Welcome home, Ralph Blewitt.
THE nation’s chief law maker Nicola Roxon is totally satisfied the prime minister did not act improperly over the setting up of a union slush fund.
Julia Gillard has consistently denied she did anything wrong or personally benefited from setting up the Australian Workers Union Workplace Reform Association for her then partner Bruce Wilson while working as a lawyer in the 1990s.
Ms Gillard has conceded the association was a slush fund that Wilson and other union officials used to fund their re-election campaign.
She told West Australian authorities the purpose of the association was for training and workplace safety.
“I’m totally satisfied that Julia had not done anything improper or anything unlawful and in fact no actual allegation of impropriety is being made against her,” Ms Roxon told ABC radio.
Ms Roxon was asked whether Mr Thomson should be suspended from the ALP until the matter is resolved.
“It’s an option in theory, and maybe as things develop,” she said.
“But we haven’t had actually any content. There’s been all this swirling allegation [but] no one actually is aware of what is being alleged in detail.”
On Tuesday night, it emerged during a Senate estimates hearing that the Attorney-General was briefed on June 9 about the hundreds of dubious or distasteful text messages sent by Slipper to his staffer James Ashby.
Four days later, on June 13, Roxon instructed the Solicitor-General to seek to have Ashby’s case struck out. She also gave instructions to seek a waiver for the government to be allowed to use the texts to have Ashby sacked.
Also on June 13, in a further attempt to shut down the case, the government offered to pay damages to Ashby to settle his sexual harassment claim.
Two days later, despite her knowledge of the scale and nature of the texts sent by Slipper, the Attorney-General held a press conference and said this: ”The Commonwealth strongly believes that this process has been one which is really for an ulterior purpose … the Commonwealth has obtained a vast amount of material … It will be clearly shown … that there were in fact clear intentions to harm Mr Slipper and to bring his reputation into disrepute and to assist his political opponents and that was the purpose for the bringing of this claim.”
The political mischief in this case has never been in doubt. What was misleading about the Attorney-General’s statement was that the ”vast amount of material” was not merely vexatious. It buttressed a sexual harassment claim. It was also political dynamite.
Roxon also said something that was untrue: ”We aren’t bringing a strike-out application; Mr Slipper is.”
The shadow attorney-general, Senator George Brandis, told me yesterday: ”These texts, on any view, contain dozens of instances of predatory sexual conduct. So the Attorney-General’s claim that this was merely a vexatious case was extraordinary. Any person who read the texts would know instantly that Ashby had a case.
So, Ms Roxon, do you really believe it was entirely kosher to set up a slush fund? Do you believe Ms Gillard was present when Mr Blewitt signed the power of attorney that she witnessed? Did Mr Hem drop five grand in her bank account? Was her house renovated with proceeds of the slush fund? Do you think she may have withheld details of a swindle from her client the AWU? Do the missing documents cause you no concern?
Or is it the case that Julia is exactly as innocent as the other people you have recently defended?
The Australian, interjections and emphasis mine …
Ms Gillard has acknowledged helping to set up the AWU Workplace Reform Association, which she has classified as a “slush fund” for the re-election of union officials, but has repeatedly denied knowledge of its operations. It was used to defraud hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Australian Workers Union.
On Thursday, the Deputy Opposition Leader asked Ms Gillard in parliament why she did not “report the fraud” and cited former High Court judge Michael Kirby, saying it was a citizen’s duty to report serious crimes to the police.
Ms Gillard replied: “By the time the matters she refers to came to my attention, they were already the subject of inquiry and investigation.”
But, but, but …
… affidavit material shows the national leadership of the AWU did not know about the existence of the slush fund until the Commonwealth Bank told the union of related bank accounts in April 1996.
This was eight months after Ms Gillard had become aware, though an internal investigation by Slater & Gordon, of fraud concerns involving her client and boyfriend, Mr Wilson.
During the investigation, Ms Gillard was questioned by senior partner Peter Gordon.
She was asked about the slush fund; Mr Wilson and his fellow official and AWU bagman Ralph Blewitt; Mr Blewitt’s purchase of a $230,000 terrace house in Melbourne’s Fitzroy in 1993; and renovations at Ms Gillard’s house.
A Victorian Police Fraud Squad investigation requested by the AWU leadership in September 1995 was undermined because the union and police were unaware of the slush fund, with Ms Gillard and Slater & Gordon failing to disclose its existence to the union or authorities.