|The ‘Australian’ journalist Hedley Thomas has returned. Thomas penned a new story last Friday – 12th Oct, 2012 about the on-going Gillard/AWU Scandal and followed it up with another in the ‘Weekend Australian’.
Today, Tuesday Thomas has followed up this on-going story with another story titled: “Law firm ‘was highly unethical'”.
It is now obvious that in the 6-7 weeks since Thomas wrote his last story on this subject where he cast wide criticism at fellow journalist for going ‘soft’ on the story – read that story at ‘Harry’s Growl’ linked here – Thomas has been researching more FOI documents relating to the ‘fraud’ exposure knocking at PM Gillard’s back door.
Each of these three new stories by Hedley Thomas is reported below in full – News Ltd want bloggers and on-line news seekers to pay for the story, if you are not a subscriber, all you’ll get via any link is a headline of the story.
Story 1 – 12th Oct 2012:
Union boss paid $100k in cash towards house
| Author: Hedley Thomas | Date: 12th Oct 2012 | Link to On-Line Story. |
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A UNION official with a modest salary and a big mortgage on his house suddenly produced about $100,000 in cash in 1993 to buy a $230,000 property in Melbourne for Julia Gillard’s then boyfriend, the allegedly corrupt union boss Bruce Wilson.
Newly released documents from the legal file for the Australian Workers Union official, Ralph Blewitt, show that in March 1993 a firm of Perth accountants told the Slater & Gordon law firm, where the Prime Minister then worked as a salaried partner, that his gross salary that year was $51,801.
Mr Blewitt’s financial capacity from his personal assets and salary was severely constrained at the time. Property searches show that he had bought a house for his family in Western Australia five years earlier for $78,000, and he had a mortgage of almost $75,000. His commitments and income meant he could not have legitimately afforded a property in Melbourne’s Kerr Street, Fitzroy.
The documents in the conveyancing file, which was released by Slater & Gordon to Mr Blewitt last month, contain no evidence of any inquiries to determine how Mr Blewitt could afford the Melbourne property. Yet the firm ensured he received a $150,000 loan under the firm’s mortgage-lending scheme.
The documents in the file include a number of direct references to Ms Gillard, who was giving legal advice to Mr Blewitt, the AWU and its Victorian head, Mr Wilson, while in an intimate relationship with Mr Wilson that began in late 1991.
Documents show that Ms Gillard went to the early 1993 auction at which Mr Wilson successfully bid on the property, and that she formally witnessed documents that gave him power of attorney over Mr Blewitt to complete the transaction.
Documents show that Ms Gillard, then a solicitor in the “industrial unit” of the firm, helped on aspects of the property purchase and sought information from the Commonwealth Bank about insurance for the property. After Mr Wilson moved into the terrace house, Ms Gillard often visited him there.
Subsequent investigations by police and the AWU’s then national head, Ian Cambridge, show that Mr Blewitt raised the $100,000 to put towards the Melbourne property from an entity called the AWU Workplace Reform Association Inc.
Ms Gillard had given legal advice to help establish the association, which was registered in WA. The entity, which purported to be dedicated to workplace safety, was a secret union election fund that improperly raised hundreds of thousands of dollars with invoices for bogus work for the large construction company Thiess.
Ms Gillard, who has repeatedly and strenuously denied wrongdoing, has said she broke off her 3 1/2-year relationship with Mr Wilson when she became aware of his alleged fraudulent behaviour, which became the subject of police investigations in two states amid calls by Mr Cambridge for a royal commission. Six weeks ago, Ms Gillard held an impromptu media conference to respond to the matters after The Australian revealed new facts, including that she left her job at Slater & Gordon after the firm’s concerns about her conduct. She hit out at what she described as “misogynists and nutjobs” on the internet, and repeatedly insisted that she had done nothing wrong.
In September 1995, in a tape-recorded interview with Slater & Gordon’s senior partner, Peter Gordon, during a secret internal probe into her actions, Ms Gillard described the association that she had helped establish as a “slush fund”.
The transcript shows that Mr Gordon asked her: “Did you ever make inquiries as to the source of those funds from (Mr Blewitt’s) point of view?”
