Parsing the Prime Minister — Part II

In Part I of Parsing the Prime Minister we examined the first half of Julia Gillard’s responses to reporters before entering Parliament and saying, well, nothing – if, that is, we exclude spleen, bile, venom and the ham theatricality of the terminally outraged. In this second installment, reporters’ efforts to get straight answers continue, and while students of Gillard’s mode and methods will be familiar with every lawyerly evasion and linguistic fudge, the annotated transcript below is worth studying for one very simple reason:

Ms Gillard, enemy of candour, continues to occupy the highest elected office in the land.

JOURNALIST: Just going back to the specific power of attorney which was mentioned a little bit earlier. It says on this, signed, sealed and delivered by Ralph Blewitt with his signature underneath. It says then witnessed by you. Did you see him sign this document?

PM: As I said in answer to the earlier question, I witnessed thousands of documents across an eight-year legal career for clients. I can’t point you to the moment in time and the decor of where I was sitting when I signed this one, but I witnessed documents in my legal career for clients properly and you are talking about a contest here between me and Mr Blewitt, and you can work out who you believe: the person who is standing here, Prime Minister of Australia who has done nothing wrong, or the man who says he’s guilty of fraud and is looking for an immunity. Work it out.

The question was not about the décor and, again, Gillard declines to give a “full and frank” answer. Instead she opens the door to be judged on character and past acts. Given the unhappy record of her involvement in the AWU scandal that is a desperate and tactic and does not serve her well. Significant evidence  says she did not do several things “properly”.

JOURNALIST: He says he was there, was it your memory that he was with you?

PM: I’ve done the best I can. It’s like asking you to remember the colour of every jacket or every tie anybody’s ever worn whilst you’ve interviewed them for the 7.30 Report. That’s what it’s like asking you to remember. I witnessed thousands of documents for clients during my legal career.

JOURNALIST: Back to the original issue of the advice that you provided in the establishment of the AWU Workplace Reform Fund. Did you seek advice from the AWU, or seek authorisation from the AWU as your client, to use the AWU in the title of the incorporation? And did you seek advice or get that advice direct from Mr Wilson and Mr Blewitt as your clients? Who was your client in this and did you have any specific authority to use the AWU’s name?

PM: Well, let’s be clear about this and let’s be common sense about it. Unions aren’t big blamange things that wander around talking for themselves in the some way that companies don’t. Companies speak through company office bearers, unions speak through elected officials. The people I was dealing with, Mr Blewitt and Mr Wilson, were both office holders of the AWU.

My client in creating the Workplace Reform Association was Mr Wilson and Mr Blewitt acting as representatives as a team of officials who were going to run together for election in the trade union. But 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.

Leaving aside the fact that Gillard managed the AWU slush fund association file in such a way that nobody other than herself, Blewitt and Wilson knew about it, the entity she helped create was in breach of the AWU constitution and, it would seem, the law of Western Australia.

JOURNALIST: Did you or did anyone connected directly or indirectly speak to Bruce Wilson before he made his comments at the weekend and why do you think he chose this time?

PM: Look I’m not a mind-reader and no I didn’t speak to him.

Even here, Gillard leaves herself wiggle-room. With a police investigation underway, one would expect Gillard to make a point that nobody should attempt to influence potential witnesses, least of all on her behalf.

JOURNALIST: You said to Laura that you didn’t know about the association accounts and so forth, the transfer of money, but did you have a duty to the AWU in August 1995 to at least tell them that the association existed? Would that not have been useful information for them at that point in time?

PM: The existence of the association was known to two office bearers of the AWU by definition. At that time in August,1995, I didn’t have anything before me which would suggest that the association’s accounts had been misused in any way. What is it that you are suggesting I would have told the AWU that they could not have otherwise known? I didn’t have bank account numbers! This is the common slip here with reporting made on more than one occasion by news outlets, and on more than one occasion [they] apologised for as a defamation, which it is. I had no dealings with the bank accounts of the association.

JOURNALIST: With respect, the slush fund was raised in your exit interview in September 1995 by those interviewing you.

PM: Yes and feel free to reacquaint yourself with those four words. I was describing such re-election funds and I used the terminology slush fund and I said in my marathon press conference in this room in August I don’t think the term is assisting anybody understand what happened here.

So the PM has said before. But actually, the term “slush fund”, that she first used, does assist a great deal, because it cuts through all of Gillard’s evasiveness, parsing and stonewalling.

JOURNALIST: The Workplace Reform Association was raised. It was discussed at your exit interview. And yet the authorities were not alerted to the existence of that until April ‘96 when Ian Cambridge came across it.

