EDITORIAL: Union raid blows up in government's face

IF politicians wonder why the general public hold their trade in such low regard at the moment, they need look no farther than the way that this week’s pursuit of opposition leader Bill Shorten – over $125,000 worth of decade-old political donations – has played out.

For all of the Turnbull government’s protestations that the Registered Organisations Commission raids on the Sydney and Melbourne offices of the Australian Workers Union were not politically motivated, the presence of TV cameras to record the high drama, of bags full of records being hauled off into vans, is a strong sign the whole affair was conducted to inflict maximum damage.

And having repeatedly denied that her office was involved in tipping off the media, Employment Minister Michaelia Cash was forced to correct the record on Thursday morning, leading to the resignation of a staffer – although Ms Cash insisted that he had been told of the raids, not by the commission, but by other media. That may well be the case, but it has been widely reported that the original reference to the commission came from the minister, which surely points to more than a degree of political motivation in the investigation.

Senator Cash has kept her job for the time being, and with the High Court due to hand down its decision on the citizenship case, it is likely that the futures of other politicians, beside the senator, will become the main matter of scrutiny on Friday.

In the meantime, Labor and its supporters in and beyond the union movement have every right to be outraged at the government’s relentless attacks on Mr Shorten.

Although his performance in the witness box was criticised at the time, it should be remembered that this period of Mr Shorten’s life, as a union official, was already trawled over by Tony Abbott’s royal commission into trade unions. Mr Shorten walked away from that inquisition with a clean bill of health.

In less combative political times, that would have been the end of it.

But like Mr Abbott before him, Mr Turnbull seems to believe that his main job in life is to tear down the Labor leader, by whatever means possible. The Registered Organisations Commission, itself a consequence of the trade union royal commission, is now reprising the investigation, but to what end? To find that a union has backed its leader into politics? What a surprise. This is a crude attempt at character assassination that does the Turnbull government no credit.

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