Ms Gillard: “No, I just, from the discussions I had an understanding that he was going to put a deposit on and that he was interested in then having a negative-gearing arrangement for the rest so that he would get a tax break, so he was, I mean like one ordinarily does, he was going to have a deposit and a mortgage. To the extent that I thought about it, I hadn’t made careful inquiry about his financial circumstances, he’s a middle-aged man, he’s on his second marriage. From what he says it’s apparent his first marriage ended in circumstances where he didn’t have much by way of ongoing relationship with the children and I understood that to be in the maintenance sense as well as the access sense . . . His wife worked. So, you know, they weren’t Mr and Mrs Onassis but they were relatively well-positioned.”
Mr Blewitt has told The Australian he never had the personal funds to buy the Melbourne property and he would disclose all he knew in return for an immunity from prosecution. “I could face criminal charges,” he said.
The scandal has dogged Ms Gillard’s political career amid repeated attacks in state and federal parliament on her legal advice and actions, her connection to the players in the alleged fraud and her close relationship with the AWU’s then up-and-coming Mr Wilson at the time Ms Gillard was seeking a political career for herself.
A spokesman for Ms Gillard did not answer questions from The Australian yesterday, saying: “I refer you to the many, many previous answers and statements from the Prime Minister.”
Story 2 – 13th Oct 2012:
Tussle over mystery file on AWU slush fund
| Author: Hedley Thomas | Date: 13th Oct 2012 | Link to On-Line Story. |
A SENSITIVE file at the heart of a union fraud scandal that caused top partners in the legal firm of Slater & Gordon to lose trust and confidence in their colleague, Julia Gillard, is the subject of a new tug-of-war over whether its contents can ever be disclosed — if they can even be found.
The file’s documents would relate to the legal advice, notes and correspondence produced by Ms Gillard in her role, as a solicitor at the firm, in the 1992 establishment of the controversial Australian Workers Union Workplace Reform Association.
This “slush fund”, as Ms Gillard has since termed it, was used by her then boyfriend, AWU official Bruce Wilson, and his friend, union bagman Ralph Blewitt, to allegedly defraud companies of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
About $100,000 from the slush fund went towards the purchase in Mr Blewitt’s name of a fashionable Melbourne terrace house in Fitzroy in which Mr Wilson lived. Slater & Gordon handled the conveyancing and helped to manage a loan to Mr Blewitt to complete the purchase. The firm has denied it knew at the time that union funds were improperly used. Ms Gillard, who has repeatedly and strenuously denied any wrongdoing, said in an impromptu media conference in August that she “provided advice, as the association was established. I then knew absolutely nothing about its workings until allegations about its workings became the subject of discussion within the AWU and then more broadly.”
The Weekend Australian can reveal that Mr Blewitt, who was Ms Gillard’s client at the time and the person authorised to apply to incorporate the association in Western Australia, has been unable to inspect or obtain the file from Slater & Gordon. The firm has released to Mr Blewitt a separate file for the conveyancing in the Fitzroy property purchase.
Mr Blewitt’s lawyers have made several requests to the firm seeking the controversial file. Slater & Gordon has asked one of Australia’s most prestigious law firms, Arnold Bloch Leibler, to manage the matter.
That firm’s senior partner, Leon Zwier, said last month: “Our client can only provide documents which are the property of Mr Blewett (sic). It is not sufficient to claim that any documents we hold concerning (the association) belong to your client simply because he was at some point an office holder of the association.”
But last night Slater & Gordon head Andrew Grech told The Weekend Australian: “We have undertaken a thorough search through our archives and failed to locate a ‘file’ in relation to the AWU Workplace Reform Association. In the event that Mr Blewitt or his lawyers are able to provide us with information which enables us to establish that there are in fact such a file or documentary records to which he is entitled, we will of course, use our best endeavours to assist him in obtaining those documents from third parties, if they exist . . . Any suggestion that we are withholding information from former clients to protect the Office of the Prime Minister is both highly defamatory and demonstrably wrong.” He said the firm had provided what information and documents it could “directly to the former clients who have requested it and we will continue to do so”.
Mr Blewitt has told The Australian he was involved in fraud and now wants immunity from prosecution before he talks to the authorities. However, Mr Wilson has declined to discuss the matters and is understood to be concerned about being prosecuted.
A retired Melbourne lawyer and union historian who is helping Mr Blewitt piece together the history, Harry Nowicki, said yesterday that as the slush fund was used to perpetrate allegedly criminal conduct, “the legal file underpinning it is important evidence and must be produced”.
“This file is very important to establish the purpose and bona fides of the association and whether it was legitimate about workplace reform,” he said.
The file’s existence was a particularly sensitive matter for Slater & Gordon in 1995 as Ms Gillard neither disclosed to her partners the work that she had done to establish the “slush fund”, nor opened a file on the firm’s system.