Can you explain why it took six to eight months for the existence of that association to be identified by other union officials? And is it the case, you mentioned earlier police inquiries, at that stage they were only concerned with the Victorian accounts, at that stage they had no idea as I understand it that the Western Australian account, the Workplace Reform Association, which you provided legal advice to help establish, even existed. Didn’t Slater & Gordon, didn’t someone at Slater & Gordon, ask questions about your knowledge of that association and whether or not further inquiries should be made, should have been made at that stage?

PM: I’m not in a position to speak for other Slater & Gordon partners, and I’m not in a position to talk to you about what they should or shouldn’t have concluded. What I can tell you about is what I concluded. Yes, I provided legal advice for the incorporation of an association. Yes, there was scuttlebutt around about whether or not I had received money from places that I should not have received money from in relation to the renovation of my property. I’ve dealt with that here, I’ve dealt with it before, I’ve dealt with it publicly for a long, long time now.

The lady doth protest too much, methinks. And then she protests some more…

In terms of any evidence available to Slater & Gordon about the misuse of the Workplace Reform Association, well as I understand it, the only thing that’s been waved around here is a cheque supposedly relating to the conveyancing file. Let’s once again be very clear here about what’s the truth as opposed to what is commonly reported: I was not the solicitor in charge of the conveyancing file, I was not the operator of the conveyancing file. In a file more than 400 pages long, there are 12 references to me. In a file more than 400 pages long, there is no reference to the AWU Workplace Relations Association, no reference. And what the file shows in terms of the deposit for the property is it was a direct deposit from Blewitt

So those documents were available to people at Slater & Gordon, but out of having those documents what is it that you say that they should have reported?

The PM frequently alludes to “common sense”, yet common sense would have told her at the time that the slush fund that she helped establish by the setting up of the AWU Workplace Reform Association would be of interest to the AWU, not to mention the police investigating the other frauds involving Wilson. But she said nothing.

This extraordinary response by Gillard is as cavalier as it is disingenuous. Consider what she asks us to believe: that she had no reason, and that the cheque drawn on the association to pay for the house Wilson purchased with her assistance is only  “supposedly” related.

As Hedley Thomas put it in The Australian, Gillard and her firm “gave the No 1 suspect, who had been her boyfriend and also a client for the previous four years, a major head-start” – enough of a head-start to make off with another $150,000.

JOURNALIST: So alarm bells weren’t ringing at Slater & Gordon even after [Vicrtoria Liberal Phil] Gude got up in Parliament, I think it was October and was the first to raise publically these allegations that monies from an alleged slush fund may have been used on renovations on your property?

PM: Well, get the timeline right. Get the timeline right before you draw implications from it. I’ve taken a lot of questions on this and let me answer your question. As I understand it from public reporting in 1996, and you may want to refresh yourself about this, as I understand it from public reporting in 1996, it is contended that monies were moved from the Workplace Relations Association accounts in April 1995. I’m not in a position to tell you whether or not that’s true, I’ve got no idea but I think it was publicly reported in 1996, it may have been publicly reported in News Ltd newspapers.

In terms of the timeline, in August 1995 there were rumours going around about issues in the Victorian branch of the AWU. Slater & Gordon’s partnership has these matters come to their attention. One of the things they do is the internal review, you have the transcript of that internal review. I deal with the question of renovations there and I deal with them as clearly as I can, and as I’ve indicated to you today I did post that interview better check and better compile my receipts and my accounting from my renovations.

Mr Gude in October 1995 then made a set of allegations against me in Parliament which were wholly untrue. So what are you suggesting it is Slater & Gordon partnership should do? Report to the police that there is Hansard that raises allegations against me which are wholly untrue? Is that what they should have done?

JOURNALIST: You said earlier today that the Opposition started this campaign of smear, however in June your former Attorney-General Robert McClelland made a speech to Parliament saying he was concerned that the Government’s response to the HSU scandal wasn’t strong enough and he raised this case of back in the 1990s of corruption at the AWU. Do you admit that he was the first, that his statement predated the Opposition’s questioning of you, and have you spoken to him regarding this case?

PM: Let’s be a little bit clearer about the Opposition timeline. Who was it from the Opposition that was pedalling a dirt file in the run up to the 2007 election campaign which canvassed these matters? That’s well before Robert McClelland made the speech that you refer to. So in terms of how long the Opposition has been peddling these matters around, well the Liberal Party has been peddling them around since 1995.

The Opposition, as is a matter of reporting – I’d refer you specifically to a Jason Koutsoukis piece – as is a matter of reporting, had someone, then working for the Liberal Government in the Ministerial offices somewhere out here, calling Jason Koutsoukis into his office, I’m assuming it’s a him, into his office for a glass of red wine and a look at this red hot dirt file which re-peddled these allegations about renovations.

