Fresh from the success of Henderson Watch, Mark Latham now turns his attention to Gerard’s conservative brother, trawling the coverage of the Julia Gillard Slater &Gordon story on Andrew Bolt’s blog. 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.

Here, Latham takes up the challenge of demonstrating why he thinks Bolt is wrong on Gillard’s past as a lawyer. He has promised Crikey several stories of this nature. We bring you Bolt Watch …

Bolt’s claim: “The slush fund, deceptively registered as the AWU Workplace Reform Association …” (November 13, 2012)

Latham’s response: Bolt’s claim of deception is simply untrue, echoing an error made repeatedly at The Australian. Hedley Thomas and Chris Merritt have argued that if Gillard had tried to register the AWU Workplace Reform Association as a fundraising body for union elections it would not have passed muster under the Western Australian Associations Incorporation Act 1987. This is despite the fact the entity was successfully registered in 1992 for a range of workplace functions, and the act allows associations to be established for “political purposes”.

In August I asked the Associations and Charities Branch of the WA Department of Commerce about fundraising for union elections and was told “there should not be a prohibition on that”. I also asked if this was a valid opinion going back to 1992, thereby allowing for subsequent legislative amendments. The officials answered “yes”.

One of the peculiar aspects of the media reporting on this matter (including by Bolt) has been the portrayal of incorporated associations as objects of legal mystique. There are, in fact, 16,000 of them operating in WA, most with fundraising arms and activities. There was nothing unusual in the AWUWRA being registered for a range of workplace purposes but then raising funds for workplace elections. The wrongdoing came in the misuse of those funds by Bruce Wilson and Ralph Blewitt.

For Bolt to claim deception at the point of registration (acting on Gillard’s legal advice) is wrong and, I believe, demonstrates his dishonesty in commentating on this issue. His political obsession in getting rid of Gillard has blinded him to the facts of the matter.

Bolt’s claim: Gillard was “in charge of the conveyancing … had in fact a direct role in the conveyancing … ” (November 13, 2012)

Latham’s response: Bolt loves to repeat his false allegations, so let’s take these two together. The Weekend Financial Review examined this issue in detail, working its way through the Slater & Gordon conveyancing documents. Bolt even mentioned this investigation on his blog, reproducing the paragraphs which best-suited his agenda (but not, of course, the Financial Review findings — he’s not that intellectually honest).

Laura Tingle and Mark Skulley concluded that Gillard was not in charge of the conveyancing (Olive Brosnahan was) and the cheque paid for the Melbourne property in question was deposited in the Slater & Gordon account at the CBA in Perth, meaning that someone who wasn’t even responsible for the conveyancing in the Melbourne office (that is, Gillard) was highly unlikely to have seen the cheque. The journalists established that Gillard, far from working on the conveyancing, was working in a different part of the firm. She was in the industrial division, while Brosnahan looked after the matter in the commercial division.

Again, Bolt is wrong. His credibility on this issue is as strong as the anti-Obama Birther movement in the US — his ideological inspiration for the AWU smear campaign.

Bolt’s claim: “[It’s] time police took up the invitation of Ralph Blewitt … to tell all in exchange for immunity from prosecution for what he says was the fraud in which he was involved.” (October 29, 2012)

This is one of my favourites. The false allegation is implicit in Bolt’s belief that giving Blewitt immunity from criminal prosecution would lead to the successful prosecution of the Prime Minister. Throughout Bolt’s blog, Blewitt is described as a shyster, a fiddler of the books. Yet Mr Law and Order, Mr Anti-Illegal Immigration, Mr Prim and Proper, Mr Rule of Law, Mr Conservative Values wants to let Blewitt off. Because of a political agenda to get rid of Gillard.

No wrongdoing has been proven against Gillard, far from it, but Bolt wants to shamelessly manipulate Australia’s legal system to let a self-confessed fraudster walk free. On this issue, make no mistake, Bolt is firmly in the Blewitt camp — a terrible commentary on what Australian conservatism has become.

Bolt’s claim: “Darling, I need an incorporated entity called AWU something, don’t send a bill, keep it secret, don’t open a file, write to the corporate affairs commissioner and convince him it’s not dodgy. Then when I get sprung, don’t dob me in will you.” Statement attributed to Bruce Wilson speaking to Julia Gillard, circa 1992, to which, amongst other material, Bolt directed his readers and linked his blog. (October 13, 2012)

Bolt is typical of the modern face of Australian conservatism. He talks about families and decency, but practises a vicious politics of personal destruction. For instance, he wants media outlets to delve into Gillard’s relationship with Craig Emerson 10 years ago. Nothing is off limits for Bolt in his pursuit of Gillard. This is why he constantly refers his readers to Michael Smith’s website as an accurate and credible source of information on the Slater & Gordon matter.

Much of Smith’s material, including the quote listed above, is made up. This, apparently, does not worry Bolt. Any invention is worth promoting on his blog and focusing reader attention, as long as it satisfies his obsessive hatred of Gillard. Bolt and Smith have invented many dozens of claims against the Prime Minister — it’s part of the political fantasy world in which they live.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey