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Nov 29, 2012

AWU scandal: this ends today, one way or another

The AWU scandal will, in parliamentary terms, end this afternoon. And it seems the Prime Minister is fired up for a final showdown.

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Amid dramatic claims that the Prime Minister had acted corruptly and Coalition demands for her resignation, this morning the opposition rushed into Parliament to move a suspension of standing orders.

The suspension, one assumed, would be to demand the Prime Minister resign, or to call a vote of no confidence to test the Prime Minister’s support, or at least demand she front the chamber and explain herself. It turned out to be to:

“… enable this Parliament to take action to deny people smugglers a product to sell before the Parliament rises and the onset of the monsoon season …”

So with claims of “smoking guns”* and the most serious accusations that can be made in Australian politics, the opposition preferred to chase monsoons rather than do what you’d expect they’d do if they had a skerrick of belief in what they were alleging about the PM.

It’s hardly a smoking gun, but at least now, after acres and acres of newsprint and over 30 question time questions across weeks — the government even extended question time yesterday so that the opposition could get its full share in after Bob Katter confused everyone in the chamber by moving a suspension motion during question time** — we have a specific accusation.

The Prime Minister, it is claimed, misled us all by saying she had only advised on the establishment of the AWU Workplace Reform Association when in fact she wrote a letter to the WA Corporate Affairs Commission when the Commission queried whether in fact they were trying to establish a trade union, which needed to be registered under different legislation.

The incriminating letter, which Gillard has said she can’t remember, makes the grave claim that a body that was not a trade union was not, um, a trade union. She even cut and pasted from a template to do it — a shocking allegation as, of course, all lawyers write all letters from scratch. That’s why they charge such outrageous fees.

What illegality or impropriety was committed in that letter sent in 1992, assuming Ms Gillard was the signatory, I can’t tell you; it takes minds more conspiratorial than mine to see exactly what scandal lurks in stating a non-trade union body wasn’t a trade union. More to the point, to the point that keeps being ignored by virtually everyone covering this saga, it has not a shred of relevance in 2012.

But this was the one issue that remained unresolved after all the questions this week, the one thread still dangling when all other efforts to claim that somehow Gillard acted corruptly or illegally or unethically have either been shown to be false, or shown to have no evidence, or retracted by her accusers.

This is the one issue on which the Prime Minister refused to give an answer in question time. Yesterday, in what could — and should — have been a key moment in this drama, Gillard, asked directly about the 20-year old letter by Julie “I forgot I spoke to Ralph Blewitt a week ago” Bishop, turned to Tony Abbott and said:

“Given that the Leader of the Opposition read along with every word of that question from the Deputy Leader: get up and ask it yourself, and then I will answer.”

Abbott should have leapt to his feet and met the challenge. Until recent events he would have. But so mortified was he by the prospect of being filmed participating in this campaign and aggressively pursuing the Prime Minister, that he sat there silent. A key moment of confrontation passed. How would Gillard have reacted if he did? Her response about the letter, that she doesn’t recall writing it, might have looked feeble in that moment and context, unless she is purposefully baiting Abbott and has a comeback prepared that will punish him for doing so.

Still, Abbott gets another bite at the cherry today, the last question time of the year. This is it, folks. This issue can’t limp on beyond this. Sure, Nick Styant-Brown’s mates in the media, and The Australian, can, and will, keep trying to breathe life into it, but in parliamentary terms it ends now.

The opposition needs a kill, or to badly wound the PM on this final day before the summer break, at least ensuring that all her momentum acquired in recent months is lost. That, after all, has been the object of this smear campaign, which has grown ever more hysterical as Labor has come back to within touching distance of the Coalition in the polls.

The likely tone of question time was indicated by a statement the Prime Minister’s office released about the letter a short time ago. If people were expecting any sort of backdown or admission from Gillard, they’ll be disappointed. This was a highly aggressive statement.

After months of speculation about a smoking gun, the Liberals have nothing.

