TranscriptLEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: For years claims and counterclaims have swirled about what the Prime Minister Julia Gillard knew or didn't know about a union slush fund. The now-infamous association was set up by her then-boyfriend Bruce Wilson. He was later accused of misappropriatating money from it. Julia Gillard has long denied any wrongdoing on her part, but recently her political enemies have escalated their attacks. Until now, the man at the centre of it all, Bruce Wilson, has maintained his silence. Tonight in his first interview, Mr Wilson finally speaks out about his own role and the Prime Minister's involvement. Caro Meldrum-Hanna has this exclusive report.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA, REPORTER: This is the man whose story everyone has been waiting to hear. Bruce Wilson, former branch secretary of the Australian Workers Union, ex-boyfriend of Prime Minister Julia Gillard, now at the centre of a long-running scandal over the slush fund he set up in 1992. He's been living in a virtual state of siege, with reporters and photographers camped outside his home on the NSW coast.
BRUCE WILSON, FORMER AWU OFFICIAL: Harass you at home, harass you at work, photographs through your curtains...
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: He's been prompted in part to break his silence by the public pronouncements of this man, his accused partner in crime and self-confessed "bagman", former AWU official Ralph Blewitt - who returned to Australia last week to make a statement to Victorian police about his role in the fraud.
LEIGH SALES: Whose idea was the slush fund?
RALPH BLEWITT, FORMER AWU OFFICIAL: The mastermind of the slush fund was Bruce Wilson.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: Bruce Wilson, in 1992 you made a decision that would change your life, it seems now, forever. You set up a fund.
BRUCE WILSON: That's right. It was the Australian Workers Union Workplace Reform Association. It was set up with a series of objectives that would benefit the members, in particular, of our union and union members generally.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: Who helped you set up that fund?
BRUCE WILSON: Well initially the discussions about the intention to set it up were undertaken between Ralph Blewitt and myself. We had an attempt to get it registered. Because of some technicalities, that didn't take place. Subsequently I spoke to Julia Gillard - who was, as everyone knows was a solicitor at Slater and Gordon - and asked her for some advice about what I needed to do to fix that.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: What was your relationship with Ms Gillard at the time?
BRUCE WILSON: At the time... when was that, 1992? Well, we were in a relationship.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: An intimate relationship?
BRUCE WILSON: Yeah. Yeah.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: Looking back on that now, how ethical is that for a partner of a law firm to be engaged in an intimate relationship with her client?
BRUCE WILSON: I don't think it's an issue, to be honest. I mean, folks get in relationships every day; it wouldn't be the first. Go to any office or any other work establishment, I'm sure you will find that there are people involved, and I don't think it's an issue.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: Was your relationship a secret, or was it widely known by partners at Slater and Gordon?
BRUCE WILSON: I think in the first instance probably not so many people knew about it, but probably then became the worst-kept secret in Melbourne. So... there was a fair amount of people knew. In the end there was no secret or hiding it on our part. It was clear.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: You agree that the work, the association was set up off-file; that Ms Gillard didn't create a file officially?
BRUCE WILSON: Yes.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: Combining that then with the existence of an intimate relationship and that she is indeed your lawyer and you're a client, looking back on that do you see any sort of conflict there?
BRUCE WILSON: Not really, because it wasn't... as I said, people are making it more complicated than it really needs to be. It's not that complicated. I tried to do something to get the association established; didn't work because of some technicality. I went to her and said, "Look, can you fix it? Whatever it is that needs to be fixed." It wasn't a big issue, it wasn't like, "Oh, jeez, let's call in half the Slater and Gordon crew." It wasn't. It was a simple matter that needed to be done. She did it, end of story. It wasn't complicated.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: What was her advice?
BRUCE WILSON: Simply there was some forms that needed to be filled out in a different manner. It was a bit like going and asking... for example, "This form didn't look right, that one didn't, what do we need to do?" She made the necessary changes. I told her that Ralph was going to then re-lodge the forms. She said, "Well, jeez, if that's the case I better fill this out," and that's where everyone makes a fuss now because she's got handwriting on the form. It's not a real big deal, to be honest with you.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: So just to clarify: Julia Gillard's role in instructing you to incorporate that fund, she herself filled out paperwork?
BRUCE WILSON: She filled out on the front page the words "Australian Workers Union", dash, "Workplace Reform Association." I think that was the extend of any writing that was put on it by her.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: According to what's being reported now, there appears to be discrepancies regarding the purpose of the association. Was it a re-election fund or was it designed to promote workplace reform?
