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Monday, January 28, 2013
Slater & Gordon secretary quizzed as police step up AWU inquiries
Olivia Palmer leaves Kawana Waters police station yesterday. Picture: Lyndon Mechielsen Source: The Australian
A HIGHLY sensitive investigation by Victoria Police into the union scandal that has dogged Julia Gillard for 17 years has been stepped up, with a detective travelling to Queensland's Sunshine Coast to take a detailed statement from a key witness.
The witness, Olivia Palmer, is a highly regarded former legal secretary who worked with Ms Gillard at Melbourne-based firm Slater & Gordon lawyers when the fraud involving the Australian Workers Union unfolded.
A Victorian detective who arrived in Queensland on Monday spent most of Tuesday and yesterday interviewing Ms Palmer at Kawana police station near her Caloundra home. Ms Palmer - formerly Olivia Brosnahan - also provided evidence to detectives in Melbourne last week about her recollection of the firm's role in the funding and conveyancing of a $230,000 terrace house in Fitzroy, in the city's inner northeast.
The Kerr Street property was bought with cash from the AWU Workplace Reform Association by Ms Gillard's then boyfriend, Bruce Wilson, in 1993.
Ms Gillard, who had provided legal advice to Mr Wilson to set up the association, attended the auction.
The Prime Minister has repeatedly and vehemently denied wrongdoing, saying she knew nothing about the workings of the association. The association, which Ms Gillard later described as a "slush fund" for the re-election of union officials, was used by Mr Wilson and his union colleague Ralph Blewitt to defraud hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Ms Palmer, a retiree, told The Australian yesterday: "I am unable to comment to the media about this." Her husband, Garth Palmer, said police had asked his wife not to discuss her evidence or the probe in public.
Victoria Police's fraud squad has examined hundreds of documents including the Slater & Gordon conveyancing file for the Fitzroy property.
The file shows that Ms Gillard signed and witnessed a power of attorney that enabled Mr Wilson to buy the terrace house on behalf of Mr Blewitt, a confessed fraudster and union bagman.
Ms Palmer's role at Slater & Gordon at the time is outlined in conveyancing documents that show she made file notes, particularly about the power of attorney document signed by Ms Gillard.
It is understood that one key element of the police investigation concerns whether stolen union funds were dishonestly used to buy the Melbourne property. The establishment of the AWU Workplace Reform Association following Ms Gillard's legal advice, which was at the heart of heated exchanges between the Prime Minister and Tony Abbott in the last week of parliament last year, forms part of the renewed police probe.
Mr Blewitt, who admitted to The Australian last year that he was part of a fraud designed by Mr Wilson, faces possible criminal charges after telling Victoria Police of his role with the slush fund. He has alleged that the power of attorney was a false document.
Ms Gillard, who left Slater & Gordon abruptly in 1995, fronted a media conference on November 26 and angrily denounced Mr Blewitt as "a complete imbecile, an idiot, a stooge, a sexist pig".
Asked about the power of attorney document and whether it was done lawfully, Ms Gillard said: "I've said publicly on more than one occasion that I did nothing wrong, and I did nothing wrong in the witnessing of this power of attorney. So it's going to come down to Mr Blewitt's word against me.
"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."
She also referred to file notes made at the time by Ms Palmer.
Victoria Police said last month in response to a Freedom of Information application that the documents held by detectives would not be released as investigations were ongoing. A spokesman reiterated this week that "the investigation is ongoing and we will not be providing a running commentary".
West Australian police said they were liaising with Victoria Police and "ready to assist our Victorian counterparts".
A source close to the Victoria Police investigation has confirmed that several detectives are actively pursuing a number of leads and speaking to witnesses.
It is understood that Victoria Police have also visited the builder, now retired, who renovated Ms Gillard's Melbourne cottage.
Ms Gillard says she paid for the renovations herself.
Another witness, an AWU official involved in the renovation, Bill Telikostoglou, is expected to return to Melbourne from his home in Athens this month to assist police.