So, the Prime Minister wrote to the WA Commissioner? So what? She did what lawyers do. Act on instruction. Provide legal advice.

So, the Prime Minister can’t remember writing one letter from 20 years ago. So what? Lawyers write thousands of letters in their careers.

And what does the transcript show? That the PM said the association wasn’t a union. So what? It obviously wasn’t.

In fact, the unredacted transcript backs up what the Prime Minister has been saying.

On it goes. And the Prime Minister has also written to Fairfax demanding a retraction of elements of Mark Baker’s article in The Age this morning, including the assertion, which no one else has made and which isn’t backed up by the facts, that she said the AWU Reform Association “had no union links.”

Stand by for a final showdown this afternoon.

*To be fair, Christopher Pyne, subbing in for Julie Bishop who was off injured with a damaged credibility, demurred at the term “smoking gun” — it was much too serious for that apparently; he preferred “second shoe to drop”.

**On, quelle horreur, on a policy issue, the Murray-Darling Basin.

Bernard Keane — Politics Editor

Bernard Keane

Politics Editor

Bernard Keane is Crikey’s political editor. Before that he was Crikey’s Canberra press gallery correspondent, covering politics, national security and economics.

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119 thoughts on “AWU scandal: this ends today, one way or another

  1. tonyfunnywalker

    David Hand,

    A spiteful attack on Abbott,poor Tony, he made the running and is still behaving like a spoiled child who has lost his dummy when he was rejected as PM by the cross benches.
    Gillard’s advisers are much smarter and as the Abbott think tank is driven by the OZ and Bolt it spells doom. Gillard had to break the cycle and the Mysogony speech was the vehicle and she did a great job in repositioning Abbott and his popularity as waned accordingly.
    For as long as the Liberals continue Gillard will be seen as the one who cares while Abbott is still trying to demonstrate his frailties.

    It was not the October issues but that Abbotts sole policy – repeal the Carbon Tax was a fizzer.

    He overeached with immoderate and hysterical comments which were with time proven to be wrong.

    Slipper/ Thompson were all about having an election before 1 July.

    The strategy failed and that’s when Gillard took the gloves off buoyed with the Carbon Tax being a non event.

    The confidence is obvious and she needed to pass that on to a sceptical front bench. With Kevin gone, they needed to be reaasured that they backed the right horse.

    There was some childish spite such as McLelland who sparked the AWU beatup but for the rest of the Party she looks a winner.

    All she needs to do now is to keep winning and Dr Yes is perhaps a little late as he has a lot of ground to make up and Malcolm is lurking with intent.

    The Body Language of the Opposition when Bishop was stumbling was very revealing, they did not want to be there.

    The cross benches were engaged in other matters that were important to their electorates so they were token bystanders.

    After last week Public Service as an MP was degraded to the level of journalism – the gutter.

    Both are concerned with personal relevance – its all ego centric and stuff the electorate lets make sure we keep the advertisers happy.

    Gillard can now be marketed as a winner and no one claps losers — “one hand clapping: as was demonstrated by the Opposition who the booed the Gillard announcement of Pontings retirement until they realised what she had announced.

    So is the level of respect shown in the Australian Parliament– the South Africans today put our politicians to shame as well as our hopes of No1.

  2. Hunt Ian

    It is hard to see why David Hand doubts very much the implication of SB’s comment “You need to weed out corruption and fraud from top to bottom in every organisation where it has taken hold” when coupled with her call for a judicial inquiry what happened in the AWU 17 years. Nor am I in denial about corruption in some trade unions, as SB claims.

    As a trade unionist I am acutely aware of an ongoing campaign to hobble the capacity of trade unions to represent their members on behalf of the disappointment of those in business who think that the industrial relations climate does not give them enough power over their employees’ wages and conditions. This campaign is in turn hobbled by connection with “Work Choices”, which did very real damage to the capacity of trade unions to defend their members’ interests.

