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Yesterday’s debate in Parliament on the motion by Opposition leader Abbott to “sack” Speaker Slipper, followed by his resignation, has produced almost universal media criticism, if not condemnation, of Prime Minister Gillard’s handling of the issue. I say “almost” universal because the focus of today’s World Today on the ABC was on side issues and on finding commentators, such a Dr Anne Summers, prepared to praise Gillard’s attack on Abbott’s misogyny and sexism. Also, Laura Tingle’s few critical comments were more than offset by excuses for Gillard.

Below are some of the comments (with emphasis added by me) on Gillard’s handling of the issue by prominent commentators. It is of some interest that neither The Age nor the Financial Review had an editorial but The Australian and Herald Sun did.

Also of interest is that The Age has published today a commentary plus a full page elaboration on Gillard’s behaviour in the 1990s under the front page heading “Property links PM to stolen funds”, and it claims that “new documents reveal” a leading role by her. My reading of the commentary is that, while there appear to be new revelations of a minor nature, it suggests The Age may now be pursuing the issue more actively. Related to this is the following extract from the editorial in The Australian: “Even when The Australian revealed disturbing facts about the end of Ms Gillard's legal career, the Coalition baulked at pursuing the matter. We think that was a mistake”. Also of possible relevance is the suggestion in today’s AFR that the cabinet expenditure committee is winding up its review and that the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook is likely to be brought forward to “possibly as early as the end of next week”. All these developments are consistent with the early election possibility that I raised a little while ago.

Des Moore

Texts made Slipper's role untenable

The Age October 10, 2012 Michelle Grattan, Political Editor

PETER Slipper has belatedly done the right thing in leaving the Speakership. His position had become untenable after the revelation of his offensive text messages.

The pity of it is that he did not quit a long time ago. To occupy the office - if not the chair in the House of Representatives - while an unsavoury court case was proceeding and allegations of misuse of Cabcharge vouchers were still outstanding compromised what is a key office, in substance and symbolism, in the Parliament.

If Mr Slipper had not pulled the pin, the government would have been left in an appalling position.

The government is well rid of Mr Slipper, but the sequence of yesterday's events was a bad look for it. Julia Gillard and other government speakers were forced to defend on dubious grounds Mr Slipper continuing in his job, when his situation had become indefensible.

A victim of his own flawed personality: Peter Slipper leaves the Speaker's chair last night.

The Prime Minister threw everything into her argument, which revolved around trying to pin the ''misogynist'' label on the Opposition Leader. It was perhaps the only weapon available to her, but it sounded more desperate than convincing.

If Mr Slipper had not pulled the pin, the government would have been left in an appalling position. It narrowly won the vote in the House to prevent his dismissal, but public outcry would have built and the women in Labor would have been left in a particularly difficult situation.

The moral of the Slipper saga goes back to its beginning. The government wooed Slipper in a highly cynical exercise to improve its numbers. Not only was he a Liberal ''rat'', but he was a ''rat'' with a bad reputation.

The government thought it a great coup, but all it got was a huge load of trouble. Last night, Peter Slipper, weepy but still displaying the odd touch of humorous defiance, was a broken man, a victim of his own flawed personality and Labor's quest for the main chance.

The Age had no editorial but has published an extensive commentary on Gillard’s behaviour in the 1990s (see extracts below).

PM will rue yet another bad call

Dennis Shanahan, Political editor, The Australian
October 10, 2012

Julia Gillard takes aim at Tony Abbott during parliament yesterday.

PETER Slipper has demonstrated better political judgment in apologising for his actions and resigning as Speaker than Julia Gillard has in digging in to defend him.

Only hours after the Prime Minister voted to keep him in the chair and launched a ferocious personal attack on Tony Abbott for misogyny, she sat as a stony witness to Slipper's tearful resignation for the same failing and degradation of women.

Rather than taking the initiative and leaving Slipper to fall on his sword, Labor went to full-blooded battle and tried to make political gains in its obsessive war on the Liberal leader.

When it was obvious to everyone that the new trove of degrading sexual texts unearthed in court meant Slipper's career was over and that Labor should take the lead in his removal to justify its high moral stance on sexism and denigration of women, the Prime Minister dug in.

Labor's defence of Slipper involved an offensive launched against Abbott as being as bad as the Speaker when it came to attitudes towards women.

Although there was no moral equivalence with Slipper's sex texts to his adviser and jokes about jars of "pickled c . . ts" and an ignorant bitch of an MP, Anthony Albanese and Gillard threw the allegations against Abbott to deflect the Coalition's efforts to remove the Speaker.

