Except for a recent, less-than-serious piece, I haven’t bothered to write anything about the Gillard-AWU affair. I felt and still feel that many others are more qualified. And, for the most part they have done a good job, including on the Quadrant site. In the mainstream press, The Australian has been excellent through Hedley Thomas and others as, in recent times, has (the brave?) Mark Baker of The Age.
The usual leftie suspects, like the rusted-on Laborite Laura Tingle of the Australian Financial Review, seem not to mind appearing dim-witted (well I just can’t work out what she dun wrong) and suggest it is much to do about nothing, or at least nothing their uninquisitive-reporter minds can grasp. I have elsewhere concluded that a left-wing economist is a contradiction in terms. It is clear that a left-wing reporter suffers from the same internal contradiction.
I went to lunch with Ms Tingle many years’ ago, when I was chief economist of the State Bank Victoria in Melbourne. I felt she lost complete interest in our engagement halfway through our meal. At the time, I put it down to me being not important or perhaps good looking enough to sustain her interest over a full lunch. I now realise that she would have thought I was the reincarnation of Attila the Hun in business attire. On second thoughts, it was probably my looks.
Anyway, back to the topic. What can I add? Nothing highfalutin’ or novel. Only the Sunday afternoon reflective wonderings of a non- legally trained mind.
The first thing I wonder about is the constant plea by Julia Gillard: I did nothing wrong.
What does that mean? I don’t think I’ve done anything which would fall foul of the Criminal Code, but “nothing wrong” is quite another story. My life, I’m afraid, is full of doing wrong (as I am reminded at home and at church – as if I needed to be) and, God willing, there is more time to come when I will undoubtedly do more wrong.
Let me take a deep breath. By her own admission, Ms Gillard helped establish and vouchsafe for her boyfriend the bona fides of a union-related legal entity. She composed the words describing the purposes of the entity and these gave a misleading impression of its true purpose which was, she apparently thought, as a re-election slush fund (leaving aside the fact of its real and intended fraudulent purpose). This entity was then used to dupe companies into making donations which were siphoned off. She helped establish the entity without the knowledge of the union itself, or her law firm — she opened no official file — whose client was the union of which her boyfriend was an official.
Only in a world bereft of morality and accountability is that doing no wrong. The Prime Minister can claim monumental naivety and incompetence as excuses, even being love-struck and therefore temporarily deranged, but she simply cannot say she did nothing wrong and be credible – except in the eyes of Jon Faine and other ABC and Sky News commentators, including, of course, Mark Latham (who definitely gives all the appearance of being love-struck – watch out, Tim).
Also, the matter of there being only two members of the association when five were required has so far flown under the radar. I’ve dealt with corporate lawyers. They are sticklers. Form an association of two when five are required? Forget about it, if you want a reputable lawyer to act for you. And, by the way, those I dealt with (all reputable lawyers from major firms) wanted to cite board authorisation in appropriate circumstances; and the creation of a related body by an executive would certainly have fallen into that category.
The second thing I wonder about is this penchant Ms Gillard has acquired for impromptu events: the two press conferences and the fifteen-minute-a-side parliamentary debate. Why impromptu if not to ensure those asking questions are ill-prepared? My sceptical and suspicious mind smells a rat.
A third thing I wonder about is her refusal to answer direct questions with direct answers.
For example, what was challenging, if she had done nothing wrong, about saying "yes" or "no" to whether she wrote to the WA Commissioner of Corporate Affairs? Was she effectively taking the Fifth, as the Americans say? Al Capone, I think, took the Fifth.
Even when it was shown through the Slater & Gordon transcript of interview that she had written to the commissioner she still made some curious point in Parliament about the Opposition’s failure to acquire a copy of the correspondence, as though that provided exculpation. I thought at this point that she was trying to mess with people’s minds. My mind certainly couldn’t cope with it. I invite any psychologists or criminologists among Quadrant readers or contributors to provide an analysis.
Another example is whether she indeed properly witness Ralph Blewitt’s signature. A simple "yes" would do. But what she said was: “I witnessed thousands of documents for clients as a lawyer and I witnessed them properly”. Now, clearly, given her personal circumstances, she could be reasonably expected to have remembered this one specifically. In any event, if she witnessed all documents correctly, why not simply say yes? Was she giving herself wriggle room in case something else turns up? What a tangled web we weave.
I wonder about her constant reference to unsubstantiated allegations. If somebody accused me of doing something illegal or immoral, which I had not done, I would not say the allegation is unsubstantiated. I would say it is completely untrue. It did not happen! I did not do it! The fact is that unsubstantiated allegations are often the precursor of substantiated allegations and, sometimes, jail time.
I wonder about her renovations. First, she couldn’t rule out receiving some illicit financial benefit, yet now she can — apparently by the subsequent checking receipts and suchlike after the S&G interview. Obviously, I draw no conclusions but, I’m sorry, receipts don’t do it. Numbers of receipts show that a builder was paid monies. They don’t show whether he was also paid additional funds from some other party; and they don’t show the ultimate source of funds. Leave all that aside. You simply know whether you’ve paid your own bills. I’ve had renovations done to numbers of houses that I have owned through the years. Are you absolutely sure you have paid for these, Peter. Wait! I’ll check my receipts. It’s laughable.
I wonder about the $5000. I imagine Kerry Packer might not have noticed but ordinary folk would and Ms Gillard was ordinary folk then. Maybe if I was accustomed to receiving bundles of unsolicited cash in my account I might not notice an individual $5000, but then that would be a different story. As it is, no one deposits large unsolicited sums into my account, unfortunately. I would notice if they did.
I wonder about exactly why the AWU and/or the police were not informed by Ms Gillard or S&G when the fraudulent nature of the "slush fund" was suspected; and which allowed more monies to be siphoned away. We seem to have been given three stories. One is that the authorities were already investigating the case (which they weren’t), or that there was no evidence of illegality, or that client privilege might have been breached. Maybe it’s my non-lawyer mind, but how can you excuse not informing the AWU, your client, that an association was operating with its appropriated name and leave it at that, even if somehow you’re sensitive about saying more?
I wonder about other things but they are possibly defamatory. So I’ll keep them to myself.
Peter Smith, a frequent Quadrant Online contributor, is the author of Bad Economics