    So, I am not in the least inclined to support any campaign against union corruption that might serve as a trojan horse for the resurrection of individual agreements and loss of access to businesses or the ability to force businesses to negotiate agreements. Nor am I in the least inclined to believe that the Coalition is pursuing what happened 17 years ago because it believes thatby shining a light on union leaders who abuse their members trust it will strengthen trade union representation of their members. I am more inclined to think that they have shuffled through the US Republican campaign book for ways in which public character assassination will improve their chances to get in do what they like in government.

  3. Hunt Ian

    Suzanne Blake, are you saying that the AWU today is full of corruption from top to bottom? There has always been a problem in the trade union movement that representatives of workers have been “duchessed” by employers so that they represent their members less effectively than they could.
    In recent years, trade union officials have been tempted to get excessive salaries for themselves by excessive executive salaries in business. This varies from union to union but the HSU is a good recent example where top federal officials earned over $250 K for no real reason at all, since they occupied elected positions, which voided the usual excuse given to justify paying excessive salaries to CEOs-you had to attract them in an international market where others offered high salaries.
    But then perhaps you are just trying to engage in US Republican Party style character assassination, since the matters you want to enquire into occurred 17 years ago and are hardly likely to produce any change in the AWU, as it is today. The standard explanation for McLelland’s reference to it is that it was a bit of mischief making, which hardly justifies a judicial inquiry. I have no idea what ex labor minister Costa is up to but I have never seen anything about him that would suggest he is an authoritative figure on the need for judicial inquiries. We would do better to ask ourselves why you wrap yourself in the Australian flag when you pursue partisan politics through Crikey comments.

  4. tonyfunnywalker

    Why did you give Abbott the bat – He was pulling your pigtails again, fair enough. But he batted for 15 minuites and got out Trod on Wicket and this does not happen too often even for an out of form batsman.

    Now look what you done —- you have Brandis taking off his parliamentary protective gear off and sledging. Perhaps he wants to bat and control the Senate?

    He could not do worse than Abbott- or could he, but the News / Bolt/ Smith team as coaches don’t seem to think so.

    Now they are all in the nets with Abbott and some crazy idea for a judicial inquiry – how much is that going to cost the taxpayer?

    So far this circus has cost the country millions as we demonstrate Liberal Policy is driven by num- nuts who can’t bowl, can’t bat and can’t throw —- telling the Opposition Leader his tactics to win the next election.

    It defies logic and if Abbott thinks he is onto a winner then think again, the dummy spit behavour has not produced one iota of success so far ( remember the carbon tax) and all you are doing is crying over what might have been and because you aren’t at the crease and you thought you deserved to be. You were not ready.

    Abbott you have to prove that you can bat and bowl.

    You do not deserve to be on the team let alone captain at the moment and the best “go to” players are on the bench but you won’t give them any time in the nets in case they are able to bat or bowl better than you and Julie demonstrated when given the chance this week.

    Brandis is not a threat, neither is Julie after her poor bowling preformance, but the rest need net practice if you have any hope of winning this test series.

    The Perth Test is a case in point – Mitchell Johnson, written off by the pundits and look at the score board he is taking valuable wickets but not before he has prepared himmself wih a lot of practice and game time to get his confidence back, to be selected and then to reward his captain and preform.

    Abbott you need to get the score board ticking over and wasting taxpayers money on a judicial commission is not the way to do it.

    A strong policy on Workplace Reform, NOW that’s a different story.

    Pity you made a blue by NOT voting for Peter Reith as Chairman of Selectors, he would have been an useful ally.

    The News / Bolt/ Smith need to be seen to be relevant while they are making you irrelevant to the electorate.

    This is an election for once for an opposition to win rather than for the government to lose.

    Romney thought otherwise and look at what happened to him egged on by US num-nuts HE LOST THE UNLOOSEABLE election in a landslide.