BRUCE WILSON: Well, there were... if anybody took the time to look at the document, they would find that there was probably about seven or eight points about what the association was hoping to achieve. We weren't going to then have a love fest and just sit around and talk about those things; they had to be done and there was a way of doing them. We had to raise money. Any of those sorts of things you can't do unless you have money. We raised money, and part of that would have been also for officials of... or maybe people weren't even officials at the time to be elected to carry out the objectives of the association.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: Do you ever recall telling Julia Gillard that it was, in its true form, a "slush fund"?
BRUCE WILSON: I don't know if I would have used the word "slush fund". I probably would have said something like, "It will also be used to finance campaigns for union officials or people that weren't currently union officials that we wanted to bring into the organisation." So perhaps, but did I use the word slush fund? Yeah, maybe, I don't know.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: Former union employees have since claimed that you instructed... well, one of them, to deposit money into Julia Gillard's account. It was an amount of $5,000 at a time when she was doing renovations to her house. What's your recollection of this?
BRUCE WILSON: Firstly the person... I've seen the press on it, he wasn't an official of the union, he was an employee of the union. Did I ask Wayne Hem to do that? Perhaps. Specifically can I recall it? No, I can't.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: Was money used from the AWU Association on Julia Gillard's renovations at her home?
BRUCE WILSON: Not at all.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: You didn't give Ms Gillard any money for those renovations?
BRUCE WILSON: No, not at all, never.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: So there is absolutely no credit to rumours that that occurred?
BRUCE WILSON: It just didn't happen. I mean, I just... this gets recycled and recycled and recycled. Why it continues to get a guernsey is beyond me. Well, it's not beyond me, I understand there's a group of people intent on doing as much damage to the Prime Minister as they possibly can at the moment.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: So you maintain that no money from the slush fund was used on Ms Gillard's renovations on her home at that time. Was there also no money that you deposited from the slush fund into her account for other reasons?
BRUCE WILSON: I didn't deposit any money into her account for other reasons, and the only thing that may have happened - and I'm not saying it did or it didn't, I just don't recall - is the $5,000 that Wayne Hem... If he says - and Wayne was a nice enough guy; I mean, have no reason to be at odds with him - but if he says that happened then perhaps it did. I don't argue with that, but I just don't recall it.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: So Ms Gillard: did she benefit in any way from the operation of this slush fund?
BRUCE WILSON: Not at all.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: How much did you benefit financially from the operation of the fund?
BRUCE WILSON: I didn't benefit financially from it at all.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: I really want to clarify this because this is a point, and a big topic that has dogged you for many years now. It is the claim that you financially benefitted to the tune of thousands, hundreds of thousands of dollars from the slush fund?
BRUCE WILSON: It's not true, absolutely not true.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: How do you evidence that?
BRUCE WILSON: Well, precisely, how do you? I'd like someone to come and point to it and say, "Oh, that, there, you've got that or there you've got that." I haven't seen anybody to do that. I'd like to see them try.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: Was $100,000 - or approximately $100,000 - used from the slush fund to purchase a property on Kerr Street in Fitzroy?
BRUCE WILSON: Yeah, it was, yes.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: Now was that illegal?
BRUCE WILSON: No, not at all. It was the money of the association. It was not union money. It did not belong to the Australian Workers Union. Not one cent of AWU members' money went into that account. It was raised outside of the union. It may have run parallel to the union but members' money... the union gets its money from a number of places, the union itself: membership money; if they're lucky enough to have property they get rent; or they may sometimes get a grant or some donations. That's pretty much the sum source of a union's income.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: Why was the house then put in Ralph Blewitt's name?
BRUCE WILSON: It was just an easy... Ralph put his hand up for a start and said, "Just put it in my name." In the process of sitting around saying, "Oh look, might need to go there, do this", we discussed various options and Ralph put his hand up and said, "Just put it in my name if that's going to be the easiest thing to do." Fine, do that. I didn't want it in my name.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: Why?
BRUCE WILSON: I just... he was happy to put his hand up, I was happy for him to do it. It just didn't get a... it wasn't like let's flip a coin or anything like that. He put his hand up, fine, do it.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: What was Ms Gillard's role in relation to the purchase of that property on Kerr Street?
BRUCE WILSON: Um... to the extent that she was involved, she signed a power of attorney - and as I understand it that was about the extent of it.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: In addition to signing the power of attorney, Ms Gillard, did she also not attend the auction with you?
BRUCE WILSON: Yeah, oh... to be honest, I hadn't even recalled that until I read about it, but as I did read about it I, yeah, that happened.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: What do you recall now about that day, auction day?