It is a matter of record that questions about Gillard’s role in the AWU scandal have been transmitted to the front pages via by, among other routes, whispers and leaks from Labor and union identities. The AWU scandal is not on par with Watergate – though it shares many elements, including election slush funds, allegations of official corruption and cover-up. And there is another element differing from the Watergate model. Carl Bernstein or Bob Woodward didn’t yawn and shrug off their profesional responsibility to investigate that “second-rate break in.”

In Australia, by contrast, many reporters have risked neck injuries in their efforts to look away, not to probe and question, but merely to yawn and parrot whatever contemptuous dismissal of the affair their Labor contacts dictated. “My heart sank,” as one exemplar of the Fourth Estate’s wan curiosity lamented in print when invited to peruse a background file on the current Prime Minister’s past. “I had a vague idea of its contents and believed there wasn’t enough to sustain two paragraphs, let alone a whole story,” the news hound explained. Richard Nixon should have been so lucky to have sleuths of that calibre on his case.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, in relation to the establishment of the Workplace Reform Association, didn’t that require a resolution from the AWU, so wasn’t the incorporation of that in contravention of the rules of the AWU which as the lawyer for the AWU you had to uphold?

And secondly, given that Mr Wilson, his reputation was somewhat tarnished at time of the Slater & Gordon interview with you, why didn’t you tell at least the AWU of the creation of the incorporated entity in Western Australia?

PM: Sid, with respect you completely misunderstand everything to do with this matter and maybe that explains some things for us.

I was not incorporating this association on the instructions of the AWU; I was incorporating this association on the instructions of Mr Wilson and Mr Blewitt as representatives of a team of union officials who would run together for re-election.

My state of knowledge as disclosed in the Slater & Gordon interview from 1995 was that they would engage in the kind of ordinary fundraising events that people had to support union re-elections, payroll deductions from union officials who are going to participate in the team, fundraising dinners where it was clear what the purpose of the fundraiser was for and the like.

That was my state of knowledge. I’ve then been asked during the course of this discussion today, why wouldn’t I get those instructions from Blewitt and Wilson and then take it into my head that I should separately advise the AWU that this was occurring?

The two people I was dealing with were office bearers of the AWU. I’m therefore, I think, entitled to say the AWU – people who were office bearers of the AWU – knew about it.

JOURNALIST: But you’re not.

PM: How on earth do you contend that?

JOURNALIST: Under the rules they needed a resolution.

PM: You might be more expert in these matters than me. But I doubt – don’t hector me thanks, Sid – you might claim to be more expert in these matters than me, but if you want to identify to me an AWU rule that would require AWU authority for a team of union officials who want to run together for re-election to form an association in order to support their re-election, then please identify that rule for me.

Evidently, then, Gillard’s own workplace relations minister and former AWU head Bill Shorten was talking through his hat when he said:

Oh, well, that account was unauthorised by the union and it was an inappropriate account, that account, as far as I can tell. So that was out of bounds.

But the issue wasn’t whether she needed or should have sought permission to set up any association to build an election slush fund; it was that association with the name AWU should haveobliged further enquiry from Gillard. Instead, she did not even open a file on the matter. Gillard appears not to know even now who her client was or where her duty rested. One minute it seems to be the AWU, the next it is Wilson and Blewitt receiving her private legal advice without the knowledge of her partners.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you’ve spoken about the fact when you became suspicious about Mr Wilson’s activities you broke-off the relationship. You’ve also said today that you’ve tried to check back your bank account records to check on a particular [Wayne Hem’s $5000] deposit.

How confident are you that you never inadvertently received any money, benefit, gifts from Mr Wilson or anyone else that may have originated in this fund that we’re discussing and if you are confident, given that you can’t check your records thoroughly, how can you be confident?

PM: Nothing happened in the course of my relationship with Mr Wilson about who paid for what that you would say was in any way unusual for people in a relationship.

We’d go out for dinner, sometimes he’d pay, sometimes I’d pay, sometimes we’d split the bill. Nothing unusual in the course of my dealings with him.

I’ve done everything I could to check the $5,000 – it’s not capable of being checked with this remove of time – so there was nothing that happened which would lead me to conclude that there was somehow lots of money around or lots of benefits around that somehow I couldn’t explain.

There just wasn’t anything that would lead me to that conclusion. So once again, hindsight is a wonderful thing, isn’t it?

But if I’m in a personal relationship where the way in which it works in terms of expenditure is basically garden variety for personal relationships, then what is it that is supposed to have alerted my suspicion? There wasn’t anything.

