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I am circulating only a sample of the latest media reports on Gillard’s involvement with (supposed) AWU slush funds because there is now a reasonable amount published in all major papers and I am also limiting my comments because most of the issues raised by her involvement now seem to have been covered there. However, there are some additional points worth mentioning:

Overall, it seems likely that, absent further substantive statements by Gillard, the extent of her involvement in the slush fund(s) will remain a running sore for her and Labor. As previously suggested, the argument that there is no “smoking gun” will not reduce the problem: it goes to the issue as a whole and how this affects her integrity and behaviour. It is now probably too late for Gillard to do a complete retraction.


PM comes out swinging on scandal

Laura Tingle and Pip Freebairn, AFR 27 Nov 2012

Prime Minister Julia Gillard said she would not revisit the AWU slush fund scandal because the opposition’s strategy of sleaze and smear was distracting from the government’s positive agenda Photo: Andrew Meares
Photo: Andrew Meares
Prime Minister Julia Gillard said she would not revisit the AWU slush fund scandal because the opposition’s strategy of sleaze and smear was distracting from the government’s positive agenda

Prime Minister Julia Gillard denied yesterday receiving corrupt funds from her then partner in the 1990s, but declined to answer directly whether she should have agreed to the Australian Workers Union’s name being given to an association subsequently used for fraud.

The current national secretary of the AWU, Paul Howes, said the union’s name should not have been included in an association that Ms Gillard, as a lawyer, helped set up for Bruce Wilson, which his former union colleagues say he used to misappropriate funds.

But Mr Howes said there was never a question of whether Ms Gillard should have alerted the national executive to the existence of the fund, a claim argued by the opposition yesterday in an attack during question time.

After weeks of allegations and negative media coverage, the Prime Minister held a lengthy press conference yesterday on the scandal and then responded to questions from deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop in Parliament.

Ms Gillard said she had reversed her position that she would not revisit the AWU slush fund scandal because the opposition’s strategy of sleaze and smear was distracting from the government’s positive agenda.

PM Can’t recall Receiving $5000 From Partner

During the press conference, Ms Gillard said she believed she had not received misappropriated money, knowingly or unknowingly, for renovations on her Melbourne home, nor could she remember receiving $5000 which a former union employee alleges Mr Wilson instructed him to put in her account.

“I do not, to the best of my knowledge, remember $5000 being put in my bank account,” she said. “My engagement with ATM machines has been like everybody else’s, you get a surprise on the downside when you put your card in and check your account balance, not a surprise on the upside.”

Ms Gillard denied a claim by former AWU official Ralph Blewitt that she had failed to properly witness a power of attorney. She said the man’s own family had called him a “crook”, and associates had described him as “a complete imbecile, an idiot, a stooge, a sexist pig, a liar”.

His word or mine, make your mind up: Gillard

“It’s going to come down to Mr Blewitt’s word against mine . . . his word against mine, make your mind up,” she said.

“I witnessed thousands and thousands of documents over an eight-year legal career for clients and I did that witnessing properly.”

On whether it was wise to include the union’s name in the association, Ms Gillard said: “This did not strike me as a non-standard transaction; unions incorporate associations to support the re-election of union officials.”

Asked whether she sought AWU authorisation about the use of its name, Ms Gillard said that unions speak through elected officials.

“The people I was dealing with, Mr Blewitt and Mr Wilson, were both office holders of the AWU.”

Mr Howes told The Australian Financial Review the fund was never presented as an authorised account of the union.

Fund didn’t require Executive authorisation: Howes

“It was set up for re-election of union officials,” he said. “It would have been preferable that it didn’t [include AWU in its name], that is true, but the fund was never authorised by the national executive, nor should it because it was presented as a re-election fund.”

Asked why she did not report the association to the AWU when questions emerged in 1995 about corruption in the Victorian branch, Ms Gillard said: “You can’t report things you don’t know and I didn’t have before me any details or any evidence about transactions on the accounts of the association, any bank accounts, that had been established by the association.”

Ms Bishop used all of the opposition’s questions in question time to ask Ms Gillard about the use of the AWU name and whether she should have alerted the union to its existence.

Ms Gillard said if there was a problem with the association it would have been dealt with by the registrar of such associations.