  5. tonyfunnywalker

    A few responses if I may. I was not to the cricket tragics suggesting that Gillard was unscathed. Opening batsman worth their salt sport bruises broken fingers all to reduce their resolve. Gillard is no exception, even from bad throws to the keeper by Rudd. One in February was intended to decapitiate her. She survivived and changed tactics and although battered and bruised she is still at the wicket. The Opposition’s attempt to decapitate was pathetic. A bouncer from Abbott aimed at the throat ( it was a bit high and he got called ) for a return catch or a catch to gully for Pyne to take, or for Brandis for a caught behind the protective screen of Parliamentary priviledge. NO BALL – Gillard broke tradition and gave Abbott a FREE ball because he has been crying for 2 years (its my turn now to bat) so when he had the bat he is so out of form he went on the Back foot and was dismissed TROD on WICKET).

    Final word

    For the dismayed press I will continue to buy the Australian as it makes excellent garden Mulch. Since I have been using the OZ as mulch my crop of vegetables has broken all records. The Plants are not competing with weeds and the results have been achieved with minimum water and fertilizer and the OZ is biodegradable which is a surprising bonus. You need to be careful as onsome days though as there is more bullshit than others and that can cause excessive vigor problems.
    If Hedley is to continue on the AWU that is good news for the planting for an autumn crop and $3 for a news paper is a great saving on our water bill and that is good news for the household budget and I can spend more at Harvey Norman or maybe not as the ACCC still has to have its say.

  6. Karen

    @ Achmed – “No lie Gillard told now or in 1993/5 could match the pain and suffering that Howards lie about weapons of mass destruction has resulted in…” Indeed. Let’s expand this – hundreds of thousands dead, maimed, mentally destroyed, lives ruined, businesses lost, families fragmented, refugees, hate, pain and suffering.. And Howard kept his job.

    “No lie Gillard told now or in 1993/5” (if indeed there was one) is comparable to the rip-off Howard engaged in to bail out his brother with tax payer money when the brother failed to leave money aside to pay off his workers’ entitlements. Fine pair of Liberals, the pair of them. Abbott, Bishop, Pyne et al defended Howard to the death, good liberals that they are, and the voter voted for Howard.

    How about the cropped photos used by the Libs and the media to perpetrate a horrendous r*cist l*e about refugees throwing their children overboard, in order to win a Federal election in 2004. Cynical, blatant, contemptuous manipulation of the public who were used like fodder by the Liberals to vote them into power. Lovely bunch aren’t they.

    Or the corrupt decisions taken to allow wheat to be traded with Hussein, as Australia was signed up to the Iraq war without the Australian public even been told about its involvement until AFTER Howard did the deal with Bush. Another fine example of honest and competent Liberal Party policy.

    Then we have Abbott yesterday accusing Gillard of a crime, only for him to come back into parliament, back away from the SMH story that the SMH itself backed away from, and simply throw a damp squib and call Gillard’s “conduct unbecoming”. And even then, for what, precisely? The fact that Wilson used and trashed Gillard, including her career with Slater and Gordon? Unfortunately for this, there is actual evidence. And the Liberals want her scalp… Tawdry hypocrites.

  7. jason white


    The missing files are the files that incorporated the assocation with the West Australian Corporate Affairs, a copy of the files that Slater & Gordon had. They had a copy of a letter at the time of the Gillard interview and files that Ian Cambridge had ampiled that were in the possession of the NSW state court acheives.

    The West Australian Corporate Affairs file was sent to WA State Achieves. The file has the cover and no documents inside. The Documents have not been authorised to be destroyed – they have simply gone missing

    The letter Gillard wrote to assist the incorporation of the association is missing. We do not know exactly what she said to the commission to satisfy the commission that this was not a trade union and that this was an authorised use of the AWU name. As this was actually not authorised by the AWU body, there is evidence to make certain conclusions. The excuse that she believes Bruce Wilson had that authority is one of two possibilities
    Either a act of complete incompetence or she has intentionally mislead a Statutory body.

    There is also a missing files from NSW federal achieves which is alleged to contain the case and documents that Ian Cambridge put together on this alleged fraud . It is not clear what was contained within this file, but again this file has not been commissioned to be destroyed.

