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PM has slight edge after sexism row: poll

AAP, October 15, 2012 4:17PM

PRIME Minister Julia Gillard's personal approval rating has risen after last week's furore in parliament over sexism, but so has Tony Abbott's.

An Essential Research opinion poll released on Monday shows her approval rating lifted by six percentage points to 41 per cent in October from a month ago.

The opposition leader also had a rise, five points to 37 per cent.

But the online survey of 1048 respondents found Ms Gillard still had a clear lead as preferred prime minister.

Ms Gillard scored 43 per cent as making the better prime minister, up from 40 per cent previously, while Mr Abbott eased to 36 per cent, from 37 per cent.

However, voting intentions were largely unchanged, with the two-party preferred measure stable at 53 per cent for the Liberal/Nationals coalition and 47 per cent for Labor.

Despite the increased backing for Ms Gillard, Essential's two-week average showed Labor's primary vote eased to 36 per cent from 37 per cent, while the coalition was unchanged at 47 per cent.

George Brandis calls for probe into PM's conduct on union

Joe Kelly, The Australian, October 16, 2012

OPPOSITION legal affairs spokesman George Brandis has called for an investigation into whether Julia Gillard may have misled the Western Australian Corporate Affairs Commission about the nature of a union association she set up two decades ago.

Senator Brandis, who has spearheaded the Coalition attack on the Prime Minister's past at law firm Slater & Gordon, yesterday suggested she might have breached WA law.

"It seems to me that Julia Gillard may very well have placed herself in breach of section 43 of the Associations Incorporation Act, which makes it an offence to provide false or misleading statements in relation to the incorporation of an association," he said.

Ms Gillard has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. As a partner at Slater & Gordon in the early 1990s, Ms Gillard helped to set up an entity called the Australian Workers Union Workplace Reform Association for her then boyfriend, former Victorian AWU secretary Bruce Wilson. The entity was used by Mr Wilson and his AWU bagman, Ralph Blewitt, to allegedly receive hundreds of thousands of dollars.

But Senator Brandis has called for Slater & Gordon to release the file on the incorporation of the association which is reported to possibly contain Ms Gillard's correspondence with the WA Corporate Affairs Commission. This would be a first step to establishing whether a formal investigation was necessary.

Senator Brandis said Ms Gillard's alleged endorsement of the entity to the WA Corporate Affairs Commission in 1992 contradicted her claim earlier this year that she had "no involvement in the working of the association".

"(If) at the time the Workplace Reform Association was created, she knew it to be a 'slush fund' -- her words -- then it would not be possible for her honestly to have reassured the Western Australian Corporate Affairs Commission of its bona fides," Senator Brandis said.

On August 23, Ms Gillard provided a further assurance in a lengthy press conference in Canberra that she had provided advice only in relation to the entity's establishment.

But Senator Brandis said this statement was contradicted by weekend reports in Fairfax papers of her correspondence with WA Corporate Affairs.

"Ms Gillard's role went beyond providing advice in relation to the establishment of the association," he said.

Nicola Roxon unlike any other Attorney-General

Editorial, The Australian, October 16, 2012

AFTER almost a year in office, Nicola Roxon has shown she is still struggling to understand what it means to be federal Attorney-General. There must now be a real doubt about whether she will ever learn. Her conduct throughout the sexual harassment case against former Speaker Peter Slipper is a biased and unacceptable departure from the principle of fairness demanded of the nation's first law officer.

Regardless of whatever she does in future, Ms Roxon's legacy is already in place. She will be remembered as the Attorney-General who diminished her office through a combination of political fervour, lack of self-discipline, poor judgment and factual errors. Ms Roxon is a well-trained lawyer and a skilled political street-fighter. Normally, this would be a lethal combination in the world of politics. But the last thing the nation needs is a student activist turned political head-kicker as Attorney-General.

Occupants of this office must be willing, on occasion, to temper their political instincts in order to protect the integrity of the legal system. On this measure, Ms Roxon has been over the top and shown a troublesome lack of restraint. Before the Slipper case, she held a media conference just outside the High Court attacking "big tobacco" while tobacco companies were inside the court challenging her plain-packaging legislation. So much for scrupulous neutrality.