Julie Bishop’s questions bordering on embarrassing

Ms Gillard said Ms Bishop’s questions were “bordering on the embarrassing”.

Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten, who last week labelled the association as inappropriate, said he was satisfied with Ms Gillard’s explanation.

“She gave legal advice on the incorporation of the association but she has made it crystal clear she had no knowledge of the operation of the association,” he said. “What I do know, and I was a junior official at the time, my predecessors detected it and reported it to the police.”

Mr Blewitt told ABC’s 7.30 that Ms Gillard had smeared his character in her press conference and some of her comments were “stretching the truth”.

Mr Blewitt said he made no financial gain while acting as Bruce Wilson’s “trusted lieutenant” and dealing with the slush fund, and he didn’t know what happened to the sale of the Fitzroy house bought partially using union money.

Mr Blewitt called on Mr Wilson to release former Slater & Gordon senior partner Nick Styant-Browne, Slater & Gordon, and Maurice Blackburn, who took over the AWU file, from client privilege so documents could be made public to clear up the allegations.

Mr Blewitt said former personal injury lawyer Harry Nowicki was paying for his trip from Malaysia to Melbourne to make a statement to Victoria police about the corruption. He made the statement on Friday.

So much to know, why so little said?

Hedley Thomas, The Australian, November 27, 2012

Julia Gillard has again defended her record while working at solicitors Slater and Gordon in a marathon press conference in Canberra.

"YOU can't report things you don't know," the Prime Minister said yesterday, explaining why she never raised a red flag on the AWU Workplace Reform Association in the mid-1990s.

But there was plenty she did know at the time.

It is a matter of public record that Julia Gillard's boyfriend and client, Bruce Wilson, was openly suspected of serious fraud from early August 1995.

His fraud involved his criminal use of a secret and unauthorised slush fund in Victoria, called the AWU Members Welfare Association No 1 account, which received large cheques from major companies. Wilson controlled the scam.

There was an immediate internal and then public furore after it first came to light in early August 1995.

The union quickly forced out Wilson. The union also called on the fraud squad to go hard with a criminal investigation.

The union's national leadership would even seek a royal commission into the AWU's corruption in Victoria.

The widespread public knowledge of Wilson's fraud is backed by numerous union documents, sworn affidavits and even newspaper clippings from that actual period.

In the industrial movement at the time, these were extraordinary events. The depth of Labor and union concern about it has never been in dispute.

Seventeen years later, the most dangerous question for the Prime Minister today is why - given the very serious concern at the time - she stayed silent about a scandal that also rang very loud alarm bells in her firm, Slater & Gordon.

Ms Gillard and her firm were inextricably linked with Mr Wilson and were at the centre of a major crisis with devastating fallout, including possible imprisonment for union officials.

Why, then, did Ms Gillard not blow the whistle by telling the client - the AWU, which employed Mr Wilson - of the existence of a different Perth-based slush fund, the AWU Workplace Reform Association (which was set up using legal advice she provided in early 1992)?

Each time this question or something like it was asked by journalists in yesterday's media conference, Ms Gillard's replied by declaring that she did not have evidence at that time of any "wrongdoing" involving the association, which she later described as a "slush fund".

Her argument is that because she did not know about wrongdoing or criminality (at the time) in relation to the association, there was no reason for her to disclose to the AWU's national leadership - including Bill Ludwig and Ian Cambridge - that she personally knew of another slush fund. But this slush fund carried the union's name. It was controlled by the same criminal suspect the union had just got rid of. He was Ms Gillard's boyfriend.

Ms Gillard's explanations yesterday avoided a serious point. In weighing, amid the Wilson-fraud furore in 1995, whether to immediately alert the union's leadership of the existence of the other slush fund (something it should have known about from the very start), Ms Gillard did not need to know whether there ever was wrongdoing involving Workplace Reform Association.

It was the role of the union and the police to determine whether the association had been rorted like the Victorian slush fund, not Ms Gillard.

But it can be argued it was the role of the union's solicitor and her firm - Ms Gillard and Slater & Gordon - to give the AWU a heads-up about the Workplace Reform slush fund's very existence.

