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Journalism

Nov 21, 2012

Latham's Bolt Watch: meep, meep, it's Coyote and the Road Runner

To examine the criticisms by Andrew Bolt and others (including Julie Bishop) that Julia Gillard should have reported to police about her ex-boyfriend's "slush fund", Mark Latham speaks to the Victorian Legal Services Commissioner, Michael McGarvie.

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Ex-Labor leader Mark Latham has turned his special skills toward analysing blogger Andrew Bolt’s crusade to bring down Julia Gillard over the Slater & Gordon AWU story. Latham claims to have uncovered a series of false, ridiculous and “outright outrageous” information on Bolt’s blog, a claim rejected by Bolt in a lively exchange of emails and telephone calls between the pair.

Welcome to round three of Latham’s Bolt Watch …

Bolt’s claims: “[Julia] Gillard’s failure to go to the police may have helped her ex-boyfriend [Bruce Wilson] get away with more cash.” (November 5, 2012) / “[Gillard should] have gone to authorities when she knew of her boyfriend’s scams … because it was the law.” (November 4, 2012) / “Gillard should have gone to the police.” (November 4, 2012)

Latham’s response: In dealing with the various allegations against the Prime Minister in the Slater & Gordon matter, it is prudent to check the facts with the relevant legal and government authorities. Accordingly, I contacted the Legal Services Commissioner in Victoria, Michael McGarvie (the official who regulates lawyers and deals with ethical complaints against the legal profession) for comment on the obligations of lawyers in dealing with clients who may have broken the law.

While he would not reflect on the specifics of the Julia Gillard/Slater & Gordon matter, he was willing to answer the following hypothetical question: If a lawyer acts for a client and provides advice for the establishment of some kind of financial instrument but then years later believes that the client, in their use of the instrument, may have broken the law, such as in defrauding money, what are the lawyer’s obligations to report this matter to the police?

McGarvie answered: “The lawyer has a duty of confidentiality to the client, meaning that he or she is under no obligation to report the client to the police. The lawyer has a permanent obligation not to disclose material relating to a person for whom they have acted.”

Given the number of media outlets (not just Bolt) who have made allegations against Gillard on the question of reporting Wilson to the police, one might reasonably expect McGarvie to have received a high volume of inquiries from journalists seeking comment. He is, after all, the key authority in Victoria dealing with questions of lawyer/client obligations and ethics. McGarvie said I was the first person in the media to contact him on this particular issue.

Bolt is wrong in saying that Gillard was obliged under the law to report Wilson to the police. It was beyond his research capacity and duty of care to his readers to pick up the phone and ask for McGarvie’s opinion. That is, Bolt is not interested in hard evidence in spraying around allegations against the Prime Minister. He just invents claims for their political impact — smearing rather than reporting. He owes Gillard a retraction and apology.

Unfortunately, the Bolt technique is common among the Murdoch press. For example, Chris Kenny (a former Liberal chief of staff and failed Liberal preselection candidate who now writes for The Australian), has also claimed Gillard was obliged to report Wilson to the police. He argued this point on Sky News on November 12. He too failed to contact the Victorian Legal Services Commissioner. He too owes Gillard a retraction and apology.

On the Sky News Viewpoint program on November 14, Kenny asked the deputy Liberal leader, Julie Bishop, about Gillard’s obligation to report Wilson to the police. Bishop replied that anyone arguing against this proposition “shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the obligations, the legal obligations of a lawyer and the obligations of a lawyer as an officer of the court. It also overlooks the citizen’s duty to inform authorities when you know there’s been a wrongdoing.” She obviously thinks she knows more about legal ethics than the Victorian Legal Services Commissioner.

Last month in Parliament, Bishop asked the Prime Minister questions without notice based on “professional conduct and practice rules … as a practising lawyer in the state of Victoria”, again asserting that Gillard had an obligation to go to the police. Bishop’s questions were based on a falsehood, a significant blow to her credibility as a parliamentarian.

Bolt’s claim: “This is money that essentially came from taxpayers.” (Radio 2GB, November 19, 2012)

Latham’s response: Bolt is making false claims faster than Bolt Watch can scrutinise them. In claiming that the money paid into the AWU Workplace Reform Association (the so-called “slush fund”) came from taxpayers, Bolt is repeating one of the myths presented on his favourite website, Michael Smith News. The Bolt/Smith argument is that Western Australian taxpayers paid training and workplace safety funds to the construction company Thiess which, in turn, paid them into the AWU-WRA.

Colin Barnett’s Liberal Western Australian government, however, has rejected this claim. On October 31 its Minister for Training and Workforce Development, Murray Cowper, answered Smith’s complaint on this issue by writing:

“Whilst there is documentary evidence that the Building and Construction Industry Training Board committed $516,000 to a training project involving Thiess Contractors at the Dawesville Cut in 1993 and 1994, there is no evidence to substantiate that any embezzlement of those funds occurred … Given that 18 years has elapsed since the project and what records are available indicate that training outcomes were actually achieved from the funding, I can see no justification in taking any further action.”

That’s a Liberal Minister dismissing the nonsense peddled by Smith and Bolt. Again, the evidence suggests Bolt has invented this claim — a worrying pattern of fabrication on all things Gillard.

Bolt’s claims: “Julia Gillard is suddenly in deep trouble over the slush fund”, (November 5, 2012) / “Gillard is now tripping over the internal contradictions of her story. Still coming, revelations on another front”, (November 9, 2012)

Latham’s response: Bolt even makes false claims about his false claims. Since the Slater & Gordon matter was resurrected in August, Bolt has regularly forecast the Prime Minister’s demise. Every week, the knockout blow is coming next week. Watching Bolt trying to catch Gillard is like watching the Coyote and Road Runner cartoon. Bolt sets a new trap every second day and Gillard easily skips free. Meep. Meep.

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