is illegal, and that the investigation is also unlawful.”

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull hit back at the allegations of political interference and said the opposition leader had serious questions to answer over the donation.

He said Labor’s “hysterical attack” on the integrity of the AFP was a “disgrace” and said the police were merely upholding the rule of law.

“They are accusing the Australian Federal Police of being politically motivated. That is a disgrace. Bill Shorten knows that a lie and he should apologise for it,” Mr Turnbull told reporters on Wednesday morning.

AFP officers raided the Melbourne and Sydney headquarters of the AWU on Tuesday evening. The ROC said it sought search warrants for the AFP after developing a suspicion that documents relating to the GetUp donation were being “concealed or destroyed” in the union’s offices.

Channel Seven and other media outlets were in position to film the raids on Tuesday evening and captured the arrival of AFP officers. At least one Seven reporter followed police officers into the Sydney building. 

“I have got the greatest of respect for the AFP. I don’t question the integrity of the AFP,” Mr Shorten said.

“I question the integrity of Turnbull and the government.”

“How on earth was it possible that journalists were able to be there in advance of the police visit and how on earth did the journalists know about the raid? I don’t think the AFP told the media. I’m sure it was the government.”

Cash denies media tip-off

Senator Cash was questioned over the investigation in Senate Estimates on Wednesday.

Labor senator Doug Cameron asked if Senator Cash was certain no one in her office pre-warned the media about the raid.

“Yes,” Senator Cash replied.

“And quite frankly, I am offended on behalf of my staff as to those allegations. They are very serious allegations.”

Senator Cash was also asked if she had referred any other matters to the ROC besides the AWU donation.

She said she would take the question on notice.

Crossbench senator Nick Xenophon said finding out who leaked news of the impending raid to members of the media was a priority.

“There must be an independent investigation as to why the media was tipped off,” he said.

0:00 Federal police raid the AWU office Share Federal police raid the AWU office

Union challenges raid in court

The AWU is taking the matter to court in a bid to stop the ROC examining the documents taken in the police raid.

Legal firm Maurice Blackburn is taking the action in the Federal Court in Melbourne.

A quickly-arranged hearing will be held at 2.30pm on Wednesday afternoon.

Maurice Blackburn’s principal Josh Bornstein said the raids were an abuse of power.

“There were plenty of options open to the Registered Organisations Commission (ROC) to seek access to these materials without having to deploy 32 AFP officers, including writing to the union or issuing a summons compelling production,” Mr Bornstein said.

Timeline:May 1 – The Registered Organisations Commission (ROC) is established by the govt as a federal regulator for unions and employer groups.August 16 – Employment minister Michaelia Cash instructs the ROC to investigate a donation from the Australian Workers Union (AWU) to activist group GetUp in 2005. Bill Shorten was leading the AWU in 2005.October 24 – Federal police raid the offices of the AWU in Melbourne and Sydney, acting on ROC instruction. Some media, including Channel 7, are tipped off and in position to shoot the raid.October 25 – Mr Shorten alleges a “political witch hunt”.  PM Turnbull says Labor should respect the independence of the federal police and the ROC.