Surely, it was their role to say, simply: "Mr Ludwig and Mr Cambridge, we at Slater & Gordon do not know if it is dodgy like the Victorian slush fund, but we think you ought to be aware that in 1992, I, Julia Gillard, a salaried partner, provided legal advice to Mr Wilson that led to the creation of something called the AWU Workplace Reform Association, and I have only now told the firm that it, too, was a 'slush fund'. Unfortunately, nobody else in the firm knew of this work that I had done because when I gave the legal advice, I did not open a file."

The union was never told by its own lawyers about the Workplace Reform Association that carried its name. As a result, the union could not investigate it and follow the money trail until it was far too late. The transcript of Ms Gillard's September 11, 1995, internal tape-recorded interview with the firm makes it obvious that both she and the senior partner, Peter Gordon, are acutely aware of the possibility that the Workplace Reform Association had been financially misused.

Ms Gillard herself raises this scenario when asked about the financing of the renovation of her own home, and she states: "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".

It was Ian Cambridge's relentless pursuit of the fraud that led to the discovery of the Workplace Reform Association - but only after being advised in April, 1996, by the Commonwealth Bank, which he had asked to identify every bank account with the name "AWU" in it.

By not disclosing anything to the union, Ms Gillard and the firm gave the No 1 suspect, who had been her boyfriend and also a client for the previous four years, a major head-start.

In that time, Mr Wilson stole a further $150,000 by draining related accounts and selling a property, a Fitzroy terrace house, so that by early 1996, the AWU's members had no chance of getting the union's funds back.

The question about the lack of disclosure is not one for Ms Gillard alone - the firm of Slater & Gordon and its former partners also need to consider their position after repeatedly declining to shed light or comment on the lack of disclosure about something that was rotten.

Julia clears the air as best she can

Dennis Shanahan, Political editor, The Australian, November 27, 2012

JULIA Gillard has dealt as categorically as she can with a number of issues arising from her advice to her then boyfriend, union official Bruce Wilson, in establishing the AWU Workplace Reform Association.

Politically she has sought to turn the issue back on Tony Abbott as the author of a "sleaze and smear" political campaign to fill the vacuum of Coalition policy, a tactic she specifically ruled out in August.

In deciding that stonewalling against increasing media queries about her actions as a partner at Slater & Gordon in the 1990s was no longer tenable amid rising concern within the government's ranks, the Prime Minister has sought to do away with grey areas.

But the decision to hold another "marathon" press conference has also sharpened the focus on areas of inadequacy.

In relation to unknowingly or unwittingly receiving money that could have come from the union "slush fund", Gillard said that: to the best of her knowledge she hadn't received a $5000 deposit from Wilson into her bank account; she hadn't worked on the conveyancing of the house bought in part by money from the AWU Workplace Reform Association fund; she had paid for all the renovations on her house and not reimbursed anyone for payments made for the renovations.

But Gillard continues to suffer from the following issues: that she kept the advice she gave her then boyfriend secret from her legal partners; that she did not inform the AWU - Slater & Gordon's prime client - that an association was being incorporated using its name; opposition allegations that the incorporation may have contravened West Australian corporate law and; that when rumours and allegations about Wilson and confessed fraudster Ralph Blewitt misappropriating funds began circulating, she did not tell the AWU or the police about the existence of the association.

Yesterday Gillard made it clear that Wilson and Blewitt were her clients - not the AWU - when she advised them on the incorporation of the association, which she understood to be a commonplace re-election fund for the Wilson team of AWU officials.

That the fund would be for the personal gain of Wilson and Blewitt - that is re-election campaign funding - created difficulties in Western Australia because of the law there.

This is the first issue deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop pursued in parliament.

Gillard said yesterday that although the association had AWU in its title, she didn't have to tell the union because Wilson was her client, not the AWU, and it didn't require a union resolution.

Some union officials say the use of the AWU in the title and the lack of reference to officials' re-election would be misleading, and last week Bill Shorten said the fund was "inappropriate" and "out of bounds".

Later yesterday, in a different slant, Gillard said she didn't have to tell the AWU because both Wilson and Blewitt were elected officials and therefore she was "entitled" to say "people who were office bearers of the AWU knew about it".

When pressed as to why she did not tell the AWU or authorities of the existence of the association after concerns about Wilson's alleged fraud involving another slush fund were voiced publicly, the Prime Minister argued she had no evidence of any criminality or wrongdoing to report to the AWU or police.

