AWU actually clawed back dubious Bruce Wilson cash
Former Victorian Legislative Council president Bob Smith has slammed Fair Work Commissioner Ian Cambridge’s media campaign against Prime Minister Julia Gillard, revealing his former factional rival clawed back $160,000 paid into her former boyfriend Bruce Wilson’s slush fund.
Extracts from Cambridge’s 1995 diary entries have dominated The Australian’s coverage of the Australian Workers Union saga in recent days — a page 1 exclusive on Friday reported that some of the cash had been paid back to employers, but not that the payments were subsequently returned to the union jointly controlled by Cambridge.
Cambridge confirmed to Crikey that “in pretty much every case” the “legitimate” money from the AWU Members Welfare Account No. 1 was re-diverted back to the union. “Wilson and his friends decided to put the money into his so-called members welfare account,” he said. “He returned it, so we wrote to them [the employers] and eventually they sent it all back to me.”
The revelation goes to the heart of the affair documented article-by-article in Crikey: the murky dividing line between legitimate and illegitimate employer payments to unions and the lack of hard evidence that directly proves third-party malfeasance.
In July 1995, Smith placed a freeze on accounts controlled by Wilson after he attempted to draw cheques to send the $160,000 to a mysterious Perth-based “Construction Industry Fund”. Earlier that year, the existing Victorian AWU branch had been dissolved and two branches — a national construction branch headed by Wilson and a “new” Victorian branch headed by Smith — were spun off. Smith assisted Wilson to pay back the money in a legal deal brokered by the two officials’ lawyers.
As first reported by crack Age industrial reporter Joanne Painter 17 years ago, prominent construction firms including Fluor Daniel, John Holland, Thiess, Chamber Consulting and Woodside sent cheques to Wilson for what they believed to be legitimate purposes, including membership fees. But in some cases, they appear to have been paid as a quid pro quo for industrial peace or, in Thiess’ case, to get the union’s OK to use contaminated in-fill on its Western Ring Road site. According to a 1996 affadavit lodged by Cambridge, the account was “used to hold and/or launder union funds, as a step in the conversion of those funds to unauthorised, invalid, irregular and possibly illegal uses”.
A Victoria Police investigation into the transactions, released under freedom of information, confirmed that while some of the companies refunded the returned money, others kept it “in confusion … until some sort of logical explanation was forthcoming from the union as to its legal entitlement”.
Smith, then the Federation of Industrial, Manufacturing and Engineering Employees-aligned secretary of the Victorian branch, says it is “crazy” his long-time AWU nemesis Cambridge is “trying to claim the moral high ground” when the union ultimately ended up keeping the cash. ”He pursued the money that companies had given Wilson and used [Robert] McClelland to get it back and it’s outrageous and totally immoral,” he said. “It certainly wasn’t clean money.”
At the time, Cambridge accused Smith of covering up Wilson’s transactions. But the irascible Smith says the reverse was true.
“Cambridge came in to frustrate my pursuit of Wilson,” he said in an interview with Crikey. “The fact is we did go to the police, I did go to the national executive … we were determined to get that rubbish out of our union. The victor always re-writes history. We were having a very, very difficult internal brawl.”
The Victorian-based fund was separate to the now-notorious WA-based AWU Workplace Reform Association established by Wilson with advice from Gillard in 1992, that was meant to be used for training purposes. Some of that money allegedly ended up being funnelled towards the purchase of a Fitzroy house under the name of Wilson underling Ralph Blewitt.
The Victorian Fraud squad investigated both accounts and numerous others in Wilson’s orbit but ultimately didn’t find enough evidence to press charges. Repeated calls by Cambridge for a royal commission fell on deaf ears.
On Friday, The Australian also reported the “$100,000” in redundancy payments paid to Wilson, Blewitt and Bill “the Greek” Telikostoglou in August 1995, but did not mention those monies were ordered to be repaid 10 months later after a successful Industrial Relations Court challenge by then-joint national president Bill Ludwig. However, it is believed the money was never recovered.
Page 1 of 2 | Next page