Proof: PM told firm what she won't tell parliament | The Australian:
Thursday, November 29, 2012
Proof: PM told firm what she won't tell parliament
The revelation, contained in a document released today after 17 years, comes after days of stonewalling by the Prime Minister, including in parliament, on the question of whether she had personally vouched for the Australian Workers Union Workplace Reform Association.
The document, a record of interview between Ms Gillard and her law firm, Slater & Gordon, in September 1995, reveals the association was initially regarded as ineligible because of its "trade union" status.
Ms Gillard overcame the obstacle by writing to the Commissioner for Corporate Affairs in Western Australia in 1992 and arguing that the decision to bar it should be reversed.
Ms Gillard also wrote the association's rules, which emphasised worker safety but made no mention of its true purpose of funding the elections of union officials.
The document reveals she "cut and pasted" some of the rules from her earlier personal work incorporating the controversial Socialist Forum, which she helped found at Melbourne University in the 1980s.
Ms Gillard has admitted providing legal advice to help Mr Wilson and his union colleague Ralph Blewitt set up the association, which was later used by the two men to defraud hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The Prime Minister later described the association as a "slush fund" for the re-election of union officials, but she has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, saying she had no knowledge of the workings of the association.
In parliament this week, Ms Gillard has refused to answer repeated questioning from Deputy Opposition Leader Julie Bishop on whether she wrote to the West Australian authority to vouch for "the bona fides of the AWU Workplace Reform Association".
On Monday, she told parliament: "The claim that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition has now made is a claim that appeared in The Age . . . The correspondence she refers to has never been produced, so the claim has been made but no correspondence has ever been produced."
Yesterday she told parliament she had "dealt with these matters fully".
"I have dealt fully with my role in providing legal advice on the incorporation of this association. I have provided detailed answers on this. They were provided in press conferences; they have been provided in this parliament," she said.
Later she added: "Once again, we are in a situation where the Deputy Leader of the Opposition is asserting things she has got no sources for, except she read them somewhere."
Last night, a spokesman for the Prime Minister said she had "no recollection of receiving or sending the claimed correspondence in this matter".
The evidence that she did write to the West Australian body is contained in a section of transcript from the September 11, 1995, tape-recorded interview with Ms Gillard during an internal probe led by Slater & Gordon's then senior partner Peter Gordon.
Some of the transcript was provided to The Australian in August.
The latest section of transcript is being released now by the firm's former equity partner, Nick Styant-Browne, after Mr Wilson's interview on the ABC's 7.30 meant his legal confidentiality as a former client of the firm was waived.
In his 7.30 interview, Mr Wilson explained some of Ms Gillard's role and legal advice in making "the necessary changes" for the association to be approved.
In the section of transcript from the 1995 Slater & Gordon interview that was released, Mr Gordon asked Ms Gillard about those changes: "Do you recall whether, when it was necessary to argue the case with the, with the relevant Western Australian authority, whether you consulted anyone else in the firm as to what would or would not get, become acceptable or appropriate?"
Ms Gillard: "I once again don't recall talking to anybody else in the firm about it."
Mr Gordon: "Beyond that, and it seems from the file, that after that letter it was successfully accepted as an incorporated association and duly was created and presumably accounts were set up."
Ms Gillard told Mr Gordon she had nothing to do with the association's accounts, and that she attended only to its incorporation.
Mr Gordon referred to Ms Gillard's letter to the government authority and he stated that, "it appears from the file to be the letter arguing that it ought to be not construed as a trade union - did you have anything personally to do with that incorporated association afterwards?"
Ms Gillard: "No, I did not."
It was unlawful under the Associations Incorporation Act for an association to be named in a way "likely to mislead the public as to the object or purpose".
After the association was incorporated, about $100,000 from its accounts went towards the purchase of a $230,000 Melbourne terrace house in 1993 for Mr Wilson to live in. Ms Gillard went to the auction and witnessed a power of attorney document for Mr Wilson to buy the property in Mr Blewitt's name, while Slater & Gordon managed the conveyancing and organised the mortgage.
