Australian Employment Minister Michaelia Cash is under increased pressure today following an astonishing exchange during questioning in yesterday’s Senate Estimates.
Defending her today, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull claimed Cash was “bullied and provoked” into her comments, in which, during a testy exchange with Labor’s Doug Cameron, she threatened to name “every young woman” in Opposition leader Bill Shorten’s office “over which rumours in this place abound”.
“Do you want to start naming them for Mr Shorten to come out and deny any of the rumours that have been circulating in this building now for many, many years?” she said.
Cash subsequently rescinded her comments “if anyone had been offended by them”, but did not apologise.
Cash said Senator Cameron was “nothing more than a bully”, but “unreservedly” withdrew her comments yesterday.
Her critics noted that Cash was formerly the Minister for Women.
While Labor has been calling for her resignation, Border Security Minister Peter Dutton continued to attack the Opposition, saying he won’t accept a “morals lecture” from Labor.
“People know that there’s a history of problems in Bill Shorten’s personal life, Tony Burke’s personal life. And to be lectured by the Labor Party really sticks in the craw,” he said.
The threats come in the wake of former Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce’s resignation from the Turnbull ministry and seem to ignore his plea for private matters to be private.
But today, Cash appeared to up the ante on privacy when several Parliamentary security guards placed a whiteboard in a corridor to block media from being able to film or photograph the Jobs Minister as she returned to the Senate estimates hearing room.
— Nine News Australia (@9NewsAUS) March 1, 2018
Journalists could be heard calling out “Why do you need so much protection Minister?” and “what are you hiding for?”
Politics has a phrase about the optics being terrible. It’s not meant to be literal.
Sky News Political Editor David Speers subsequently reported that Cash’s office has not asked security to do it, although her office has now lodged a formal complaint about the media.
For a minister already under pressure, the farcical incident ensured her attempts to hide from the media became the centre of attention, adding to both her and the government’s woes.
If not Cash or her office, who thought that at this specific point in time, using a whiteboard to hide the Minister from the media?
It was especially clumsy for a politician who, as Jobs Minister, demands disclosure and transparency from voters looking for work, as well as the unions she so vigorously confronts.
Cash is already under scrutiny because her office tipped off the media over raids on the Australian Workers’ Union last year, leading to the resignation of a member of her staff.
The issue continues to have repercussions because last year she repeatedly denied any involvement by her office during a Senate estimates hearing – and when the facts emerged, Cash subsequently had to deny that she misled Parliament as a result. The issue continues to simmer during the current hearings.
In the meantime, someone on the Coalition side needs to tell Senator Cash when to stop digging.
*This is an opinion column.
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