Blind to public concern and outrage, Labor tried to hold on to Slipper to back its brilliant coup last year in getting him to defect and keep that precious one-seat buffer it lost when Tasmanian independent Andrew Wilkie dropped his guaranteed support after being dudded on a deal over limiting poker machines.

The minority government now faces the prospect of going back to holding a tenuous and brittle margin of just one vote in the House of Representatives after providing a new Speaker -- the put-upon Anna Burke -- from their own ranks.

The parliamentary agony is set to resume with the same intensity and uncertainty it had last year.

Regardless of what happens in his civil court case over sexual harassment and the continuing investigation into travel fraud claims, Slipper faced a new set of insurmountable hurdles to regaining his place.

A new body of evidence, which Slipper's apology statement last night confirmed and authenticated, has arisen through the sexual harassment case that prevented Slipper from acting with dignity in parliament or having respect from MPs, even the Prime Minister.

The government offered a spurious cover story on not wishing to comment when court proceedings were underway; Slipper himself recognised the political legitimacy of the issue and dealt with it without public rancour.

Attorney-General Nicola Roxon's own interventions made a mockery of not making a comment during the court case. Labor was defending the indefensible and fighting the inevitable.

Gillard's parliamentary presentation was brilliantly ferocious, emotionally stirring and evocative of a wronged and injured party.

But the substance and argument fell well short of an acceptable political strategy and risked only alienating more voters disenchanted with the grubby, hypocritical and personal abuse from both sides of parliament.

The alignment of Abbott with Alan Jones's remarks about Gillard's father's death and the "ditch the witch" placards of the anti-carbon tax rally will entrench the Liberal leader's perceived "problem with women" amongst some Labor supporters, but the government risks putting off many more over the defence of Slipper.

The PM, the Speaker, his texts and their misogyny

Editorial, The Australian, October 10, 2012

PETER Slipper's resignation speech as Speaker of the House of Representatives last night was long, indulgent and overdue. Yet, undignified as the manner of his departure may have been, Mr Slipper yesterday showed better judgment than Julia Gillard, who just four hours earlier was defending the indefensible by backing him to the hilt.

Anyone with the remotest respect for the dignity of the Parliament would have been dismayed to see it debating the "gross references to female genitalia" made in text messages by a man paid more than $300,000 a year by taxpayers to preside over parliament. In order to defend her choice as Speaker, Julia Gillard earlier cast herself as victim and delivered a vicious attack on Tony Abbott, labelling him a misogynist. For his part, the Opposition Leader's speech decrying Labor's support for the Speaker made onlookers wince after 10 days of controversy over Alan Jones's appalling remarks when he used the phrase "a government which should already have died of shame". The Australian rejects claims the general tone of political invective is worse than ever, but we must wonder why this parliament is so sidetracked by unseemly exchanges.

The Prime Minister is ultimately responsible for both the crisis over the Speaker and the descent into the personal realm. Her decision to lure Mr Slipper into the Speaker's chair was always a "gamble" about which this newspaper was sceptical. "But now, rather than see a prime minister with political savvy," we observed at the time, "the public are turning up their noses." The Slipper deal was driven by base political motives rather than the national interest. Despite public warnings, internal misgivings and the opposition nominating a range of Labor MPs as alternatives, Ms Gillard stuck with the conservative turncoat. And despite the text revelations - calling Liberal MP Sophie Mirabella an "ignorant botch (sic)" and referring to female genitalia in a grossly offensive fashion - the Prime Minister and her government voted to back Mr Slipper yesterday. Ms Gillard sought to portray Mr Abbott as anti-women in a transparent effort to use attack as a distraction and to assume victim status for herself. The nation's first female Prime Minister deliberately escalated the so-called gender war in order to defend a discredited Speaker. This is a personal level of debate that Labor has deliberately chosen. Again, this newspaper warned against taking this path when we said just three weeks ago that "Labor's personal smear campaign could backfire". It has backfired in two obvious ways: it flushed out Margie Abbott to defend her husband in a powerful intervention last week that would appear to have struck a chord with the public; and it has exposed the government to charges of hypocrisy for supporting Mr Slipper.

Labor's attempt to demonise Mr Abbott seriously misjudged mainstream values. His socially conservative views are shared by many voters, and most others are untroubled so long as he doesn't foist them upon others. Ministers effectively suggest his relationships with his wife, daughters and sisters provide a smokescreen for deep-seated misogyny. This invites mainstream voters to compare the Opposition Leader's family arrangements and personal history with those of his antagonists. The opposition has been reluctant to return personal fire. Even when The Australian revealed disturbing facts about the end of Ms Gillard's legal career, the Coalition baulked at pursuing the matter. We think that was a mistake. Still, after the Prime Minister's angry denunciation of Mr Abbott, she has surrendered the right to complain if parliament descends into further personal smear. Besides, Ms Gillard's list of anti-women grievances against Mr Abbott is not convincing. It includes using the phrase "honest woman"; allowing for nuance in the complex debate about female representation in positions of authority; speaking at a rally when people put a nasty "Ditch the Witch" placard among others behind him; and even looking at his watch during her speech. Debate these instances all you will, but they pale into insignificance compared to the offensive, anti-women sentiments betrayed by Mr Slipper's private text messages. Labor attempted to hide behind his sexual harassment court case when such legal niceties didn't prevent ministers, including the Attorney-General, commenting on the merits of the case while it was being contested. Now the government has settled its claim and the remaining claim awaits a finding from a judge alone. So there was no reason to refrain from comment. Mr Slipper's belated apology late yesterday removed any question about their authenticity.

It was disappointing to see the Prime Minister seek the solace of victimhood to protect herself from a sordid scandal of her own making. The Speaker's chair is an important institution in a parliamentary democracy. It is invested with considerable authority and status. It must be filled by an MP who can be trusted to exercise his or her duties with a modicum of bipartisanship, propriety and dignity. Mr Slipper's questionable use of entitlements, political treachery, exposure to sexual harassment claims, disdain for his former Coalition colleagues and grossly sexist text messages made it clear he could not resume this role. Ms Gillard showed the stubborness that is her great asset and obvious weakness. Standing by her Speaker until he resigned, she clothed herself in his indignity.

Sleaze claims Slipper’s scalp

AFR 10 Oct 2012, Laura Tingle

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott: “Another day of shame for a government that should already have died of shame.” Prime Minister Julia Gillard: “The government isn’t dying of shame. My father did not die of shame.”

The resignation of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Peter Slipper, Tuesday night followed an emotional meeting with crossbench MPs Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor, who advised Mr Slipper his position was untenable and that he should resign with dignity rather than being forced out sooner or later by Parliament.

The two MPs voted with Labor Tuesday afternoon to defeat a motion, 70 to 69, proposed by Opposition Leader Tony Abbott to force Mr Slipper from office. A few hours later Mr Slipper announced he would go on his own terms, believing it would not be in the Parliament’s interest to forcibly remove him.

Sources insist there was no deal for the independents to vote against Mr Abbott’s motion on the understanding he would resign soon after.

Resignation comes amid high drama

The House met late Tuesday night to elect a new speaker and deputy speaker after a dramatic day in Parliament. Prime Minister Julia Gillard retaliated against the Coalition’s attack on Mr Slipper by escalating the battle over sexism in politics, labelling Mr Abbott a hypocritical misogynist.

An emotional Mr Slipper, who used crude language in private text messages about women, said he would resign “in the interests of the Parliament”. The decision spares the government from having to defend him in coming days.

Anna Burke, who has been acting as Speaker since he stood aside in April, was elected unopposed to replace Mr Slipper, who will move to the crossbenches, leaving the government’s numbers in the House of Representatives – and therefore its hold on government – unchanged or potentially one vote stronger. He insisted he bore no one on either side of politics ill will over the debate about his suitability to be speaker.

Ms Gillard argued that while she was offended by comments about women made by Mr Slipper in the texts to adviser James Ashby, there was a court case in progress in which the judge had reserved his decision.

It was best to await this judgment before taking any action against Mr Slipper, she said.

Slipper references ‘truly gross’: Abbott

Question time was suspended when Mr Abbott took the highly unusual step of moving that Mr Slipper be removed as speaker, not because of the ongoing court case but because of the “truly gross references to female genitalia” revealed in messages that emerged during the ­sexual harassment case filed by Mr Ashby against Mr Slipper.

Mr Abbott cited the “clear bias” he said Mr Slipper had revealed against a female Liberal MP, Sophie Mirabella, who was described as an “ignorant botch” in the texts.

“This Speaker has failed the character test but the Prime Minister failed the judgment test” by backing Mr Slipper’s appointment as speaker, Mr Abbott said.

In a fiery rebuttal, Ms Gillard turned the attack on Mr Abbott.

“I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny” by the Opposition Leader, she said.

Ms Gillard linked Mr Abbott with attacks on her extending from broadcaster Alan Jones’s comments that her father had “died of shame” to the “ditch the witch” signs at rallies addressed by Mr Abbott last year.

Echoes of Jones in Abbott attack

In a highly provocative move, Mr Abbott used the same “died of shame” comment in his speech in Parliament that Mr Jones used last week. “Another day of shame for a government that should already have died of shame,” he said.

“The government isn’t dying of shame. My father did not die of shame,” a clearly enraged Prime Minister retorted.

“What the Leader of the Opposition should be ashamed of is his performance in this Parliament and the sexism he brings with it.

“Sexism should always be un­acceptable. We should conduct ourselves as if it is always unacceptable. He could change a standard himself if he sought to do so. He’s capable of double standards, but incapable of change.

“Misogyny, sexism, every day. That is all we have heard from him.”

Ms Gillard listed a long history of comments by Mr Abbott about women generally and about her that she said she found offensive.

Court decisions expected this week

Federal Court judge Steven Rares is expected to announce his decision on the abuse of process claim by Mr Slipper in the Ashby case in coming days. A trial on the sexual harassment allegation has not been scheduled.

House Leader Anthony Albanese said the decision to resign was Mr Slipper’s alone. He paid tribute to Mr Slipper’s time as speaker, no matter what the controversy.

No one in federal politics had expected Mr Slipper would be able to return to the speaker’s chair, whatever the outcome of the harassment case.

But Mr Windsor and Mr Oakeshott are believed to have canvassed all Mr Slipper’s options with him during a meeting in the speaker’s office as the debate on Mr Abbott’s motion raged.

The motion for Mr Slipper to be removed was won by Labor by one vote with the support of Mr Windsor, Mr Oakeshott and Greens MP Adam Bandt. WA Nationals MP Tony Crook and independent Andrew Wilkie sided with the Coalition.

Independent MP Bob Katter abstained from the vote. He said he was repulsed by some of the texts but would not participate in a “kangaroo court”.

Slipper issues apology for texts

After the debate, Mr Slipper released a statement apologising for his remarks. He said nothing excused their content but that “it was intended at the time that text messages be ­private between Mr Ashby and me”.

“I understand why people, particularly women, would be offended by these statements and I unreservedly apologise for them”.

Mr Slipper continued to enjoy the extra pay and perks of the speaker’s office, despite standing aside in April.

A Newspoll this week showed that the Coalition has an eight percentage point lead over the government.

Nationals MP Bruce Scott was elected Deputy Speaker.

The Australian Financial Review

At last, the PM puts her foot down

AFR 10 October 2012, Laura Tingle

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott stands in front of a sign that reads ‘Ditch the witch’ at an anti-carbon tax rally in Canberra last year. Prime Minister Julia Gillard has gambled that her emotional attack on Abbott will escalate the focus on his attitude towards women.

Somewhere between settling some very personal scores and escalating an attack on her political opponent, the Prime Minister decided yesterday she was not going to give the opposition Peter Slipper’s head on a platter.

But in doing so she has left the ­government open to the charge that, despite the outraged rhetoric about Tony Abbott’s sexism, it was prepared to tolerate Slipper in the interests of keeping the numbers in the House.

It can only add to a perception that Labor’s hold on power is very ­tenuous, when in fact it is no more ­tenuous now that Slipper has chosen to stand down as Speaker.

Few in Canberra believe Slipper will resign from Parliament, meaning no real change in numbers in the House.

Julia Gillard has gambled that her emotional attack on Abbott will escalate the focus on the Opposition Leader’s attitude towards women, and also force a reappraisal of her.

Her response to Abbott’s push for the House to remove Slipper yesterday on Tuesday was one of her strongest and most fiery parliamentary performances in the top job.

Gillard rose to prominence because of her parliamentary ­per­formances in opposition and, as ­deputy prime minister she was regarded as Labor’s deadliest weapon in government. Until yesterday, Tuesday, however, she had sheathed her sword as Prime Minister.

She has opted to turn the fire back on Abbott. She exploited the opportunity to create one big political narrative that stretched from Alan Jones’s recent comments about her father right back through all the attacks made against her since she became Prime Minister, attacks which would not have been made if she was a man.

“I was offended by the sexism, by the misogyny, of the Leader of the Opposition catcalling across this table at me as I sit here as Prime Minister. ‘If the Prime Minister wants to, politically speaking, make an honest woman of herself…’, something that would never have been said to any man sitting in this chair,” she said.

“I was offended when the Leader of the Opposition went outside in the front of Parliament and stood next to a sign that said ‘Ditch the witch’.

“I was offended when the Leader of the Opposition stood next to a sign that described me as a man’s bitch.”

The Prime Minister has been ­storing it all away, and she has made clear she won’t just cop it gracefully in future.

Social media comments concentrated on and applauded her aggression and attack, rather than on the fact that she had decided to keep Labor’s fortunes riding with Slipper, despite the appalling attitude to women revealed in his text messages to James Ashby.

It may not matter all that much in the longer term.

The Prime Minister gave the government an out by arguing the matter should be considered once a reserved judgment from the Federal Court on the abuse of process claim by Slipper in the Ashby case is made in coming days.

But in her determination to not give the opposition the scalp yesterday, the Prime Minister missed an opportunity to take the initiative on the ­Slipper issue and rid the government of a man whose presence reminded voters of the doubts they have had over her judgment.

Gillard fails key test of leadership

AFR 10 Oct 2012, Geoff Kitney

One of the critical tests of political leadership is the ability to recognise when to lead. Yesterday Prime Minister Julia GiIlard failed this test.

If ever there was a moment when Australia’s political system needed a leader’s speech, it was in Parliament on the matter of the unfitness of Peter Slipper to continue to hold the office of Speaker of the House of Representatives.

What it got from Gillard was a speech about the unfitness of Tony Abbott to be the Leader of the Opposition.

What Gillard should have done was move the motion that Tony Abbott moved – a motion to remove the Speaker from office.

The case that Slipper was not fit to continue in the role of Speaker was sealed by the revelations in court proceedings of appalling sexism and personal bias he expressed in private email communications.

The attitudes and language used by Slipper were shocking.

But this is not just a matter to be taken in isolation.

The revelations about Slipper’s ugly inner thoughts have come at a time when the national conversation has sunk to horrendous lows. The ugliness which has surfaced in the social media in recent days – in the Alan Jones affair, in the Slipper matter and in the online abuse directed at Gillard – has shocked the nation.

Respect and civility are collapsing.

Gillard had the chance yesterday to do what leaders do in what is an emerging national crisis – to rise above the partisanship and ugliness and lead by example. She could have gone into Parliament and immediately taken a stand for respect and civility.

She had the opportunity to use the Slipper affair to take a position against the decline in standards of national political conversation by declaring that Slipper had behaved in a way that was unacceptable.

She could have shown herself to be better than Abbott, at whom she directed her indignation and criticism. But the Slipper affair has gone far enough.

Regardless of the outcome of the court proceedings in which Slipper is involved – the excuse Gillard used yesterday in arguing for not passing judgment on his fitness for office now – he could not have returned to his place in Parliament.

In light of what is now known about his attitudes, it would have been a farce. The political cost for Gillard of standing by Slipper will be greater than the political cost of admitting her original error of judgment in making the deal with him that made him Speaker.

More to the point, this is a time when Gillard has a lot to gain by showing leadership on dealing with a growing sickness in politics – the sickness of intolerance and extreme language.

Standing up for principles would be good politics.

But yesterday Gillard made a terrible error: she made a passionate and angry speech attacking Abbott for double standards on sexism and misogyny.

But then she offered a weak and dissembling explanation as to why it was not the time to take any action to deal with Slipper despite his appalling language, which reflected attitudes beyond anything Abbott has ever indicated.

The issue of whether Abbott was being hypocritical by demanding Slipper be removed for “vile sexism and bias” was secondary to the question of the Speaker’s fitness to continue in his job.

Gillard erred in arguing that Abbott’s move did not deserve to be taken seriously because of his own record.

Despite Slipper’s resignation last night, yesterday Gillard’s judgment failed her.

Peter Slipper resignation an inevitable end to sordid mess

Herald Sun, Editorial, 10 October 2012

THE Gillard Government was pitched into a fresh crisis last night with the resignation of parliamentary Speaker Peter Slipper.

In the wake of long-running legal action by a staffer and the recent revelation of sordid text messages sent by Mr Slipper, the rogue Opposition MP shed tears and bowed to pressure.

In many ways it was a fitting end to a Speaker's reign born out of the political expediency of a Prime Minister desperate to shore up her minority Government.

The release of lurid text messages he sent to former staffer James Ashby made it impossible for him to return to his position. The messages revealed a man with what could best be described as an uncomfortable attitude towards women and who apparently had an intrusive interest in the openly gay Mr Ashby's sex life.