After the partners became aware of the file and the circumstances surrounding it, Ms Gillard’s relationship with the partners “fractured, and trust and confidence evaporated”, according to a statement by senior partner Peter Gordon.
Ms Gillard abruptly left the firm amid an internal probe and after a September, 1995 interview in which Mr Gordon had questioned her closely about her role, the purchase of the house for Mr Wilson and Mr Blewitt, renovations to her own house, and the establishment of the slush fund.
The association, which was formally registered by the WA government, purported to be dedicated to promoting workplace safety. However, Ms Gillard confirmed to Mr Gordon in the interview that it was a slush fund for the election of union officials. A spokesman for the Prime Minister again declined to answer questions from The Weekend Australian yesterday.
Story 3 – 16th Oct 2012:
Slater and Gordon law firm ‘was highly unethical’, says Paul Howes
| Author: Hedley Thomas | Date: 16th Oct 2012 | Link to On-Line Story. |
A UNION leader who ensured Julia Gillard’s success in ousting Kevin Rudd has slammed her former employer, Slater & Gordon, accusing the legal firm of unprofessional conduct over a fraud scandal.
Australian Workers Union boss Paul Howes had stayed silent as facts emerged over the past two months about the Prime Minister’s actions as a solicitor that led to a secret internal probe at Slater & Gordon in 1995, and top partners of the firm losing trust and confidence in her.
Ms Gillard, who left her job as a salaried partner at the firm amid the fallout, has repeatedly and strenuously denied any wrongdoing in helping to establish a union “slush fund” for her then boyfriend, allegedly corrupt union boss Bruce Wilson, and his AWU bagman Ralph Blewitt.
The two men used the AWU Workplace Reform Association to allegedly illegally raise hundreds of thousands of dollars, about $100,000 of which went to buy a $230,000 Melbourne terrace house in early 1993, in Mr Blewitt’s name, and for Mr Wilson’s use. Ms Gillard attended the auction and assisted in the transaction for the house.
Mr Howes told The Australian yesterday that Slater & Gordon had been “highly unethical” for declaring it would ask the AWU to waive privilege to lift a legal lid on the files relating to Ms Gillard’s work for the firm and the AWU in the early to mid-1990s.
The firm’s head, Andrew Grech, pledged two months ago that Slater & Gordon was determined to protect its reputation: “We hope that we are released from our obligations of confidentiality so that we can speak freely.”
The firm’s strategy was viewed by an infuriated Mr Howes and his lawyers, Maurice Blackburn, as part of a bold challenge to the AWU to allow potentially damaging statements and material concerning Ms Gillard’s legal advice into the public arena. Mr Howes said yesterday the firm subsequently wrote to him to advise that the most sensitive of the legal documents, over Ms Gillard’s role in helping establish the slush fund, could not be found.
The slush fund was registered with the West Australian government with a stated objective to promote workplace safety but was set up to raise money to pay for elections of union officials including her boyfriend, and Ms Gillard’s work was not disclosed to her partners at Slater & Gordon until fraud claims arose.
“It was highly unethical conduct from our point of view and we were amazed that Slater & Gordon would act that way with its former client, the AWU,” Mr Howes said. “The first we heard about what the firm was proposing was when we read it in The Weekend Australian.”
Mr Grech said yesterday: “Whilst we regret that any former client is dissatisfied or believes that we have acted other than consistent with our professional obligations, we reject Mr Howes’s characterisation of events. We have invited Mr Howes to discuss his concerns with us and to work with him as a former client, to resolve them.”
Mr Howes declined to comment on the role of Ms Gillard. Ms Gillard’s work on the slush fund and on the file was closely questioned by her then boss, senior partner Peter Gordon, in September 1995 before her departure; however, that key file cannot now be located by the firm.
Mr Blewitt, who admitted to The Australian that there were “sham transactions”, has pledged to co-operate with authorities in return for an indemnity from prosecution.
Slater & Gordon has also been under fire from a former equity partner, Nick Styant-Browne, who was interviewed by Fairfax at the weekend and accused the firm of trying to orchestrate a “whitewash” to protect Ms Gillard.
Ms Gillard in late August denied any of her actions at Slater & Gordon had been unethical or involved any wrongdoing, adding that she had ended her relationship with Mr Wilson when his conduct became known to her.
