A Liberal Senator Made A Bizarre Threat To Expose Bill Shorten “Rumours”

But don't let this distract you from the main issue.

Michaelia Cash

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Liberal senator and Minister for Jobs and Innovation Michaelia Cash has been embroiled in a political scandal since it emerged one of her staffers had tipped off the media about an Australian Federal Police raid targeting the Australian Worker’s Union.

Cash has denied any involvement in the raid, and the staff member involved has since resigned. But the issue hasn’t gone away. There’s currently an AFP investigation into the leak, and there’s been a significant staff exodus from Cash’s office.

Today Labor used a Senate Estimates hearing to ramp up the pressure on Cash. Labor senator Doug Cameron kicked things off this morning by asking a number of questions about the AFP raid and Cash’s new staff hires.

In particular, he was interested to know if her new Chief Of Staff had been poached from one of the government departments she oversees, or from another Liberal office.

Cash really didn’t want to answer the question, and kept deflecting the issue. But Cameron, an Estimates pro, didn’t give up. Eventually Cash snapped and delivered an absolutely bizarre response, threatening to name female staffers in Bill Shorten’s office she’s heard “rumours” about.

“If you want to start discussing staff matters be very, very careful,” Cash said. “Because I’m happy to sit here and name every young woman in Mr Shorten’s office about which rumours in this place abound. If you want to go down that path today I will do it.”

When Cameron responded with “that’s nonsense”, Cash doubled down.

“Do you want to start naming them?” she said aggressively. “Do you want to start naming them and have Mr Shorten deny any of the rumours that have been circulating in this building now for many, many years? Dangerous path to go down and you know it.”

It was an extraordinary intervention and clearly designed to distract from the main issue: the AFP raids. But it looks like it might backfire, by putting the spotlight firmly back on Cash.

The incident only wound down when Cameron told Cash to “take what the young people call a chill pill”.

When the Senate committee returned after a short break, Labor senator Penny Wong rocked up to demand an apology. Cash delivered a qualified apology to anyone “offended” by her remarks, which is pretty half-arsed considering how inflammatory her comments were.

It’s not the first time Cash has delivered an extremely agitated speech in parliament. Back in 2013, just after Prime Minister Julia Gillard was dumped by the Labor party for Kevin Rudd, Cash gave her infamous “chalice of blood” speech.

She accused the Labor “sisterhood” of “knifing” Gillard “in the back”. She took specific aim at Penny Wong, saying she was “reaping the spoils of victory” and “drinking from the chalice of blood”.

It’s pretty damn intense:

Meanwhile, the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has called on Cash to resign over her handling of the AFP raid, accusing her of “unacceptable politicisation of the Registered Organisations Commission”, the government agency tasked with regulating unions.

“It’s time for minister Cash to resign over the unacceptable politicisiation of a public service body,” ACTU secretary Sally McManus said. “How long will this charade continue where she avoids any public statement about the political attacks on working people?”

“It’s very simple. Inequality is at record highs, wage growth is at record lows, and the government is trying to attack working people with whatever they’ve got.”