Her inability to remain aloof and allow the legal process to run its course helps explain the lynch-mob mentality that has gripped the government throughout the Slipper litigation. A desperate government, keen to protect its control of the House of Representatives, lashed out at Mr Slipper's accusers. Instead of hauling her colleagues into line and leaving things to the court, the Attorney-General was at the front of the mob. She misrepresented a text message in the Slipper case to run a baseless smear campaign against the News Ltd journalist who had broken the story, Steve Lewis. She sought to portray a short text from Lewis -- "We will get him" -- as evidence of some sort of conspiracy. Now that the full context has been made public, and it is clear Lewis was referring to an attempt to find a particular driver, Ms Roxon's actions have exposed the government to charges of hypocrisy. After what it did to Lewis (on a flawed interpretation of the text messages) it cannot be taken seriously when it refused to publicly debate Mr Slipper's odious text messages or vote in support of a motion to sack him over these uncontested revelations -- supposedly to avoid parliament becoming a "kangaroo court".

Even if Ms Roxon can explain how she got her facts so wrong, an apology to Lewis is overdue. She has already apologised to the Federal Court after her office arranged for Mr Slipper to have parking privileges -- a privilege not extended to his accuser, James Ashby. But there's more. Thanks to the lack of a confidentiality provision (an oversight by government lawyers) we now know the settlement offer to Mr Ashby appears to have breached the government's own rules. That settlement cost taxpayers $50,000 and was supported by Ms Roxon. This apparent irregularity demands disclosure of documents showing why the government settled.

Slater and Gordon law firm 'was highly unethical', says Paul Howes

Hedley Thomas, National chief correspondent, The Australian, October 16, 2012

A UNION leader who ensured Julia Gillard's success in ousting Kevin Rudd has slammed her former employer, Slater & Gordon, accusing the legal firm of unprofessional conduct over a fraud scandal.

Australian Workers Union boss Paul Howes had stayed silent as facts emerged over the past two months about the Prime Minister's actions as a solicitor that led to a secret internal probe at Slater & Gordon in 1995, and top partners of the firm losing trust and confidence in her.

Ms Gillard, who left her job as a salaried partner at the firm amid the fallout, has repeatedly and strenuously denied any wrongdoing in helping to establish a union "slush fund" for her then boyfriend, allegedly corrupt union boss Bruce Wilson, and his AWU bagman Ralph Blewitt.

The two men used the AWU Workplace Reform Association to allegedly illegally raise hundreds of thousands of dollars, about $100,000 of which went to buy a $230,000 Melbourne terrace house in early 1993, in Mr Blewitt's name, and for Mr Wilson's use. Ms Gillard attended the auction and assisted in the transaction for the house.

Mr Howes told The Australian yesterday that Slater & Gordon had been "highly unethical" for declaring it would ask the AWU to waive privilege to lift a legal lid on the files relating to Ms Gillard's work for the firm and the AWU in the early to mid-1990s.

The firm's head, Andrew Grech, pledged two months ago that Slater & Gordon was determined to protect its reputation: "We hope that we are released from our obligations of confidentiality so that we can speak freely."

The firm's strategy was viewed by an infuriated Mr Howes and his lawyers, Maurice Blackburn, as part of a bold challenge to the AWU to allow potentially damaging statements and material concerning Ms Gillard's legal advice into the public arena. Mr Howes said yesterday the firm subsequently wrote to him to advise that the most sensitive of the legal documents, over Ms Gillard's role in helping establish the slush fund, could not be found.

The slush fund was registered with the West Australian government with a stated objective to promote workplace safety but was set up to raise money to pay for elections of union officials including her boyfriend, and Ms Gillard's work was not disclosed to her partners at Slater & Gordon until fraud claims arose.

"It was highly unethical conduct from our point of view and we were amazed that Slater & Gordon would act that way with its former client, the AWU," Mr Howes said. "The first we heard about what the firm was proposing was when we read it in The Weekend Australian."

Mr Grech said yesterday: "Whilst we regret that any former client is dissatisfied or believes that we have acted other than consistent with our professional obligations, we reject Mr Howes's characterisation of events. We have invited Mr Howes to discuss his concerns with us and to work with him as a former client, to resolve them."