To add weight to the ‘hounds’ on the Prime Minister’s rotting carcass, Fairfax publication – ‘The Age’, began running stories on this matter last week also. Larry Pickering picked up on this and also started pushing his readership into more Gillard ‘soap’ cartoons – a few are posted below:
‘The Age’ story dated Oct 13 can be read on-line using this link –
Andrew Bolt and Mike Smith have also joined the hunting pack with updates on their blog sites –
Larry Pickering cartoons – [Click on image to enlarge in a new window.]
Pickering has always drawn the PM with the ‘black dildo’ ‘on-hand’ – his readership now think she is naked when not included in a cartoon caption. Pickering does not disappoint his readership.
Julie Bishop asked questions in the House last week relating to the PM’s non reporting of the AWU ‘fraud’ to the police – the PM responded out of hand and dismissed the question saying that she had dealt with all matters relating to the matter in her August 2012 Press conference.
Her initial question and the Speaker’s response is copied from Hansard below: [Link to 10th Oct HOR Hansard.]
Ms JULIE BISHOP (Curtin—Deputy Leader of the Opposition) (14:59):
My question is to the Prime Minister. I refer the Prime Minister to the revelation in the Sydney Morning Herald that the Electoral Trades Union, an organisation regulated by the Fair Work Act, has purchased a million-dollar mansion in Oyster Bay, complete with five bedrooms and a butler’s pantry, for one of its officials. Does the Prime Minister believe that it is appropriate that union members funds be used to purchase homes for union officials?
The SPEAKER: The question is out of order, as it has no relevance to the Prime Minister’s role.
Mr Pyne: Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. With the greatest of respect: the Electrical Trades Union is a union regulated by the Fair Work Act; the Fair Work Act is an act of this parliament; the Prime Minister is responsible for all legislation passed by this parliament; and therefore it is entirely—
The SPEAKER: The Manager of Opposition Business will resume his seat.
Mr Pyne: Further to the point of order: speakers have routinely and for many decades ruled that questions asked about matters raised in the press—whether in the print media or other media—are fair game for questions in this House, especially if it is a question where the Fair Work Act regulates the particular organisation. So on two points—
The SPEAKER: The Manager of Opposition Business will resume his seat.
Mr Pyne interjecting—
The SPEAKER: The Manager of Opposition Business will resume his seat.
Mr Pyne interjecting—
The SPEAKER: The Manager of Opposition Business will leave the chamber under 94(a). The Manager of Opposition Business continues to ignore my calls. I had asked him to resume his seat.
The member for Sturt then left the chamber.
The follow-up Question and response appears below:
Ms JULIE BISHOP (Curtin—Deputy Leader of the Opposition) (15:03): My question is to the Prime Minister. I refer the Prime Minister to the Fair Work Act, which regulates organisations—including the Electrical Trades Union. Does the Prime Minister believe that the act sufficiently covers a circumstance where the union has purchased a million-dollar mansion in Oyster Bay, complete with five bedrooms and a butler’s pantry, for one of its officials? Does the Prime Minister believe that the act adequately covers that kind of purchase?
Ms GILLARD (Lalor—Prime Minister) (15:03): When the government was elected, we were elected on a platform to get rid of Work Choices and introduce Fair Work—and we did. When we introduced Fair Work, we of course swept Work Choices away, but, in respect of the provisions for registered organisations—that is, the legal architecture for both the trade unions and employer organisations—we did not change those provisions. We re-enacted them—they obviously needed updating because we created Fair Work Australia, so the terminology changed—but the provisions regulating registered organisations were kept as they were under the Howard government. I make that point as No. 1.
As No. 2, I would make the following points. The misuse of union members’ money is of course wrong. The misuse of employer organisations of the stipend paid by employers to their organisations is wrong. Anyone who has an allegation of misuse, whether it is in a trade union or in an employer organisation, should report that expected misuse to the appropriate regulator and then it should be fully and appropriately investigated and dealt with. I would take exactly the same attitude to this as I take to fraud and poor conduct in corporations and to dishonesty generally. Anybody who has an allegation of dishonest conduct should take it to the appropriate authority to be dealt with.
Gillard is on notice as is the ALP caucus that this matter is the ‘rotting carcass’ creating the stench from within the Government. It will go away when Gillard goes away. This same matter is set to again be the focus of domestic politics until the next House sitting at which more probing questions will be put to the PM.
There are very few brave journalists working the political gig these days – Hedley Thomas is one and his pursuit will be relentless. Other journalists working at other non News Ltd publications should have some faith in the story and let their scribes loose.
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