Mr Slipper last night issued a grovelling apology over the sordid texts, then took the chair to stand down as Speaker. It simply didn't matter if the texts were sent in jest or intended to be private. Now they are in the public domain, they suggest a side to Mr Slipper at odds with the behaviour required of a Speaker.

The position is one of the highest in the land and much more than a ceremonial role: the Speaker presides over the House, maintains order, upholds Standing Orders and rules on contentious issues. He or she is, in effect, the moral arbiter of an often fractious House that needs an authoritative presence in the chair.

Mr Slipper's resignation was inevitable as the scandal robbed him of whatever shred of moral authority he had, as all MPs must surely have read Mr Slipper's texts with disgust.

In a country such as ours in which the public traditionally viewed politics with scepticism, it was disastrous for such a toxic cloud to be hanging over the House, particularly when Mr Slipper had continued to draw his salary of roughly $1000 a day.

The dramatic resignation is a devastating blow to the fragile Gillard Government. It must now appoint another Speaker.

The turmoil also adds to the Government's reputation as a shambolic administration that will do anything to cling to office while it imposes disastrous policies like the carbon tax.

Mr Slipper's resignation caps a toxic period in federal politics.

Property links PM to stolen funds

The Age 10 October 2012, Mark Baker

THE disgraced former boyfriend of Prime Minister Julia Gillard took a leading role in the purchase with stolen union funds of a Fitzroy unit bought in the name of a union crony, new documents reveal.

The documents also confirm that Ms Gillard intensely managed legal work on the 1993 transaction - without advising her senior partners at law firm Slater & Gordon of the involvement of boyfriend Bruce Wilson.

The house was nominally purchased by Australian Workers Union official Ralph Blewitt, a protege of Mr Wilson, a former West Australian and later Victorian state secretary of the union.

A letter sent to Mr Wilson from Ms Gillard's office on February 22, 1993, said: ''Mr Blewitt will be registered owner of the unit you are purchasing.''

Mr Blewitt had not seen the unit, in Kerr Street, Fitzroy, when it was bought earlier that month by Mr Wilson, who was accompanied to the auction by Ms Gillard.

The transaction was effected by Mr Wilson using a power of attorney for Mr Blewitt that was drafted by Ms Gillard.

Ms Gillard broke off her four-year relationship with Mr Wilson and resigned from Slater & Gordon after she was challenged by senior partners in late 1995 about the work. She has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing since then.

National officials of the AWU discovered in April 1996 that the unit had been purchased partly with stolen union funds - a total of more $100,000 towards the unit and stamp duty.

Investigations by police and the AWU found hundreds of thousands of dollars had been misappropriated from the AWU Workplace Reform Association.

The association was incorporated in Western Australia under advice from Ms Gillard with the declared objective of ''development of change to work to achieve safe workplaces''.

But in her meeting with senior Slater & Gordon partners in September 1995, Ms Gillard described the association - which drew big company donations, ostensibly for workplace reform - as a union election ''slush fund''.

At a press conference in Canberra in late August Ms Gillard said she regretted using the term ''slush fund'' but confirmed the purpose of the association was to fund union election campaigns. She said she was unaware at the time that some of these funds had been used to buy the Fitzroy unit.

Conveyancing files prepared in Ms Gillard's office in early 1993 show Mr Wilson handled almost all of the matters associated with the purchase and that she waived professional fees totalling more than $1600.

The files show that $67,722.20 towards the purchase was transferred to Slater & Gordon's trust account on February 22, 1993. That money was later revealed to have been taken from the AWU Workplace Reform Association.

The balance of the purchase was funded by a $150,000 mortgage with Slater & Gordon loan funds arranged by Ms Gillard.

Almost all of the correspondence relating to the settlement was addressed to Mr Wilson, who also swore a statutory declaration of behalf of Mr Blewitt to effect the mortgage.

A detailed letter dated March 17, 1993, outlining the conditions of the mortgage - including instructions on how to make the mortgage loan repayments - was sent to Mr Wilson's then home address in Carlton and not copied to Mr Blewitt.

In another document Ms Gillard requested a memo from Slater & Gordon staff on how penalty interest was to be paid.

In her September 1995 meeting with the firm's senior partner, Peter Gordon, and general manager Geoff Shaw - details of which were first revealed last month - Ms Gillard said Mr Wilson had persuaded Mr Blewitt to purchase a property where he would become tenant.

''What was said to me at that stage was that Ralph had an interest in investing in a property … and that Bruce had talked to him about making an investment in Victoria rather than Western Australia because it would suit everybody's purposes,'' she said, according to a transcript of the meeting.

The plan had ''made sense'' to her. ''I didn't have any particular reason to question it in great detail, or at all,'' she said.

Ms Gillard also conceded she ''hadn't made a careful enquiry'' about the financial circumstances of Mr Blewitt - ''a middle-aged man on his second marriage''. ''His wife worked. So, you know, they weren't Mr and Mrs Onassis but they were relatively well positioned,'' she said.

Sold to the union man

The Age October 10, 2012, Mark Baker

IN LATE August, Julia Gillard delivered one of the finer performances of her political career. After weeks of damaging media coverage and increasingly vitriolic internet commentary about her connections with a decades-old trade union fraud scandal, the Prime Minister resolved to tackle the critics head on.

At a Parliament House news conference, called ostensibly to discuss asylum seekers, Gillard dragged the proverbial dead cat into the centre of the room.

A silly mistake in that morning's Australian newspaper (it wrongly reported that she had been involved in establishing a union trust fund in 1992) led News Ltd to give her a formal apology and the toe-hold she needed to climb up and over the critics.

Brazenly conflating the mistake (it was a non-profit association she helped incorporate, not a trust fund) with a ''smear campaign'' driven by ''misogynists and nut jobs'' on the internet, Gillard declared: ''I have decided to come to this press conference today because this matter has got to the stage where we are starting to see recycled, false and defamatory allegations which I have dealt with in the past.''

None of it was new, she said - and then let the questions run. And run. With a flourish, she drew proceedings to a close: ''I've been on my feet now for, what, I can't quite recall, 50 minutes, something like that, taking every question that the journalistic elite of this country have got for me. If that doesn't end the matter then, with respect, I don't know what would.''

The journalistic elite was impressed. Even some of the more hardened hands were quick to applaud her pluck and candour. She had answered every question. She had faced a wide-ranging grilling. And she was indeed a victim - the target of vile and sexist abuse from the lawless blogosphere.

The Prime Minister's strategy was a resounding success. It stopped a damaging debate in its tracks - at least in the mainstream media.

But that day ought to be revisited for what should have been asked but wasn't, for what wasn't answered but should have been and for what remains unresolved. What Gillard didn't do was properly answer many new questions about her conduct in the early 1990s that were raised a few days earlier when The Australian published a partial transcript of a meeting in September 1995 between Gillard and senior partners of Slater & Gordon, a meeting that precipitated her departure from the law firm.

That meeting had been called after the firm became aware for the first time that the Australian Workers Union Workplace Reform Association, an association incorporated with the advice of Ms Gillard, had been corrupted by her then boyfriend, Bruce Wilson - a senior AWU official - to steal, it was later discovered, hundreds of thousands of dollars of union funds.

The firm was also disturbed about aspects of conveyancing work done by Gillard in 1993 for the purchase of a unit in Fitzroy. While the unit had been bought in the name of another AWU official, Ralph Blewitt, the transaction had been comprehensively managed by Wilson using a power of attorney drafted by Gillard.

What the senior partners did not know then, but discovered the following year, was that more than $100,000 towards the purchase of the property had been siphoned from the AWU Workplace Reform Association.

Gillard, then a salaried partner at Slater & Gordon, had been first challenged about her role in helping create the association and in assisting with the purchase of the Fitzroy unit at a meeting on 14 August, 1995, with Geoff Shaw and Nick Styant-Browne, an equity partner in charge of the firm's commercial department.

At that meeting Gillard confirmed she had not followed established procedures to open a formal file on the work done to incorporate the Workplace Reform Association. She had played down her role, claiming she had only given some advice about incorporation.

She also confirmed that she had drafted the power of attorney for Wilson without advising senior colleagues.

Gillard told Shaw and Styant-Browne that her unofficial file of paperwork relating to the Workplace Reform Association was no longer available as it had been passed on to someone outside the firm.

Immediately after that meeting, Gillard took leave and in her absence staff found the file in her office.

Questioned about this at her September 11 meeting with Shaw and senior partner Peter Gordon, Gillard said - according to the transcript of the recorded interview - that her recollection was ''that I hadn't opened a file on the system and that I had had some papers and at some point I had given the papers to [name redacted]''.

She said an assistant had found the papers in a cabinet: ''I was surprised … my recollection was I had given the papers to [name redacted]. I didn't expect them to be here and so I didn't go on a big hunt for it, really I should have. That was an error.''

She confirmed to the senior partners that she had not taken advice from anyone at Slater & Gordon about the structuring and incorporation of the association, an area in which the firm had experienced senior staff.