As noted in Part I of Parsing the Prime Minister, $5,000 at the time would represent about $8,000 in 2012 dollars and about a month’s after-tax salary for Gillard. Though she stayed in the Fitzroy house with Wilson, Gillard claims not to have been co-habiting with him (perhaps when her house was being renovated?), yet wishes us to believe that such a sum of money would be routine to have been deposited into her account by her married beau’s union crony. Again, she expects us to be more naïve than even Gillard claims to have been at the time these events unfolded.

Additionally, Gillard suggests a relationship that entwined her life financially with Wilson’s than a cursory look would otherwise suggest. And if that is so, how could Gillard apparently be so ignorant of Wilson’s finances and the sources of his income after four years together in circumstances where a month’s salary deposited by one into the other’s bank account is unremarkable?

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, with regards to conveyancing for him, you made mention before that in the 425 page document there’s 12 mentions of you.

Your critics say that some of the nagging doubts that you didn’t know about this as you say, was the fact that your name does exist within documents that date from February and March of 1993.

I know that you say that you just don’t recall it being brought to your attention, but can you tell us how did Slater & Gordon work in that instance. Was it that partners who had some kind of association with the original file would be like a watermark with regards to all the communication?

PM: You can tell the coding of the file, when you look at the file the coding is NSB:NOB. NSB is the name of the partner in charge, that’s Nick Styant-Browne.

NOB is the initials of the paralegal who did the conveyancing. She went by the name of Olive, she must have had a first name that started with an N, I didn’t remember any of that.

My files were coded IU:JEG or sometimes just JEG, so it wasn’t a code, it wasn’t Enigma in terms of breaking the code.

When you got to Slater & Gordon you would have been AP or if there was another AP already there working away, they would have inserted whatever is the letter of your middle name.

JOURNALIST: With regards to Olive then, did she work for you?

PM: No, she worked for Nick Styant-Browne in commercial.

JOURNALIST: Why does something that’s “Attention Julia Gillard” go to Olive to sort out?

PM: Let’s be very clear about this. The conveyancing file was a file of Nick Styant-Browne’s, he was the partner [in] charge.

In terms of the day-to-day work on the file, it would have been done by the paralegal, Olive Brosnahan.

When you look at the file that is apparent from the file itself, from the coding NSB:NOB, and from the various documents that refer to Olive, or Olly, or Olive Brosnahan, on the file.

Have a look for the file users yourself. It was dealt with in the Slater & Gordon commercial section, not in the section where I worked. I worked in a different section of the firm.

In terms of my engagement with the file, having had the opportunity now it’s in the public domain to look at the documents on it, what I believe has happened here is I ran a few messages back and forth between Olive Brosnahan and Mr Blewitt in terms of the certificate relating to the insurance.

I’d refer you to a hand-written file note that is in Olive Brosnahan’s handwriting which refers to Ralph chasing that matter up with the Commonwealth Bank, that is him personally attending to it.

JOURNALIST: In referring to the messages between Olive and Mr Blewitt, do you now concede then that you might have become aware that there was a mortgage?

PM: What I said publicly last week, it appears in giving my best recollection 17 years ago, of events two and a half years earlier, it appears whilst I was giving my best recollection 17 years ago that there are these documents.

Now once again, let’s deal with this from a common sense perspective, I was a solicitor working at Slater & Gordon dealing with hundreds of my own files every day and paper just came and came and came across your desk.

Now do you have a clear recollection of every document that came across your desk two and a half years ago? I suspect not.

So 17 years ago I gave my best recollection of events two and a half years earlier, but in terms of one of the reasons I say to people what’s the allegation here, well what is the allegation here? That I had knowledge-

JOURNALIST: If indeed you did know of the mortgage and you’d just forgotten, what would be the big deal in him being given a mortgage through Slater &Gordon?

PM: Couldn’t have put it better myself. Thank you, Andrew. What is the big deal?

Anybody got any contention about how Ralph Blewitt getting a Slater & Gordon mortgage goes to any conduct by me, or any assertions of wrongdoing? What is the big deal?

Gillard is being “colourful” again. Nobody deals with hundreds of files every day and it is beyond belief that she couldn’t remember knowing about the mortgage. It wasn’t any mortgage. It was for the house her lover arranged to purchase, at an auction she attended, with a power of attorney she claims she witnessed, and where she spent some significant amount of time.

As Styant-Brown said on 730 last week:

…there is absolutely no doubt that Ms Gillard not only knew of the Slater & Gordon mortgage in March of 1993, but was specifically involved in taking steps to facilitate that mortgage. Now, that’s a matter of documents; it’s not a matter of assertion or hearsay. Now, you then have a situation where two and a half years later, in September of 1995, Ms Gillard is asserting that the first she heard it was a Slater & Gordon mortgage was in August of 1995. Now, it’s up to others to make the judgment about her credibility.

Now it is true the documentary evidence and witness accounts are merely corroboratory; but common sense alone tells us Gillard knew of the Fitzroy house mortgage. After all, she was sleeping in the house with the man with whom she’d attended the auction; she had assisted in obtaining the power of attorney that made the pruchase possible under the conditions and constraints he requested, and the mortgage was obtained via Slater & Godon, where she was a partner. The believe she sailed through this tangle of links, “young naïve” and forever blissfully oblivious,  asks us to be far more gullible than Gillard claims to have been herself.

Gillard’s knowledge of that mortgage is important for several reasons. The purchase of the house, which according to Styant-Brown, Gillard facilitated, was used as a means to launder the funds raised through the slush fund run by the association she helped establish. And it goes to whether or when Gillard knew, or should have known, the source of the funds – a matter yet to be determined.

JOURNALIST: Just going back to Dennis’s opening question. Have I got this right, that when you became aware that Mr Wilson had been involved in untoward activities in Mr Murphy’s presence, your sense of betrayal and hurt was such that you terminated the relationship immediately basically in his presence?

PM: No, in answer to Dennis’s question, I went through how I see those events and how I see those events was in August ‘95 these things came to the attention of the Slater & Gordon partnership and they came to the attention of me.

There was matters with which the AWU, in the Victorian branch, matters they were dealing with, I didn’t have proof about those matters.

What I knew was that there were a set of allegations within the Victorian branch of the AWU and the AWU was seized of that matter.

I made some decisions about my personal life as history records. In terms of me having evidence of wrongdoing that I could take to the authorities, then I ask people once again – what evidence is it that they suggest that I had?

I’d provided legal advice on the incorporation of an association. I didn’t have anything to do with the bank accounts. I didn’t know the numbers of the bank accounts. I didn’t know what the bank accounts had been used for.

That was my state of knowledge at the time. So, in those circumstances, there’s a question about inquiries and investigations. I do refer you to Mr Gude’s Hansard where he talks about who was involved in those inquiries and investigations.

As for decisions in my personal life, I make those decisions based on personal matters. I did not make those decisions because there was some evidence available to me which was capable of being reported to the police.

The way in which human beings beings deal with each other in close relationships, I think common sense would you tell is a little bit different than that.

File this under “implausible deniability”. Whatever the reasons Gillard banished Wilson from her heart, bed and life – be they rumours, allegations, scuttlebutt or investigations – Gillard was perfectly aware of matters that were capable of being reported to the police. Almost certainly, had Gillard unburdened her recent memories to detectives, they certainly would have assisted inquiries and may well have prevented Wilson’s further pocketing of cash his union colleagues insisted was stolen.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, can I just ask, do you have any regrets about your handling of this matter at all and will you now release the full transcript of your exit interview from Slater & Gordon?

PM: I don’t have the full transcript of my exit interview from Slater & Gordon.

JOURNALIST: Would you have a problem with it being released?

PM: I don’t think anybody’s got it. I don’t have it. So I don’t have my full transcript of the Slater & Gordon interview. As I understand it, it was redacted because of issues associated with a legal professional privilege, and so you’d have to deal with all of that and they’re not matters for me.

In terms of all of these years later, of course I would prefer that I wasn’t standing here today taking questions like this and we were talking about the National Disability Insurance Scheme and education.

But we could be in that position, if the political strategy of the Opposition wasn’t about sleaze and smear, but it was about issues of substance for the nation’s future.

What I can confidently say is I did nothing wrong. And these things have been cycled and recycled and re-recycled and re-recycled over 20 years. I did nothing wrong.

And out of all of this; all of these questions; the last marathon press conference; the times I’ve taken questions in Melbourne, in Brisbane; all of the peddling of this right back to Phil Gude in 1995; across all of those years in between there is not one person who is able to come forward and clearly say I did something wrong.

And I do note when the Opposition is challenged to do it as Mr Abbott was today and as Ms Bishop was last week, to articulate what it is that I have done wrong, they are unable to do so.

So in these circumstances, I am saying to people to weigh this appropriately for what it’s worth, in light of the facts of the matter that I have outlined.

Now I’m seriously going to have to go to Question Time. Thank you.

Whereupon the Prime Minister  bid the assembled reporters adieu, waltzed into the House and cited over subsequent Question Times the stock response that she had answered all relevant queries outside.

If only that were so

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