But when asked in parliament earlier this month why she had not reported "the fraud" involving the AWU Workplace Reform Association, Gillard replied: "By the time the matters she (Bishop) refers to came to my attention they were already the subject of inquiry and investigation."

It has never been clear what inquiry or investigation was being used as an explanation.

Yesterday Gillard referred to Liberal claims in the Victorian parliament about investigations into fraud by the National Crime Authority and Victorian police.

Gillard has emphatically denied wrongdoing and any knowledge of the operation of the AWU Workplace Reform Association, but still faces questions about her advice in establishing a fund with AWU in the title, which led companies to pay into the fund in the belief they were paying the AWU. There is also her decision not to disclose the existence of the association.

This political infighting will continue in the final week of parliament for this year but Gillard has made the right decision not to stonewall through the Christmas break and let the matter fester.

Gillard's evasion keeps issue alive

The Age, November 27, 2012, Mark Baker, Editor at Large

THE Prime Minister might have devoutly wished her marathon media conference and intensive parliamentary grilling would be the last word on the AWU slush fund scandal, but her responses on two key issues have ensured her wish will not be granted.

Ms Gillard's confirmation that she was representing infamous union cronies Bruce Wilson and Ralph Blewitt - and not the union they supposedly represented - when she advised on the setting up of the now notorious AWU Workplace Reform Association raises a rash of fresh questions about the wisdom and appropriateness of her role.

And in refusing to deny that she wrote to WA authorities in mid-1992 vouching for the bona fides of the slush fund, Ms Gillard remains exposed to further accusations that her role was more substantial than admitted.

Indeed, Deputy Opposition Leader Julie Bishop was hammering both issues no sooner had Ms Gillard ended her media conference with a triumphant flourish and headed straight into parliamentary question time.

As a salaried partner at Slater & Gordon in the early 1990s, Ms Gillard was both a lawyer representing the AWU and the girlfriend of Mr Wilson, the union's WA and later Victorian branch secretary.

But she made clear at her media conference that it was Mr Wilson and Mr Blewitt, his successor as WA secretary, who were her clients when she advised on the incorporation of the Workplace Reform Association - from which the pair later stole in excess of $400,000.

She said the role of the association - which she has branded a slush fund but which was incorporated as a body to promote workplace safety - was to promote the pair's re-election in the union. ''Did I need to separately advise the AWU this was occurring? Of course I didn't. The people I was dealing with were elected officials of the AWU,'' she said.

That was not the view of her senior partners at Slater & Gordon, who came close to sacking her when they discovered in 1995 the work she had done without keeping a formal file or taking their advice, and not the view of the AWU national leadership who sought a royal commission when the full magnitude of the scandal was exposed in early 1996.

Ms Gillard can expect further scrutiny over her part in establishing the association after refusing to deny in Parliament that she had been instrumental in securing approval for the incorporation of the association by writing to dispel concerns of WA Corporate Affairs Commission about its bona fides.

She said the correspondence referred to in an Age report in October had not been produced ''and so it's a claim that has been made but no correspondence has been produced''.

Ms Bishop has now flagged the opposition will pursue Ms Gillard not just on the allegation of breaching AWU rules in the setting up of the association, but also for allegedly breaching the WA Associations Incorporation Act and creating a false document.

Ms Gillard defended herself by portraying Ralph Blewitt not only as the bumbling fraudster of his own admission but also as a sex fiend, an imbecile, an idiot, a stooge, a sexist pig, a liar, a crook and someone who was ''rotten to the core''.

This, of course, was the same Ralph Blewitt in whom Ms Gillard apparently saw no character issues when her legal advice was used to install him as frontman for perhaps the biggest union rort in Australian history.

Complete fabrication. Channel 10's Meet the Press (Sunday)

HUGH Riminton: It has been said you were a lawyer at Maurice Blackburn in the 1990s and it has been reported in the papers that the AWU files came across your desk, when they shifted from Slater & Gordon to your company. Did you see them?

Nicola Roxon: No, look, this is also another complete fabrication. It's true that I worked at Maurice Blackburn, and it's true that the new union leadership were one of the clients. But there is a number of years between these issues. Again, people are just trying to make a link, because they want this story to keep running, they want to distract the government from getting on with its serious work, and I'm not going to let it do that.

