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April 19th 2016 print

Peter O'Brien

The Lady, er, Gillard Vanishes

It's been a year since Ralph Blewitt was told he would be charged by Victoria Police, news to which he reacted by saying that he would be putting the former prime minister in the witness box when his case came to court. Curious, is it not, that we have heard nothing since?

gillard and bunnyThe wheels of justice grind slowly, which, perhaps, is as it should be — but in some cases the pace can be glacial. This month marks a year since The Australian reported that Victoria Police, acting on findings from the Royal Commission into Trade Union Corruption, told Ralph Blewitt ‘he would very soon be criminally charged’ with various offences in relation to the AWU Workplace Reform Association.  Vic Police have had available to them the detailed findings of the Royal Commission, the results of their own investigation (the commencement of which pre-dates the Royal Commission), details uncovered by blogger Michael Smith and reporter Hedley Thomas and, last but not least, Blewitt’s own confession.

So why has Blewitt not yet been charged?  Twelve months does not seem ‘very soon’ to me.  How much more time do they need?  What additional witnesses have been interviewed during this time?

At the time he was advised that charges were imminent, Blewitt responded that he would defend himself and that he would subpoena witnesses, including Julia Gillard.  Is this response significant in relation to the apparent inaction that has attended this case since then? I have argued elsewhere that there is very strong circumstantial evidence against Gillard.  Justice Heydon, while forensic in his treatment of most evidence put before him, displayed a curiously avuncular attitude towards the former prime minister and ill-starred home-renovator.

Questions that were not asked at the royal Commission are outlined below in an extract from an earlier article. You can read it all here:

We now come to the other issue that troubles me. What happened when Slater & Gordon became aware of the problem? Specifically, why did neither that law firm nor Gillard alert the AWU to the existence of an association that bore the name ‘AWU’ in its’ title and which appeared to have been used for fraudulent purposes? The Royal Commission seems strangely incurious about this. Its interest in the affair appears to end at the time that the fraud came to light and Gillard was sacked by Slater & Gordon. Here is what is known.

Sometime in mid-1995, the AWU became aware of another fraudulent bank account known as the AWU Welfare Account No 1. Bruce Wilson was identified as the malefactor and the AWU proceeded against him. He sought legal advice from Gillard, who referred him to Bernard Murphy. After an initial conference, Murphy declined to represent him.

At about the same time, according to evidence given to the Royal Commission, ‘rumours began swirling about Slater & Gordon’ regarding illegal use of the AWU Workplace Reform Association and, eventually, Gillard was interviewed regarding her role in these matters. The upshot was that she was prevailed upon to resign. It is not clear exactly what either Slater & Gordon or Gillard knew of the fraud’s extent — but they did know, apparently, that funds had been drawn against the Associations’ bank account for illegitimate purposes. They must also have known, from the tenor of questions put to Gillard by Peter Gordon, that the Association itself was dodgy. It seems that, at this point, Gillard and Slater & Gordon management wiped their hands of the whole affair. Despite the fact that they now knew the AWU Workplace Reform Association was a sham intended only as a vehicle for fraud, they took no steps to apprise the AWU of its existence.

Gillard, upon being asked if she had given ‘consideration to alerting the AWU to the fact that moneys had been travelling in or out of the Workplace Reform Association account?’ responded:

For my state of knowledge and for what I was doing was not the partner – well either of the partners, any pf the partners. I was not amongst the partners who were making enquiries about this matter.

She was then asked if she had raised the matter with Bruce Wilson and she replied:

Subsequent to these events I had a discussion with Mr Wilson where he was evasive and I formed the view that I had not been fully in the picture about the nature of his conduct and I took steps to end our relationship.