BRUCE WILSON: Not much more.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: What was her role? Why was she there at the auction?
BRUCE WILSON: She was probably with me. We probably went together as people in a relationship do. You go and do things together.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: And did she help you in any way at all in the transactions on that day at auction?
BRUCE WILSON: Not that I'm aware of, no. I think I had some forms to sign, I signed them.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: And what was her role then after of the auction?
BRUCE WILSON: No role, she didn't have a role.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: She had a role though, didn't she, with the power of attorney?
BRUCE WILSON: But that was before the auction, that wasn't after the auction.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: After the property was purchased, did you live in it?
BRUCE WILSON: I... I lived... when I was in Melbourne I lived in it. I obviously spent a fair bit of time in Western Australia as well.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: And did Ms Gillard also stay at the property at Kerr Street?
BRUCE WILSON: Rarely. Occas... yeah, from time to time but very rarely. It wasn't a place that... because we had a whole lot of activity going on in the place. We had shop stewards in and out of the place, we had members in and out of the place.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: So Ms Gillard didn't handle any of the conveyancing?
BRUCE WILSON: She attended the auction with me, she arranged the power of attorney. After that I have no recollection of her ever being involved in anything to do with the property - other than, as you say, she came and occasionally stayed.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: The house on Kerr Street, Fitzroy, was sold. Who benefitted from the sale of that house? Did you receive any money?
BRUCE WILSON: I didn't even know the place had been sold. I heard subsequently that it had been. But I don't know the details, I don't know who arranged the sale of it.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: Well, Ralph Blewitt insists that he did not see any money of the sale of the house which was in his name?
BRUCE WILSON: Well, that, as I understand it, is not true.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: If you did not receive any financial benefit from the operation of the slush fund, from the sale of the house that was purchased using the money from the slush fund, then where has all the money gone?
BRUCE WILSON: Um... there was money sent back to the employers. Um... I think...
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: People were paid back?
BRUCE WILSON: Yeah... on a particular date in August - I can't remember exactly when - there was a meeting at the Commonwealth Bank and a series of cheques were sent back to from where they came. The slush fund, as I said, in the same way that I treated the house I walked, I had nothing further to do with it, I had no idea, other than I read in the paper the other day some allegation that I was taking which was not true. And I would challenge anybody that says that I took them to check the bank or the cheques to withdraw the money, and if they find my signature on the cheque I'd be very surprised.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: Whose signature will they find?
BRUCE WILSON: Well, my guess is they will find Ralph's signature and my signature stamp. I did not take any money out of the account after I left the union.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: Do you have any knowledge that Ralph Blewitt had money from that slush fund in his personal possession?
BRUCE WILSON: I... I do. He told me once that he had taken a series of deposits out and that he had invested it in some fund. I subsequently found that that wasn't the case; that in fact Ralph had been accumulating the money at his place. He had been - and I know this sounds crazy - but he had been packaging it up and burying it in his backyard, of all things. How do I know that? He confessed at some stage, and he also showed me a package of money that he said... and I said to him, well he better dig it up and get it back into the bank. He showed me a package of money that had been destroyed. Obviously it had been in his garden or some such thing and, you know, got moist and destroyed the money.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: You would have been concerned then seeing this money that was from the fund if you saw that physically. Why didn't you... did you go to police?
BRUCE WILSON: I told him that... well, I didn't at that time. I told him that I would go to the police.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: Do you regret not going to the police then and there when you saw that?
BRUCE WILSON: I... well... I... I do, uh, in retrospect, given the whole... wheels fell off the whole construction industry branch several months later.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: So are you saying that Ralph Blewitt is the only one that used money from that slush fund inappropriately?
BRUCE WILSON: He was the only one that had access to it. I didn't. That only leaves him.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: You didn't operate together in conjunction? He's described as your accomplice in a fraud?
BRUCE WILSON: There was no fraud on my part, absolutely not.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: If there was no fraud on your part are you willing to go to police and provide a statement?
BRUCE WILSON: I haven't thought about that. As I said to you, when I left the union in 1995, I left it and I didn't think much about it after that. And I haven't for 17 years.
CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: What are your thoughts then now watching your former partner, Julia Gillard, who's now the Prime Minister, being dogged by this?
BRUCE WILSON: I feel sorry for her that she has to go through all this because it's just not warranted. There is no reason that she should be being hassled by a group of people... and I think there is a group of people, and it is only that group of people that are continuing to follow it through. And, for example, bringing Ralph to Australia, getting him to go to the police, is nothing more than keeping it in the news and that's what it's all about.