A couple of months ago I wondered why so little progress appears to have been made in concluding the case against Ralph Blewitt et al in the matter of the AWU Workplace Reform Association scam, so I wrote to the Victorian Police Commissioner and requested an update. I received a reply from Commissioner Graham Ashton, who advised that the matter remains part of the ongoing operations of Taskforce Heracles. He refused refused comment.
While that bland reply to a matter in which Julia Gillard figures prominently was no more than I expected, Ashton’s discretion contrasted markedly with what appears to his department’s leaks and collaborations with the ABC in the ongoing persecution of Cardinal George Pell.
Well, the reason this matters is that the AWU Workplace Reform scandal is more more than a piece of fluff and political ephemera to be forgotten as soon as something more exciting comes along. It involved a former prime minister who caused untold damage to our country and has now retired to enjoy an affluence undreamed of by the Australians who will struggle for years to pay off the debt she and her minions inflicted upon all of us. More than that, two journalists, Michael Smith and Glen Milne, lost jobs in their pursuit of this story, their efforts providing a hard cudgel with which the then-Opposition bludgeoned PM Gillard. The current government owes it to those men to pursue this matter to the end.
One can learn little from the the Left on almost any topic, but it must be acknowledged that so-called progressives have long memories and a tendency, more often than not vicious, to pursue enemies to the grave and beyond. Sir John Kerr, for example, who saved us from a government perhaps even more disastrous than that of Rudd and Gillard, has been cast as a figure of infamy in the histories of left-wing writers and fulminating zealots. One shrinks from descending to such levels of eternal spite, but in Gillard’s case there is more to it than that. Without a similar effort from conservatives, Gillard will sail serenely into history, her escutcheon burnished by the admirers’ accolades that frame her place in history: our first female Prime Minister, valiant scourge of misogynists, victim of the patriarchy etc. Unless the AWU scandal is explored and the cards allowed to fall free and where they may, truth stands to be the last casualty of the affair, just as vast sums of union members’ money were the first. The Left’s standard dismissal — ‘It all happened so long ago, why bother?’ — will not wash and should not be allowed to stand.
When Blewitt announced he intended to plead ‘not guilty’ and would subpoena Ms Gillard as a witness it must have been clear to all sentient creatures (a category that includes Victoria Police brass, or so one would hope) that he would not be calling her as a character reference. In 2012 she had denounced him as an “imbecile and a sexist pig”. So he could only have believed her evidence would in same way exonerate him or at least ameliorate his guilt. Either that, or he was determined not to go down without taking everyone with him. It is curious that in the more than 12 months that have elapsed, police appear not have interviewed Bruce Wilson, the man at the centre of it all. If the delay in laying charges against Blewitt is because of the need to gather further evidence, one would have thought Wilson’s input would be among the first steps.
Below is the text of a letter I sent to the Attorney General Senator Brandis shortly before the recent election:
Dear Senator Brandis,
No doubt you are very busy campaigning, so I apologise for bringing up this matter at this time.
Back during the tumultuous years of the disastrous Rudd/Gillard/Rudd governments, the Opposition prosecuted a strong case against then Prime Minister Julia Gillard over her association with the AWU Workplace Reform Association scam. At the time, PM Gillard was not able, or willing, to give a convincing account of her behaviour in this matter. As a result, and as promised in his election campaign, the incoming Prime Minister Tony Abbott established the Trade Union Royal Commission, which was specifically tasked, inter alia, to investigate the case. There was a clear implication that the government believed Ms Gillard had a case to answer.
In the event, the Commission cleared Ms Gillard of criminal wrongdoing but criticized her professional conduct. It also recommended that police proceed against the operators of the scam, Bruce Wilson and Ralph Blewitt.
At that time the police had, at their disposal, the results of exhaustive investigations carried out by journalists such as Michael Smith and Hedley Thomas, information from their own investigation (the start of which preceded the TURC recommendation) and Blewitt’s own confession.
On 28th April 2015, The Australian newspaper reported that Victoria Police had informed Ralph Blewitt he would ‘very soon be criminally charged’. Blewitt was reported to have responded that he would defend the charges and would be calling witnesses, including Ms Gillard.
Since then, nothing has been heard on this matter. Over twelve months does not seem ‘very soon’ to me.
The impression is growing that Vic Police are now ‘running dead’ on this issue, possibly to protect former PM Gillard from a potentially embarrassing court appearance. I wrote to the Commissioner of the Victorian Police seeking advice as to progress on this case and was informed that the investigation conducted by Taskforce Heracles into all referrals from the Royal Commission was ongoing and involved both Vic Police and the AFP.
Many matters investigated by the Royal Commission were relatively new in the public arena and it is understandable that police investigations, which necessarily must be thorough, can take time. But in relation to the AWU Workplace Reform Association scam, it is hard to believe that there is very much more to be discovered than had already been revealed by various sources. This would seem to be borne out by the Vic Police statement in April 2015 that Blewitt would very soon be charged.
I realise that a Government Minister cannot direct police outcomes or procedures but, presumably, he can demand, in this case of the AFP, that matters that were of such concern to the Government when it was in Opposition should be treated expeditiously and that justice, so long denied, should not be delayed further.
I imagine that, as the responsible Minister, you would be able to pose questions that go to the efficiency and efficacy with which police expend the public funds entrusted to them. You might for example ask the following questions which I, unsuccessfully, asked of the Victorian Police Commissioner:
- Are charges still imminent against Blewitt and, if so, when are they likely to be laid?
- Has Mr Bruce Wilson been interviewed in relation to this matter?
- Are charges contemplated against Wilson and, if so, when are they likely to be laid?
- Has anyone else been interviewed in the past 12 months in relation to this matter?
In my view there are questions that Ms Gillard has not yet answered, precisely because she was not asked them by the Royal Commission. These relate to her action, or rather apparent inaction, when she and her employer, Slater & Gordon, became aware that the AWU Workplace Reform Association had been used as a vehicle to defraud their client, the AWU.
There is a tendency in public debate for today’s scandal to be quickly forgotten once tomorrow’s has taken hold in the media. I seek your assurance that the government is still determined to see this matter through, particularly given the amount expended on it.
Nothing heard, at this stage, from Senator Brandis.
There is no chance the left-leaning and union-beholden government of Victoria is ever going to ask these questions of Commissioner Ashton, who, as it happens, was appointed to his position by that same government in July, 2015. Compare and contrast the treatment accorded George Pell and Julia Gillard. First came the leak, amplified immediately by the ABC, that the cardinal was under investigation. This was followed most recently by Ashton’s comment after 7.30 aired the accusations of two convicted bash artists, each with a history of substance abuse, that Pell somehow managed to molest them as small children in a crowded swimming pool. In that latter instance, Ashton referred to the accusers as “victims” — not as ‘purported victims’, ‘alleged victims’, ‘self-proclaimed victims’ or any other combination of words intended to suggest that clouds of doubt hang over such ridiculously dubious assertions.
All this places the ball most definitely in the lap of Brandis, who might also do well to remember that Blewitt is getting on in years, has been a habitual smoker and, as any acturial table would suggest. Were he to die Bruce Wilson would be the only surviving player, and he has made it clear he will never implicate his former sweetheart.
Gillard may be entirely blameless, as she claims, but unless she addresses the outstanding questions — and is actively encouraged to do so by a government that pledged no less — time and sympathisers’ accounts will shape the narrative of history. The union members robbed blind by her bedmate deserve better than that.