    The fact that these files are missing stinks,
    Gillard may have nothing to do with the disappearance of these files, but it looks very much like someone has tamped with these files.

    This story is not over.
    The Coalition might be finished with this, but the likes of Michael Smith, Hedley Thomas, Andrew Bolt are certainly not done with this story;
    # No one has been charged with the alleged fraud
    # No funds are ever been recovered from this alleged fraud

    This is an opinion, but best case for Guillard is that her role in this can just be shown to unknowingly assist a fraud and limited to acting in an unethical way as a Lawyer
    The Worst case for Gillard, is that a number of people make sworn statements which put further pressure on Gillard

    I now believe that Gillard was more of less living at the property when Bruce Wilson was in Melbourne. (Something she has denied and something she used to discredit a earlier story on this a couple of years ago. I now believe that some funds may have been used on Gillard’s renovations. (I am not suggesting that Gillard was aware at the time that these were stolen funds)

    I truly believe that Gillard does not have any credibility left on this issue, as she has chosen to provide half answers all throughout.

  8. tonyfunnywalker

    you guys are just like ” On the Couch” replaying the game. You sound like some of the TV expert analysis panels. The game is over, they drew stumps a few hours ago. There are no winners in these types of games and its a bit like watching a district cricket game.
    Politics is not a sport and if it is then you cannot make up the rules as you go along.
    Pyne and The Speaker today discussed relevance.
    This issue is irrelevant to the average voter. They have made up their minds about Gillard and Abbott.
    Abbott stayed out of the fray as he knew that it would be less than helpful for his makeover. Gillard in her mysogony speech repositioned Abbott ( a very good marketing tactic and that is to reposition your competition).
    She also repostioned most of the political press irrespective of gender and that has spooked both the press and Abbott
    Abbott hoped that the AWU issue would win back ground and that is why he used his second string bowler and why this ” non – issue” has been pursued so vehemently.

    Gillard’s is wise to this by linking of Abbott and Turnbull through her reference to Gordon Grech and Pyne and Ashby as a warning that they too were marred by poor research, rumour and inuendo and contrived evidence.

    News Ltd will plough on but the voter won’t care, its the test series, Ricky has retired and the Pup had tears in his eyes, (so did I) The Crows are in trouble with the AFL, its the Christmas season and Harvey Norman is belly aching already and Alan Joyce is screwing Qantas.
    Get a life you guys and remember that todays newspaper is probably in the recycling by bedtime or Cricky emails in the trash and the Laptop/ Ipad is for Xmas Shopping and watching movies if you are not into Christmas Shows and Carols.

    Have a nice glass of wine and enjoy the rest.

  9. tonyfunnywalker

    This is reminicent of the recent Test Match – on the first day South Africa rested its best bowler after lunch – and Australia plundered and embarrassed the spinner to a test record.

    Julie Bishop the 2nd string strike bowler kept bowling full tosses and when she tried to bowl bouncers Gillard drove and cut them for boundaries on all sides of the wicket.

    But Captain Abbott persisted for the 4 sessions with a weak bowling attack but they kept bowling wides and no balls.

    He got a bit of coaching from some very dodgy sources and came into the attack itself given a free hit but was immediately no balled for overstepping.

    The extra ball went wide as Gillard stepped back to the crease and not even the keeper could save another boundary.

    Gillard played a straight bat till stumps and was still sledging when stumps were drawn.

    The match was drawn as neither Gillard or Abbott will gain in the polls as no one bloody cared – it was a dead rubber game and won’t decide the series.

    The Liberals need a new captain and a new coach and there needs to be some rotation in the attack.

    Irrespective of the draw Labor were able to amass a comfortable score with record number of boundaries and no dismissals.

    The opener and captain carried her bat throughout the innings but the match referee will need to look at the number of bouncers per over and bringing back the underarm ball was an act of despiration and to slow the scoring. That’s not Cricket.

    Tactics to achieve ” retired hurt” were hoped for but they did not eventuate either.

    Labor can come out after the break in the knowledge that they are still batting for a test win when stumps are finally drawn in 12 months time.

