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Three major newspapers (the AFR, The Age and The Australian) have now concluded that there are questions relating to Gillard’s involvement with the establishment of a union “slush fund” which have not been answered by her. Today The Age adopts an even firmer analysis (see below).

The unanswered questions do not simply go to the integrity of the Prime Minister: they also raise issues about the role of unions in our society and the action needed to limit the exercise of power in circumstances where a superior power obviously exists or has been acquired through exploitation of legislation or court decisions - or even through the use of physical power.

A Royal Commission on sexual abuse has now been announced by the Gillard government. Clearly situations have arisen in which individuals, even groups, have been able unjustifiably to exercise improper power over the sexual behaviour of others.

Examples of the unjustifiable exercise of union power over others, including even fellow workers, have undoubtedly increased markedly under the Labor governments elected since 2007. However the needed reduction in union power does not require the establishment of a Royal Commission: there is already ample evidence to support major changes.

This important policy issue will be discussed at the Annual General Meeting of the HR Nicholls Society on Monday 3 December and by Mr Dan Tehan MP (member for Wannon) at the dinner following the AGM. The AGM will start at 5.30pm at the Montague Hotel, 355 Park St, South Melbourne and the dinner will start at 6.45pm. Both the AGM and the dinner (cost of $55 plus drinks) are open to all. Attendees are requested to advise Secretary Michael Moore (at no later than cob on Friday 30 November.

Des Moore

Questions of judgment

The Age November 13, 2012, Mark Baker

Gillard's denials of wrongdoing in the AWU rorting scandal have failed to kill off the issue.

JULIA Gillard, by her record, was not much of a solicitor. When it was revealed that one of the biggest trade union rorts in Australian history had been perpetrated by her boyfriend using her legal advice in the early 1990s, her response was the consternation of innocence. She had been naive, she had been deceived, she had been betrayed.

Gillard insisted that while she, as a salaried partner at Slater & Gordon, had helped establish the slush fund from which her boyfriend and senior Australian Workers Union official Bruce Wilson had filched more than $400,000, and while she had helped his crony buy a Fitzroy unit with some of those funds, she knew nothing about the racket until it was exposed by others in the AWU.

As soon as the scandal broke it was bye-bye Bruce and bye-bye Slater & Gordon - where the angry senior partners, who also had been kept in the dark about the AWU transactions, considered sacking their colleague. Had she not abandoned the law at that unhappy juncture, Gillard could perhaps have embarked on a fresh career as a barrister - where words are weapons, for defensive or offensive purposes.

The Prime Minister's use of language in recent weeks to maintain her thesis that she has answered everything there is to answer about the sordid events of two decades ago has been skilful. A marathon media conference in late August looked to have put the issue to bed, until fresh news reports raised fresh questions. Then Gillard deflected a barrage of opposition questions in Parliament two weeks ago without really answering any of them.

But fighting words may no longer be enough to see off an issue on which many in the 0pposition, a growing number of journalists and a significant group within the Prime Minister's own Labor caucus believe she is compromised and vulnerable. To them, Gillard's strident responses have begun to sound more evasive than convincing.

The critics - and, yes, some of them are her infamous ''misogynists and nutjobs'' on the internet - believe it is inconceivable that Gillard could have remained in a close relationship with Wilson throughout the three years between the incorporation of the AWU Workplace Reform Association and the revelation that it had been massively rorted and not have had even an inkling that something dodgy was afoot.

While nothing beyond circumstantial evidence has emerged to challenge Gillard's insistence that she did nothing wrong - and knew nothing wrong was being done - her account of events remains questionable in several key areas: her role in establishing the AWU association, her role in the purchase of the Fitzroy unit and her recent insistence that none of the stolen funds slushed in her direction.

Gillard says she only gave routine advice on the establishment of the association, but, as The Age revealed last month, a letter she wrote to the West Australian Corporate Affairs Commission in mid-1992 was instrumental in overcoming the commission's objections to its formation - supposedly to promote workplace safety and training rather than the union election ''slush fund'' she later conceded it was. Now Slater & Gordon is unable to find the unofficial incorporation file kept by Gillard, and a corresponding file held in the WA archives was recently found to be empty - neither of which supports the wistful contention of Gillard backers that this is the end of that matter.

Despite her insistence that the August 23 media conference was her last word on the AWU scandal, Gillard broke her own vow while talking to journalists during a visit to Laos last week - with a startling assertion about her role in the 1993 purchase of the Fitzroy unit. ''I was not in charge of the conveyancing file,'' she said.

If she wasn't, who was? She drafted the power-of-attorney Wilson used to buy the unit in the name of his crony, Ralph Blewitt, at an auction she attended with Wilson. She organised finance from a Slater & Gordon loan facility (in addition to more than $100,000 siphoned from the AWU association) and she rounded off the work by signing, ''fee declined, Julia''. And later she was a regular guest in the premises Wilson made his Melbourne home.

When asked at her August media conference whether she had a problem because she couldn't rule out that money from the association had been used to pay for renovations on a house she owned in Abbotsford, Gillard snapped: ''I paid for my renovations.'' Yet when challenged by the senior partners at Slater & Gordon in 1995, she could not ''categorically rule out'' that association or union money had been used for work on her house.

As the opposition gears up for a fresh attack when the House of Representatives sits again in two weeks, the inconsistencies in the Prime Minister's answers are likely to fuel the controversy and reinforce the impression that she has not given a comprehensive account of what she knew and when.

Beyond a renewed focus in question time, the Coalition may move a confidence vote against the Prime Minister, in which the position of the independents could be significant. Independent MP Andrew Wilkie told The Age late last week: ''It would be helpful if the Prime Minister answered the outstanding questions about her time at Slater & Gordon.''

Whatever happens, there is no doubt Gillard's emphatic denials of any wrongdoing, both in public and in Parliament, make her vulnerable in the event that there are further revelations that challenge or contradict her account.

Mark Baker is editor-at-large.

Thiess, not Gillard, tied to slush fund: Latham

AFR 13 Nov 2012, Laura Tingle and Mark Skulley

“This year nobody in the media or the Liberal Party has proven any of the dozens of allegations and smears against [Prime MInister Julia] Gillard arising from this matter 20 years ago,” former Labor leader Mark Latham says.

Construction company Thiess Contractors, rather than Prime Minister Julia Gillard, has questions to answer about money paid into a trade union slush fund subsequently used to buy a Melbourne property in 1993, former Labor leader Mark Latham says.

Mr Latham has taken issue with an editorial in The Australian Financial Review yesterday, saying it misrepresented key facts about the Prime Minister’s role in the Australian Workers Union Workplace Reform Association fund when she was a lawyer in the 1990s. The editorial followed a Weekend Financial Review article which examined allegations against Ms Gillard about the fund.

Contrary to assertions Ms Gillard had handled the conveyancing of a property lived in by her then boyfriend, the article said the conveyancing file of legal firm Slater & Gordon showed it was run by a paralegal in another division of the firm.

It also revealed that while a cheque for more than $67,000 was written on the slush fund account as a part payment for the property, the cheque was deposited in a Perth bank branch and may never have been seen by anyone at Slater & Gordon.

Mr Latham said the AFR editorial misrepresented the report by saying it raised unanswered questions about the conveyancing and the cheque.

“Second, the statement that the Wilson-Blewitt fund was a ‘fraud perpetrated on (AWU) members’ indicates the AFR has a very poor understanding of the nature of this matter,” Mr Latham said.

“No one has suggested that AWU members’ funds were paid into the Wilson-Blewitt account.

“The money came primarily from Thiess. The company subsequently refused to co-operate with the police investigation . . . suggesting they had no complaint to make about the use of the money.”

Mr Latham said if anyone should have to answer “for not following through with the law enforcement authorities, it is not Gillard or the ‘current AWU leadership” but Thiess.

“It was, after all, their money that was misused,” he said.

“How strange no one in the media . . . has raised this basic point.

“They are obsessed with trade unions and Labor leaders, not corporate leaders.”

Documents released under freedom of information by the West Australian police show the fraud squad told the AWU in 1997 that the “appropriate complainant” was Thiess Contractors Pty Ltd and not the union.

“[Thiess] have said they would co-operate with the provision of information however, they have also stated that they do not feel they have been defrauded in any way,” said fraud squad legal officer Samantha Tough.

“This belief hampers the progress of this investigation because without evidence from [Thiess] that they have been defrauded, it will be almost impossible to establish the offence.”

In reply to written questions yesterday, Thiess spokesman Alex Smith said the events occurred a long time ago and involved people who had not been at the business for many years.

“As previously reported by your paper, Thiess believes the payments made to the AWU in WA were made in good faith for training associated with workplace reform,” he said.

Mr Latham said AWU leadership “reviewed the Wilson-Blewitt material 10 years ago, at that time, trying to damage Gillard inside the ALP”.

“They found nothing of use to them, just as this year nobody in the media or the Liberal Party has proven any of the dozens of allegations and smears against Gillard arising from this matter 20 years ago.

“How inconvenient for the political right wing.”

The Australian Financial Review

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