The question of client privilege obviously comes into play here and, for me, this is definitely a grey area. Bruce Wilson can clearly claim client privilege in regard to what he told Bernard Murphy in relation to the AWU Welfare Account No 1. But can he claim privilege into what he told Gillard in relation to the Workplace Reform Association if his sole intention was to deceive her into assisting him in perpetrating a crime? I would have thought not. Did Gillard have a duty to inform the AWU of the existence of the AWU Workplace Reform Association? Did Slater & Gordon have such a duty? After all, the AWU was their client. From the perspective of the man in the street, I would regard such a duty as incumbent upon them.

Documents in the public domain show that, at that time, what was under investigation was the AWU Welfare Account No1 and that the AWU did not become aware of the existence of the AWU Workplace Reform Association until May, 1996, when it was revealed to them by the Commonwealth Bank.

When Gillard was asked in Parliament why neither she nor Slater & Gordon alerted the AWU or the police about the AWU Workplace Reform Association, which she had helped set up and which was subsequently found by Slater and Gordon to have been so dodgy that they required Ms Gillard to leave the firm, the then-Prime Minister’s response to this was that at the time of her interview with her managing partner (September, 1995) ‘these matters were already under investigation’. That is not correct. What was under investigation was the Welfare Account No 1. Even if Ms Gillard genuinely thought that the AWU Workplace Reform Association was under investigation, would this absolve her of her duty to volunteer whatever assistance she could to the investigation?

Did either Gillard or Slater & Gordon seek advice from the Law Institute of Victoria or some other governing body about their rights and obligations in this case? I find the Royal Commission’s lack of curiosity on these questions to be disappointing. Surely there were further issues to be explored.

Contrast Gillard with Cardinal George Pell, for example, who may or may not have known about the cover-up of priestly paedophilia but who, upon achieving a position of power, moved swiftly to address the problem and has subsequently admitted that in many ways he could have done things better. Gillard, who may or may not have known that her less-than-professional actions were assisting in the perpetration a fraud, did precisely nothing when she achieved a position of power to redress what she, by then, certainly knew was a crime. All we have heard from her is that she is, somehow, a victim.

Could it be that is one rule for conservatives and another for ‘progressives’, as so eloquently posited in a recent Quadrant article by Christy Davies?   Could it be that someone doesn’t want Gillard called to give evidence under oath in response to questions from a hostile counsel for Ralph Blewitt?  Could someone be protecting our first female Prime Minister?  Could the whole stinking fish have been relegated to the too hard basket?

And why has the media apparently lost interest in this case since Julia Gillard was ostensibly cleared by the Royal Commission?

I have written to the Victorian Police Commissioner seeking clarification on this matter, but I’m not holding my breath.

Comments [5]

  1. pgang says:

    It is just another forgotten episode in the endless, dreary saga of Australian political sleaze, 21st century style.

    We Australians have turned our backs on politics. Nobody cares about this next election. It is just another political impost, best described to me by a hard working neighbour as the death of his business for the next 2 months as spending dries up. I doubt whether 99% per cent of the population even knows why it is being called, or could care less. I don’t, not really. Something didn’t get passed by the senate, as per usual, presumably because special interests are at play. I might remember what it is if I put my mind to it, but the fact is that I know none of them really care, so I can’t be bothered.

    Tony Abbott, if he did nothing else, breathed some life back into federal politics; a bit like blowing into the lungs of a corpse. This is a doomed system, when the public are forced to front up to the polls like the living dead.

  2. en passant says:

    Peter,
    If there is a knock at your door very late at night ask your wife to answer it …

  3. Alistair says:

    Nothing will happen while there is a Labor Government in Victoria.

  4. [email protected] says:

    Justice may be blind, but it also must have a peg on its nose no to notice the smell from the plethora of Union scandals, corruption and blatant thuggery that would land a non-’protected’ person in jail.

  5. Davidovich says:

    I can only surmise that Gillard was treated so leniently, despite evidence to warrant further investigation, was because it would set a precedent whereby Prime Ministers, ex or otherwise, could be charged with criminal offences and this would be seen as a political witch hunt. However, nobody regardless of rank, should be above the law in this country. Regrettably, this requirement of our judicial system appears to be ignored time and again.