    In the meantime bring on the South Africans for some real cricket played in the spirit of the game.

    Ponting will be sorely missed.

    Satire with apologies to cricket and cricket lovers everywhere.

  10. jason white


    There are stories and rumours that have been known about this fraud in the Union circles for years.

    There are a few Alp people that may not be prepared to commit perjury for Julia Gillard if the coalition are able to bring upon the situation where some people are asked to give sworn statements. These witnesses may be able to simply provide a timeline to when Slater & Gordon and Gillard were made aware that a fraud may have taken place that could create further problems for Gillard

    The missing federal files, and the allegation with the police about the Power of attorney could give reason to question some individuals that might lead to further contradictions in Gillard’s recollection of events

    Questions that Gillard has been avoiding and giving indirect answers. For example: Why did she not notify the AWU or the Police ? Over the Xmas / Summer break, I can see this move from circumstantial evidence that the PM was aware that perhaps a fraud had taken place at a certain date to actual sworn statements that both Slater & Gordon and the Gillard knew at a certain date.

    I don’t want to see the ALP destroyed but I do want a restructure / cleanout of sorts

    Right now, this issue will remain news thoughtout the Xmas break. This is exactly what the coalition wants, this issue to remain news and hurt the Alp further over the Xmas break.

    Mark my words this can only get worse for Gillard and the government over Xmas and this issue is not going away

  11. jason white


    I am not here to try and destroy the ALP so I am being careful with what I post.

    But you need to look at who is saying there is no smoking gun. These people are likely to support the Government no matter what.

    There is a strong case for the PM to answer now.

    ” 1) Is it illegal for a lawyer to act to create an association for a client or not advise a regulatory body that said association is not a union when it isn’t?”

    There is some evidence to suggest that Gillard understood this association to be a re-election fund for the AWU union and that she mislead the regulatory authority. As a Lawyer this is an offense and yes it is illegal. Perhaps not a serious offence, but yes a lawyer could face some severe penalties and be disbarred as a lawyer. Gillard also has a creditability issue here as she has not been truthful with the voting public on this issue.

    “2) Is a lawyer responsible for any acts that said association undertakes after it is incorporated if they have no other involvement with the association?”

    There are some claims and again circumstantial eviednce that she was aware that a fruad had taken place and she did not noticify the AWU or the Police. I have reason to now believe that there are people that could testify to this being the case, and that that the PM needs to be careful. I also believe that this will be revealed as the reason as to why a former Slater & Gordon Partner keep records on this matter when he left the firm. (highly unusal). There are perhaps people who would not want to commit perjury to defend Gillard should they be asked to give a sworn statement in a police interview

    ” 3) Is it illegal or even unusual for a professional (lawyer, accountant, doctor) to perform simple tasks for family and friends without opening a file?”

    If you looked at the facts and circumstances of this particular case. The AWU being a client of Slater & Gordon and varuious evidnece that Gillard do a little more that a bit of advice. Then Yes, It is highly unsual for a professional to not open a file, hence the recorded Slater & Gordon interview

    You don’t have to believe me, but mark my words, if Gillard remains the PM, this will get worse over the Xmas break

  12. Jimmy

    Scoot – So what do you think that Gillard did wrong? Why do you think this issue deserves to continue?

    To help you respond here is the exerpt from the transcript that is causing all the trouble today –
    “This interview is between Slater & Gordon senior partner Peter Gordon and Ms Gillard, then a salaried partner at the firm.


    Peter Gordon: And last Monday I think you gave to 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 had we prepared a response submitted on Wilson’s instructions to that authority suggesting 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?

    Julia 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 …

    Peter Gordon: Yes. And to the extent that work was done on that file in relation to that it was done by you?

    Julia Gillard: That’s right.”

    Note the line “we prepared a response submitted on Wilson’s instructions to that authority suggesting in fact it wasn’t a trade union”, clearly the association wasn’t a union so what is the issue – that Gillard forgot she wrote a letter 20 years ago?

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