Mr Howes declined to comment on the role of Ms Gillard. Ms Gillard's work on the slush fund and on the file was closely questioned by her then boss, senior partner Peter Gordon, in September 1995 before her departure; however, that key file cannot now be located by the firm.

Mr Blewitt, who admitted to The Australian that there were "sham transactions", has pledged to co-operate with authorities in return for an indemnity from prosecution.

Slater & Gordon has also been under fire from a former equity partner, Nick Styant-Browne, who was interviewed by Fairfax at the weekend and accused the firm of trying to orchestrate a "whitewash" to protect Ms Gillard.

Ms Gillard in late August denied any of her actions at Slater & Gordon had been unethical or involved any wrongdoing, adding that she had ended her relationship with Mr Wilson when his conduct became known to her.

Cut & Paste

What's in a name? That which we call a misogynist Nancy Reagan who goes the biff

The Australian, October 16, 2012

ABC1's Insiders on Sunday:

PRESENTER Barrie Cassidy: It is a bit hard to get back on to public policy, though, when that allegation is out there that Tony Abbott is a misogynist. Do you believe that he is?

Climate Change Minister Greg Combet: He is a very aggressive, arrogant sort of fellow and likes to lead a lynch mob. . .

Cassidy: But do you accept, though, there's a big difference between being a sexist and misogynist. Did Julia Gillard make the case that he's a misogynist?

Combet: . . . The Prime Minister has some views about that, that many of us share. I think Tony Abbott should refect upon how he conducts himself as the Liberal leader, Opposition Leader.

Derek Parker, Spectator Australia, October 13:

A SIMPLE phone call establishes that the (Manly Women's) shelter received $148,000 from (Tony) Abbott, raised through his annual Pollie Pedal fundraising event earlier this year . . . He recently participated in the Sydney Marathon, acting as a guide for a blind runner, Nathan Johnstone. This was also a fundraiser, with the funds going to the McGrath Foundation -- specifically, to breast cancer care nurses . . . When asked her opinion on the allegations of misogyny on the part of Abbott, (Ellie Hunt, president of the Manly Women's Shelter) was blunt: "You just can't take them seriously."

End the name-calling! Insiders:

COMBET: The Insiders is a show that is known to listen to a lot of this (politics), but people outside hear bits of it. And I think they would prefer politicians to get off name-calling and get on with the business of government.

End the name-calling? Leader of the house Anthony Albanese, Hansard, February 9, 13, 16, 29 and June 25:

IN your guts, you know he (Tony Abbott) is nuts.

Defence Materiel Minister Jason Clare, Hansard, February 29:

(ABBOTT) stands for nothing. He is the Nancy Reagan of Australian politics without the astrology: say no to everything, just rancid, dripping, relentless negativity.

Julia Gillard, Hansard, May 28:

(ABBOTT) is Gina Rinehart's butler.

Labor MP Richard Marles interview, May 29:

TONY Abbott is . . . a dog of a candidate.

Labor MP Rob Mitchell tweets, May 29:

ABBOTT is a Neanderthal.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports on posters on Health Minister Tanya Plibersek's walls, June 1:

TONY Abbott: Note to ladies: Make me a sandwich.

Tony Abbott: I'm threatened by boats and gays. Gays on boats are my worst nightmare.

Wayne Swan, Hansard, June 18:

THE Leader of the Opposition (is) a dodgy snake oil salesman.

Labor MP Mark Dreyfus, Hansard, June 26:

YOU'RE left thinking that (Tony Abbott) sees political advantage in people dying.

The PM, Hansard, August 20:

LIKE Jack the Ripper, he is going to be there wielding his knife.

The Treasurer, Hansard, September 11:

HE wants to go the biff day after day after day . . . His aggressive negativity, day after day, going the biff, showing aggression . . . He is a thug.

Swan tweets, September 19:

TONY Abbott is the poster child for the vile, bully-boy values.

Gillard, Hansard, October 9:

I WILL not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man. I will not -- not now, not ever. If he wants to know what misogyny looks like in modern Australia, he does not need a motion in the House of Representatives; he needs a mirror.

Labor MP Steve Gibbons tweets, October 10:

THAT douchebag Tony Abbott.

Union sleaze hits Labor

AFR 16 Oct 2012

Slush FundMark Skulley

Civil charges by Fair Work Australia against former union official and crucial independent MP Craig Thomson over the Health Services Union scandal will place more pressure on the Gillard government’s slim hold on power.

Charges filed yesterday in the ­Federal Court, three-and-a-half years after the first allegations about him appeared in a newspaper article, accuse Mr Thomson of using union credit cards to buy sex from escort agencies and brothels while he was national secretary of the HSU.

Mr Thomson insisted last night he was innocent. He faces the prospect of a trial next year in which he could be questioned under oath.

Mr Thomson tweeted last night: “FWA ignore own internal KPMG report on dodgy investigation. Look forward to clearing my name.”

Thomson faces almost $500,000 in Fines and repayments

If proven, the civil charges would not force Mr Thomson from the NSW seat of Dobell, which includes The Entrance. But he faces almost $500,000 in fines and repayments and, if made bankrupt, would have to resign from Parliament.

Attorney-General Nicola Roxon indicated that the government and the Labor Party would not pay for Mr Thomson’s legal defence. The NSW division of the Labor Party helped cover his earlier legal costs.

The charges inject new uncertainty about the government’s support in the House of Representatives, where Labor has 70 MPs and the Coalition has 71. There are eight crossbench MPs. They include Mr Thomson and the former speaker and ex-LiberalPeter Slipper, who has started voting with the government.

The allegations of rorting in the HSU have led to criminal charges against the former head of the union’s NSW branch, Michael Williamson, who is a former national president of the Labor Party and an ex-factional leader in NSW.

The Federal Court is due to hold an initial hearing on the charges against Mr Thomson on December 7.

New claims linked to payments for sex

Fair Work Australia general manager Bernadette O’Neill said the charges mostly stemmed from the labour regulator’s lengthy investigation into the HSU’s finances and included several additional allegations.

A 193-page lawsuit lodged with the Federal Court shows the new allegations appear to relate to charges Mr Thomson withdrew cash on a credit card and used the money to pay for sex.

The lawsuit claims 37 breaches of general duties imposed on union officers and 25 breaches of HSU rules. The transactions, from 2002 and late 2007, cover the period Mr Thomson was head of the union’s national office.

“I have not taken this action lightly,” Ms O’Neill said. “I am satisfied it is in the public interest to pursue the allegations in the documents filed in the Federal Court today and ­consider that there is a reasonable prospect of success.”

“I will also be seeking orders requiring Mr Thomson to pay compensation for losses allegedly incurred by the HSU by reason of the alleged breaches of general duties should they be proven.”

MPs are not allowed to remain in Parliament if they become bankrupt. The civil case seeks fines and repayments from Mr Thomson that could hit about $500,000. He may have to pay interest charges and legal fees too.

37 alleged breaches carry fines of $6600 each

Breaches of the general duties on union officials can carry fines of $6600 on each of the alleged 37 counts that he faces. The court documents indicate Fair Work will seek the repayment of at least $254,000 to the HSU, which represents a wide range of healthcare occupations, including junior doctors and cleaners.

Mr Thomson said in a statement that Fair Work Australia was trying to save face by filing the court action after spending several years and more than $1 million on an investigation report that was criticised in a subsequent review by KPMG.

“I have always maintained my innocence in these matters and I ­continue to do so,” he said.

“Clearly Fair Work Australia has felt pressured into responding this way given the political process which it is part of.

I will vigorously defend claims: Thomson

“Naturally, I will vigorously defend these claims which are based on a totally discredited Fair Work Australia report.

“The minister now needs to take a close look at the credibility of Fair Work Australia and whether it has made any effort to respond to the recommendations of the KPMG review.”

A spokesman for Employment and Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten, who initiated the KPMG review, said anyone proven to have “ripped off” union members should face the full force of the law, but he would not prejudice the case by discussing it.

“It is in the interests of those [HSU] members to see this matter through to its conclusion before the Federal Court,” the spokesman said.