Gillard told Shaw and Gordon the association was a ''slush fund'' designed to gather money for union election campaigning.

But the application for the association's incorporation in 1992 and the rules drafted under Gillard's advice make no reference to campaign funding and declare the organisation's objectives to be the promotion of workplace safety and training.

At her news conference in August, Gillard offered a happy marriage of these seemingly diverse objectives: ''My understanding of the purpose of this association was to support the re-election of union officials who would run a campaign saying that they wanted re-election because they were committed to reforming workplaces in a certain way, to increasing occupational health and safety, to improving the conditions of members of the union.''

Gillard told journalists that after assisting with the incorporation she knew nothing about the workings of the association until ''matters were raised in 1995''.

She broke off her four-year relationship with Wilson days before her meeting with Shaw and Gordon, later saying she had been ''deceived'' by him.

At that meeting she was also questioned about her role in advising on the purchase of a $230,000 unit in Kerr Street, Fitzroy - a property Ralph Blewitt had never seen before it was bought in his name in February 1993 by Bruce Wilson, who attended the auction with Julia Gillard.

She said Wilson had persuaded Blewitt, a union crony based in Perth, to buy an investment property that he, Wilson, could live in. ''It made sense, I didn't have any particular reason to question it in great detail, or at all,'' she said.

After buying the property in Blewitt's name, Wilson managed all of the transaction, including the establishment of a $150,000 mortgage from a Slater & Gordon loan facility arranged by Gillard. A deposit payment of $67,722 transferred to Slater & Gordon's trust account was later found to have come from the AWU Workplace Reform Association, along with other amounts for stamp duty and costs.

Prior to the meetings in August and September 1995, Ms Gillard had not revealed to the senior partners that her boyfriend was involved in the transaction and that she had done the work without charge for her professional services.

Questioned by Peter Gordon, Gillard said that she had not made inquiries about the source of funds Ralph Blewitt would use to buy the property and service the mortgage: ''I assumed he had the money for the deposit and to meet the mortgage repayments when they fell due … To the extent that I thought about it, I hadn't made a careful inquiry about his financial circumstances.''

At her news conference, Gillard said she was unaware that funds stolen from the Workplace Reform Association had been used to buy the property: ''I did not, at that time, understand that any funds from any other source would be used to support the purchase, that is funds from the association or any other accounts related to the union.''

Gillard was also asked by journalists about persistent claims that AWU money may have been used to pay for renovations to a house she had bought in Abbotsford in 1991. Her answer was emphatic: ''I paid for my renovations.''

But in September 1995, when questioned extensively about the extent and nature of those renovations, Gillard was not so sure and was asked for, and agreed to, supply receipts for the work that had been done.

Peter Gordon: ''Julia, it's been put to a partner of Slater & Gordon in the last week that there exists a receipt with respect to renovation work conducted at your home which is in some way connected with funds from the Australian Workers Union Workplace Reform Association account.''

Gillard said she had heard a rumour that after Wilson left the AWU someone had presented the union with an unpaid account for work on her house. She said this could relate to disputed work on the property's front windows and fence which she was in the process of settling.

''I can't categorically rule out that something at my house didn't get paid for by the association or something at my house didn't get paid for by the union or whatever,'' she said. ''I just, I don't feel confident saying I can categorically rule it out, but I can't see how it's happened because that really is the only bit of work that, that, that I would identify that I hadn't paid for.''

Gillard told her news conference that she had ''determined to resign'' from Slater & Gordon because of growing tensions about the direction of the partnership and to pursue a political career.

Asked whether she felt her future at Slater & Gordon had been ''on the line'' during the September 1995 meeting, Gillard said: ''It's 17 years ago. I don't have a clear recollection of those matters.''

But Peter Gordon does. In a draft statement leaked to The Australian two days earlier, he said the firm had contemplated sacking her because her relationship with the other partners had fractured and ''trust and confidence evaporated''. But in view of her repeated denials of wrongdoing, he believed she should be given the benefit of the doubt.

Whether she jumped or was pushed, after the September meeting Gillard effectively did not work with the firm again. She took extended leave in October 1995 to (unsuccessfully) campaign for a Senate seat and formally left early in 1996.

At the August news conference, one of the more sceptical journalists remarked: ''Prime Minister, you have said in the past that you were young and naive when you got involved with Mr Wilson. But, I mean, you were 30 at the time … It wasn't like you were off the first train from Adelaide.''

Mark Baker is editor-at-large.

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