Learned friends and others versed in the law would know if Prime Minister Julia Gillard qualifies in the strict sense as the nation’s premier lawmaker. That certainly would be the case were we in the United States, where Bill Clinton’s greater shame was never those trailer-park predations but all that glib perjury. Whatever the legal distinction, reasonable people must surely agree that any nation’s leader is under a greater obligation than most to observe the letter of the law.
It would be a tenuous case to argue the future Prime Minister had fulfilled that obligation on June 24, 1992, when Western Australia’s Commissioner for Corporate Affairs issued a certificate of incorporation (#1002262) to the Australian Workers’ Union – Workplace Reform Association (WRA). The successful applicant was Ralph Edwin Blewitt and the accompanying paperwork voluminous. Along with his request that the WRA be recognised as a legal entity, Blewitt also was required to announce the association’s inauguration in the Public Notice columns of the West Australian. Then there were the by-laws and statement of goals, which had to be lodged with the Commissioner and amounted to nine single-spaced pages. Each prepared by Julia Gillard.
In his short-form application, Blewitt scrawled the association’s purpose as the “development of changes to work to achieve safe workplace”. In the Gillard-prepared rules, the grammar is better and the stated goals, which run from (a) thru (h), are a round-up of motherhood statements. Among them, that the association intended to dedicate itself to “the more equitable distribution of wealth”, “the implementation of appropriate skills training” and “the development of unionism.” Twenty years on, in its cadence and cliché, the document remains a foretaste of the sonorous twaddle that fills so many a prime-ministerial address.
Paperwork filed and legal niceties observed, the WRA and its two sole members, Blewitt and Gillard beau Bruce Morton Wilson, were free to administer a bank account, write cheques and — how lovely! — accept contributions from large commercial concerns.
One has to wonder what Gillard was thinking when she played midwife at the WRA’s birth, “young and naive” though the 35-year-old partner in a major law firm may have been. As Michael Smith explains in a Cando.org video, the association appears to have violated a slate of laws, not least for having only two members when the mandatory minimum is five.
And there is also the question of what Gillard understood to be the association’s real purpose. Blewitt listed workplace safety, and Gillard many other objectives. According to former Slater & Gordon partner Nick Styant-Browne, quoted in The Australian, she admitted when questioned by her S&G peers to having regarded it from the start as “a slush fund”. How WA authorities might have treated the application had that purpose been honestly stated can never be known.
All of this, according to our Prime Minister, touches not at all on the matter of her moral and ethical fitness to occupy the highest elected office in the land. As she testily informed Paul Kelly, there is no “relevance”.
Still, there is one item in the WRA’s bylaws which might strike even Gillard as germane. It is subsection (2) of Article 3 on the first page of the association’s registered rules:
(3) The property and income of the association must be applied solely in accordance with the objects of the Association and no part of that property or income may be paid or otherwise distributed, directly or indirectly, to members, except in good faith in the promotion of those objects.
It may not be “relevant”, but one wonders if home renovations, the purchase of a North Fitzroy home and $17,500 worth of frocks furthered the goals of workplace safety.
Roger Franklin is the editor of Quadrant Online