The government has pushed through legislation that places tougher scrutiny and increases penalties under the Registered Organisations Act, which governs unions and employer groups.

The federal Opposition has pledged to take tougher action if it wins the next election and set up a body to oversee unions and employer groups.

The Opposition’s workplace spokesman, Eric Abetz, rejected the suggestion that Fair Work had been under political pressure to proceed with the charges.

“After four long years, one can hardly claim that Fair Work Australia have been pressured into doing anything in relation to this matter,” he said. “The Fair Work findings against Mr Thomson are devastating.

“I just trust that Mr Thomson doesn’t use any delaying tactics, but I fear that he will seek to delay matters until the next election at least.”

Fair Work officials are due to be questioned by opposition MPs at a Senate committee meeting tomorrow.

Mark Davis, the journalist who first published the allegations which appeared in The Sydney Morning Herald, is now an adviser to Climate Change Minister Greg Combet.

Labor slams Brandis over Thomson comments

AFR 16 Oct 2012

Labor has attacked shadow attorney-general George Brandis for suggesting that criminal charges against under-siege federal MP Craig Thomson are in the pipeline.

The suspended Labor man turned independent faces fines of up to $450,000 and compensation payments after Fair Work Australia filed civil charges in the Federal Court on Monday.

The charges broaden existing claims Mr Thomson spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of union funds on prostitutes and other personal expenses while national secretary of the Health Services Union.

Mr Thomson maintains his innocence and says he expects the civil charges will be thrown out.

But Mr Brandis said he now expects criminal charges to be laid against Mr Thomson.

“It would be very surprising if in view of the view of these facts ... a criminal charge isn’t long in coming,” he told Sky News.

The statement drew the ire of cabinet minister Craig Emerson, who said it was irresponsible coming from the man representing the Coalition on legal affairs.

“For a shadow attorney-general to say that criminal charges can’t be far away is frankly outrageous and I condemn it completely,” he said.

He told Senator Brandis to come clean if he had inside knowledge of pending charges, while also attacking the coalition for denying Mr Thomson “any sense of natural justice”.

Senator Brandis said it was merely a prediction.

Dr Emerson defended the government’s right to accept Mr Thomson’s vote as an elected member of parliament.

Opposition frontbencher Barnaby Joyce called on leading Labor women including Attorney-General Nicola Roxon and Health Minister Tanya Plibersek to condemn Mr Thomson.

The Queensland Senator said they had backed disgraced former Speaker Peter Slipper after attacking others for sexism “and now what do we hear them have to say about Mr Thomson?”.

If they didn’t speak out they’d be labelled “hypocrites” who were simply out to score political points, Senator Joyce told reporters in Canberra.

“We had a discussion last week where Tanya Plibersek and all were charging around calling everybody misogynists.

“And today we have a case of a person who’s certainly not a misogynist - I think his problem is he probably likes women too much.”

Asked if he thought it was sexist to sleep with prostitutes, the senator said: “I just don’t think you should be doing it with other people’s money.”

The HSU’s acting national president Chris Brown said he is not sure if the union will be able to recoup any misused funds from Mr Thomson, but says it will at least try.

“We will follow it through to the end,” he told ABC radio.

“I suspect that’s going to put some pressure on Mr Thomson, but we’ve got a duty to our members to try and recover where possible.”

Mr Brown welcomed the civil charges, saying Mr Thomson needed to be held accountable for his actions.

The member for Dobell also faces the wrath of a parliamentary committee looking into claims he misled the parliament when he denied the allegations.

“These proceedings are getting to the pointy end,” Mr Brown said, adding there was “more to come”.

The HSU had rid itself of all the people that were problematic for it and was moving forward.

About 90 per cent of HSU members have stuck by the troubled union, Mr Brown said.


The Australian Financial Review

How action on Craig Thomson could hurt Labor

AFR 16 Oct 2012, Laura Tingle

Does the start of civil action against MP Craig Thomson by Fair Work Australia have any implications for the lifespan of the Gillard government, as opposed to public perceptions of its standards?

Not really. MPs only lose their seats with a guilty finding on criminal charges.