Complete fabrication? Hedley Thomas, The Australian,
August 23:

“LEGAL correspondence obtained by The Australian shows that Ms Roxon, as a solicitor for Maurice Blackburn & Co, a Melbourne law firm, worked on the AWU's legal files after Ms Gillard's departure from Slater & Gordon ... After the alleged fraud was exposed, the matters surrounding the union's finances became the subject of an investigation by the Australian Industrial Relations Commission.

As a solicitor for the AWU Ms Roxon was directly involved in the handover of union documents for the investigation, as well as advising the then national union head, Terry Muscat. One of her legal letters to the commission's then industrial registrar describes a 1998 conference at which "we identified outstanding documents which needed to be provided to your office for the purposes of completing your investigation".

NOTE: Roxon was a Senior Associate at Maurice Blackburn from 1996-98. She has been in Parliament since October 1998

Labor claims win from Wilson comments

Jared Owens, The Australian, November 25, 2012

Bruce Wilson at his NSW home. Picture: Liam Driver Source: Herald Sun
Picture: Liam Driver
Bruce Wilson at his NSW home. Source: Herald Sun

FOREIGN minister Bob Carr has praised the Prime Minister's "finely tuned sense of judgment and timing", as she faces renewed questioning over the AWU scandal.

Senator Carr backed Julia Gillard's refusal to answer questions about her conduct as a solicitor at Slater & Gordon in the 1990s, during the creation of an AWU slush fund.

“She’s a tough woman and she sees this, we all see it, as a right-wing indulgence in spinning a conspiracy theory - we’ll see where it goes,” he said.

Senator Carr's defence came after Ms Gillard's ex-boyfriend Bruce Wilson broke his silence on the matter in News Limited newspapers today.

Mr Wilson says the Prime Minister knew "absolutely, categorically nothing" about a 1990s union fraud.

Speaking for the first time since the Prime Minister has faced renewed questioning in recent weeks about the scandal at the AWU, Mr Wilson said: "They can go on a witch-hunt for as long as they like, and they will find nothing that will do her (Gillard) any harm."

The former state secretary of the Australian Workers Union also said that his former colleague, union bagman Ralph Blewitt, is a "very risky" person for critics of Ms Gillard to rely on.

Mr Wilson was in a relationship with Ms Gillard in the 1990s when he allegedly used an association, which she provided legal advice to help set up, to defraud hundreds of thousands of dollars from the AWU. Ms Gillard has repeatedly and strenuously denied wrongdoing, saying she knew nothing about the workings of the association, which she later described a "slush fund" for the re-election of union officials.

Mr Blewitt, who controlled the association with Mr Wilson, on Friday provided a statement to Victorian police about his role in the fraud.

Mr Wilson told News Limited newspapers: "Relying on Ralph to be your star witness is a very, very risky strategy. It's not one I would be prepared to take."

Environment Minister Tony Burke said Bruce Wilson's claims published today meant it was "story over'' for the Prime Minister's involvement in the AWU saga."It appears the door's slammed pretty firmly shut on ... the big allegation of connection (to Ms Gillard) that the Opposition haven't been quite willing to make,'' he told ABC1's Insiders.

"Over the last year, they have thrown everything at the Prime Minister - the smears, the slander, the negativity - and she's still there, we're getting through the policy work.''

Senator Carr said the corruption scandals at the Australian Workers' Union and Health Services Union should damage the Labor Party's image no more than corporate malfeasance tars the Liberals.

"Holding the Labor party responsible for the blemishes, serious as they are, in the trade union movement is like saying the Liberal Party with its business links is tainted by corporate malfeasance; and that would be ridiculous," Senator Carr told the Australian Agenda program on Sky News.

"To say that because there's been this quite scandalous betrayal of the Health Services Union, for example, by the corruption of part of its leadership is not grounds in itself to say that the Labor Party as an organisation should sever its links - its institutional and constitional links - to the union movement as a whole."

"They keep us in touch with the reality of the suburban street, the country town, with the aspirations of ordinary Australians. "As a broad movement, when it comes to corruption resistance, (the labour movement) has come up pretty well."

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