It was Day Two in the Steve Vizard Show today, with the former comic looking decidedly uncomfortable as he picked his way through a minefield of questions aimed at skewering his credibility.

Peter Hayes QC, acting for former bookkeeper Roy Hilliard, this morning questioned Vizard on six pages of cheques written by Hilliard for amounts over $10,000, including art purchases from the Anna Schwartz gallery and a payment to Langton’s fine wines of $17,000. So had Vizard’s former bookkeeper been charged with deciding which artworks to buy? Hayes asked. No, a Melbourne University committee advised on the purchases.

Hayes followed up with a curly question about a John Olsen painting purchased by the Vizard Foundation that was on display in the Vizard family home — to be eligible for tax deduction it should have been in a public gallery. Vizard said he didn’t recall the details.

The questioning stalled when Hayes asked about the $500,000 payment to Creative Technologies Investments and Vizard refused to answer on the grounds he may incriminate himself, sparking a lengthy legal argument.

Yesterday Vizard slipped into the Victorian Supreme Court buildings through a back door, which was an appropriate entry point for a day of evasions for the embattled businessman.

Entering the courtroom, he had to shoulder his way past a horde of journalists, crammed in doorways and seated in haphazard rows, pens at the ready. Court 7B only holds about 20 onlookers and another room behind it, connected by a single doorway, was also filled with scribblers straining to follow the action on an ageing pair of computer speakers.

Once on the stand, Vizard was comfortable answering questions from Westpac’s lawyers that established Hilliard was solely responsible for the management of Vizard’s finances. “(Hilliard) carried out his role in an autonomous fashion. He wasn’t supervised at all,” Vizard admitted. But once Hayes stepped up to the microphone, the easy ride was over.

The very real possibility of Vizard facing perjury charges was raised shortly after he took the witness stand. His manner changed. He became more combative and less patient. Responding to questions that tested the accuracy of evidence he gave during Hilliard’s committal proceedings, Vizard nervously leant forward and mumbled, almost apologetically, that he could not answer the question on the grounds that he could incriminate himself.

This was what the gallery had been waiting for. James Judd, QC, rose to defend his client, arguing Vizard shouldn’t be compelled to answer. But late in the day, after hours of legal argument about whether or not Vizard should be compelled to answer the questions, Justice Hansen uttered the words Vizard and Co had hoped not to hear: Mr Vizard will need to answer the questions.

Peter Fray

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