But there are two potential impacts on the government’s numbers in the House of Representatives flowing from FWA’s actions yesterday, which formalise what it had previously said – in effect, we don’t believe you – in response to Mr Thomson’s emotional speech to Parliament in May. The first impact is money.

The claims mean the MP may ­ultimately have to pay fines and repay union funds amounting to ­hundreds of thousands of dollars, on top of legal fees. The brutal reality is that such costs could bankrupt Mr Thomson, making it impossible for him to sit in the Parliament, if those costs are brought to account before the next election.

The second impact goes to whether he may have misled Parliament.

In the Lower House in May, Mr Thomson flatly denied the accusations which form the basis of the claims filed against him yesterday.

If the end result of the FWA’s actions in the Federal Court upholds the industrial umpire’s allegations, federal Parliament will have little choice but to find that he has misled the House.

The opposition has already referred the question of whether he may have misled the parliamentary privileges committee.

It is up to the committee to determine whether he has misled the Parliament, and what punishment it can impose on him for doing so.

It has virtual open slather here, with the power to impose any penalty it wishes, potentially including jail.

Most people think a charge of misleading the House might produce a suspension from service of the House for some period.

Three things are worth noting, however, about this process.

The first is that the government has the numbers on the privileges committee. The second is that the punishment needs to be endorsed by the House. The third is that the House is not entitled to impose a more severe punishment than the one recommended by the committee.

The parliamentary fallout will be in part determined by any statement Mr Thomson makes to address the apparent misleading of the House (and he has indicated he may make a detailed statement in response to the charges as early as today).

The fallout will also depend upon when the matter is actually considered by the privileges committee. It is quite likely this would not happen until after the Federal Court had delivered its finding in the case.

The matter may never come to be considered by the Parliament until after the next election, when Mr Thomson is unlikely to be an MP.

In the meantime, the government could do without the renewed focus on the murky dealings of MPs upon whose vote it relies, in the same way it could have done without the Slipper controversy last week.

The Australian Financial Review

Sexism issue hasnít turned voters off

AFR 16 Oct 2012, Laura Tingle, Political editor

The first opinion poll released after last week’s rancorous sexism debate in federal Parliament suggests it has had no impact on voting trends and has improved the standing of both leaders.

The Essential poll, published on Monday, shows the approval rating of Prime Minister Julia Gillard has risen six percentage points from 35 per cent to 41 per cent in the past month and her disapproval rating has fallen from 54 to 51 per cent.

It is the Prime Minister’s highest rating by voters since the middle of March.

However, the approval numbers for Opposition Leader Tony Abbott have also jumped – by five points from 32 per cent to 37 per cent – while his disapproval rating has fallen from 55 per cent to 54 per cent.

When the latest figures are compared with last week’s Newspoll, which was published immediately before the heated debate in Parliament over sexism and over the resignation of former speaker Peter Slipper, they show that the Prime Minister’s approval rating has risen from 36 per cent and Mr Abbott’s from 30 per cent.

Ms Gillard has increased her lead over Mr Abbott as better prime minister to seven percentage points – 43 per cent to 36 per cent – compared with a three-point lead a month ago – 40 per cent to 37 per cent.

The Essential poll says that men in the country are evenly split (at 40 per cent each) on the question of the better prime minister, while women prefer Julia Gillard 47 per cent to 33 per cent.

While debate raged in the mainstream media and social media about the significance of Ms Gillard’s attack on Mr Abbott last week, when she accused him of being sexist, Labor MPs argued that the images of parliamentary brawling were unlikely to change votes, but could reinforce views about the two leaders.

Gillard government ministers appearing on weekend television programs were keen to “move on” from the issue, with Climate Change Minister Greg Combet argued he wanted to “get back onto the public policy issues that people are more interested in”.

Health Minister Tanya Plibersek said “the truth is that plenty of women in their workplaces put up with sexist language plenty of the time”.

“Sometimes you call people out on it, and sometimes you don’t, because you just want to get on with your job.”

Ms Plibersek said she was “much more focused on talking about what is in my portfolio, what the government is doing, the good economic numbers that we’ve had recently, and so on”.

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