The association issued invoices in its official-sounding name and received money for work that did not exist.
Neither Ms Gillard nor the firm of Slater & Gordon told their client, the AWU, about the existence of the association carrying the union's name, resulting in further fraud and the draining of accounts amid police investigations into separate fraud allegations involving Mr Wilson.
Ms Gillard had not opened a file at the firm for her legal work for Mr Wilson on the association. Her legal partners were unaware of its existence until August 1995, when Mr Wilson's separate Victorian slush fund was exposed and police were called in by the AWU's national leaders to launch a fraud investigation. Ms Gillard's conduct at the time and the firm's internal review of her actions led to a breakdown in trust and relationships, resulting in her leaving.
Elsewhere in the newly released section of transcript, Mr Gordon was concerned that other partners at the firm might have been involved in the matter and the legal work that Ms Gillard had performed.
He asked Ms Gillard: "And last Monday I think you gave to (fellow legal partner) Paul Mulvaney a follow-up which demonstrates that Slater & Gordon had drafted model rules for, for that, had submitted those rules to the relevant Western Australian government authority; that there'd been a letter from the authority suggesting that it might be a trade union and therefore ineligible for incorporation under that legislation; and that we had prepared a response submitted on Wilson's instructions to that authority suggesting that in fact it wasn't a trade union and arguing the case for its incorporation. My recollection is that all of that happened in or about mid-1992. Is that right?"
Ms Gillard: "I wouldn't want to be held to the dates without looking at the file, but whatever the dates the file shows are the right dates, so . . ."
Mr Gordon: "Yes. And to the extent that work was done on that file in relation to that, it was done by you?"
Ms Gillard: "That's right."
Mr Gordon: "And did you get advice from anyone else in the firm in relation to any of those matters?"
Ms Gillard: "No, I didn't."
Mr Gordon: "Did (the firm's recognised lawyer on incorporations) Tony Lang have anything to do with the model rules or the drafting of them?"
Ms Gillard: "No, I obtained, I had just in my own personal precedent file a set of rules for Socialist Forum, which is an incorporated association in which I'm personally involved. And I've just kept them hanging around as something I cut and paste from for drafting purposes."
Ms Gillard assured him Slater & Gordon had nothing to do with setting up bank accounts for the association and that nobody at the firm, including herself, had anything to do with the association beyond advising on its incorporation. Mr Gordon asked Ms Gillard: "Can I ask you then - following the last thing that we did to setting up the incorporation, which appears from the file to be the letter arguing that it ought to be not construed as a trade union - did you have anything personally to do with that incorporated association afterwards?"
Ms Gillard: "No I did not."
Mr Gordon: "Right, to the best of your knowledge did anyone at Slater & Gordon?"
Ms Gillard: "To my knowledge, no one at Slater & Gordon had anything to do with it post that time."
The Australian asked Ms Gillard's office yesterday whether she had anything to add to her previous statements about her role. A spokesman replied last night that Ms Gillard "has no recollection of receiving or sending the claimed correspondence in this matter".
"The Prime Minister sighted, witnessed, dictated and signed thousands of documents in the course of her legal career," he said. "Any correspondence in this matter would have been received or sent in her capacity as a lawyer acting on instructions. As the Prime Minister has noted, the application to incorporate the (association) was lodged by its office bearer, Mr Ralph Blewitt. The decision to incorporate the association was made by the WA Commissioner of Corporate Affairs."
Ms Gillard said on Monday, when asked why the AWU was not informed about her role in the incorporation of the association: "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."
Asked why she did not disclose the existence of the association to the AWU three years later, amid a police probe into Mr Wilson's other slush fund, she said: "I did not have in front of me any evidence of criminality or wrongdoing but there was a lot of rumour about what was happening in the Victorian branch of the AWU at that time. In those circumstances, I came to a personal decision about ending my relationship with Mr Wilson and I did so."
Proof: PM told firm what she won't tell parliament | The Australian: