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Nov 30, 2012

Julie Bishop on her own legal past: the interview with a partner

Julie Bishop, the former lawyer who has led the opposition's charge against Julia Gillard over the AWU scandal, clarifies to Crikey her statement that she has never had a relationship with a client.


Deputy Opposition Leader Julie Bishop “absolutely” stands by her claim she has never had a relationship with a client, despite attending a legal interview with her current partner (and former Perth lord mayor) Peter Nattrass in relation to how he obtained information on the criminal record of a council candidate.

Bishop led the opposition’s prolonged attack on Julia Gillard this week over her role in establishing a slush fund with then-partner Bruce Wilson in the 1990s. On Tuesday, Bishop told the media that unlike the Prime Minister she had never had a relationship with a client.

Crikey spoke with Bishop today in relation to published claims she had acted for Nattrass — with whom she is understood to have been in a relationship since 1995-1996 — in 2002. Contemporary reports indicate Nattrass was involved in an official investigation into how he obtained information about the criminal record of Terry Maller, a candidate for the Perth City Council. The information was allegedly leaked.

Bishop admitted she attended an interview with Nattrass: “On one occasion he was invited to an interview with the authorities , and I attended as an observer like, you know, somebody goes to the police station to give a statement and they’re accompanied.

“I didn’t act as a solicitor at that time, he was entitled to have somebody present and I went.”

Bishop insists she offered Nattrass no legal advice — she had ceased acting as as solicitor in 1998 when she went into Parliament and her practising certificate had lapsed.

Speaking on some of the allegations circulating about her past as a lawyer, Bishop said: “Honestly, where do you get this crap from? Look, it’s not your issue and you’re doing your job, I know that. But honestly, the desperate levels that people will go to to try and equate my conduct and my ethical standards with Julia Gillard’s is laughable.”

Bishop and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott have consistently emphasised they think Gillard’s history as a lawyer is relevant and important, arguing it goes to her character, competence and ethics as a political leader.

Crikey also asked Bishop whether she had been in any way involved in the legal affairs of her former partner (and former WA Liberal senator) Ross Lightfoot. Bishop is understood to have commenced a relationship with Lightfoot after her divorce in 1988. At the time she was a partner in the Perth branch of Clayton Utz (formerly Robinson Cox).

At one point there were allegations Lightfoot appeared to be a director of two companies (A-CAP and Coolkalg Resources), which were in the hands of receivers and liquidators. There are claims the AFP investigated the affairs of the companies. There are also claims then-senator Lightfoot used a taxpayer-funded study trip to China to negotiate deals for A-CAP, which led to a complaint by then-ambassador to China Ross Garnaut.

There is no evidence Bishop acted legally for (or provided legal advice to) Lightfoot — she told Crikey she never provided legal advice to him. When asked if he was ever a client of her firm, she said: “That’s a question for Clayton Utz … I have not acted for him.” When asked if her firm acquired any of his assets, she said: “Not to my knowledge.”

Bishop says Lightfoot “had his own family lawyer” in relation to his divorce with Sue Walker.

The Liberals’ deputy leader confirms she stated earlier this week she had never had a relationship with a client and she “absolutely” stands by that statement.

She says the crucial point she was making is Gillard was in a relationship with someone in a way that, Bishop claims, put Gillard’s firm in a position of conflict. Bishop says her point was that in assisting Bruce Wilson, Gillard was acting to the detriment of her firm’s client, the AWU.

“I’m not saying that lawyers cannot have a relationship with someone to whom they provide legal advice, but … they cannot provide legal advice to their partner which puts their firm in a position of a conflict of interest with another client, and that’s what Julia Gillard did, she put her firm in an impossible, untenable position of conflict of interest,” she said.

There is no suggestion Bishop may have provided legal advice or representation to someone with whom she was in a relationship, in a way that presented a conflict of interest to her employer.

“All I can say is I am proud of my legal career, I acted professionally and ethically at all times,” Bishop told Crikey. “I am happy to answer legitimate questions about my professional conduct over 20 years in the law.”

Critics of Bishop have also raised questions about her work as a solicitor acting for mining giant CSR in asbestos cases. Bishop has strongly rejected any wrongdoing on her part.



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34 thoughts on “Julie Bishop on her own legal past: the interview with a partner

  1. HB

    I just renewed my subscription – and then this.
    Is the point that Julie bishop should be held to the same standards of evidence about her behavious as the Prime Minister? I would conclude then that “there is no evidence” could be applied to both if the information in this piece is correct, based on the palaver we have had to endure this week.

  2. Holden Back

    More than enough evidence . . . I demand she prove her innocence.

  3. Lady White Peace

    Why does Julie Bishop get away with what she did or didn’t do when she was in a top legal firm and had boyfriends that “accidentally ” got hold of records that they shouldn’t have, plus all of the other information in today’s Crikey on the subject.
    Why has this information come out on the last day of sitting?? Why isn’t it pursued by the Newspapers and as hotly debated as the Julia saga?? Bias? Discrimination?
    People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones!
    The Pot calling the kettle black etc.,
    Why is POT Julie Bishop calling the KETTLE Julia Gillard Black and GETTING AWAY WITH IT?

  4. drmick

    Law for one and smear for the other. None of your business for some and a spanish inquisition in a kangaroo court for another. There is no “class” in their classless society and on a two party preferred basis, the majority want her and her friends running the show. Go figure?

  5. barbs

    People in glass houses? I think the game should be over now – it’s long become dreary and repetitive.
    Glad you learned the lesson finally, Julie. All of us have moments in our past which could easily be misconstrued, and it’s sooooo difficult to prove our innocence after 20 years, isn’t it?

  6. zut alors

    I’m convinced no evidence will ever be dug up that Bish0p had a relationship with a client – who would admit it?

  7. puddleduck


    I think the Bishop has been hanging around with the wrong Knights – look where it gets here.

  8. JMNO

    Isn’t the point that Gillard thought she was acting for the AWU in that she was acting for two of their officials?

  9. Lady White Peace

    THERE IS NO POINT JMNO in pursuing this any longer… whoever she was acting for if you read what a regular lawyer says… it is normal practice in legal firms. I think we need to stop asking who or what she did or didn’t do.. because it has been hashed to death.
    Media needs to be whipped for not asking Julie Bishop to ” please explain and prove your innocence” But they won’t and we know why .

  10. beachcomber

    I wouldn’t trust any lawyer who acted for a company mining asbestos, years after the health effects were widely known, Julie Bishop included.

  11. Wombat

    I think that chasing up Bishop’s past as a lawyer is disgraceful. Political parties might be able to engage in tit-for-tat and “well, they started it”, but Crikey hold itself to higher standards than printing this irrelevant “smear”

  12. Ruprecht

    What the actual feck, Crikey?

    We’ve been moaning about the muckraking treatment of PM Gillard — the solution is not to muckrake the other side, but NOT. TO. MUCKRAKE.

    There are plenty of legitimate reasons to criticise our politicians, based on policy positions.

    Very disappointed.

  13. klewso

    To face down a bully you have to stand up to them – unfortunately the only thing some of them understand is what they dish out, and the surprise when someone hits back in their way.

  14. ulysses butterfly

    If the quote about Bishop saying solicitors can well give legal advice to their partners is correct then she is in direct contradiction with the teaching of an ethics lecture I just received this afternoon (as part of a mandatory sole practitioner course) with the NSW College of Law, accredited by the NSW Law Society. And yes that’s legal advice! Are the ethical standards different in WA? I doubt it. A solicitor has a fiduciary duty to a client to give the best and objective advice. Virtually by definition this is near impossible for a close relative or partner. All kinds of subjectivity inevitably affects judgement. For the very same reason medical doctors have to refer their own family away to other doctors to avoid a conflict of interest.

    So is the Bishop quote accurate?

  15. ulysses butterfly

    The same course for instance makes a big point of solicitors using “ethical assertiveness” with prospective clients about what they cannot do – such as give legal advice to family members. Nor does it matter whether any money was paid, because expert legal advice must be given to a professional standard regardless, without fear or favour, and you can’t really be dispassionate with someone who is very close where domestic harmony may be jeopardised. You have to tell them to get independent advice.

    On the other hand ethics has been a developing area of the legal profession over the last 2 decades and times may well have changed regarding ‘normal’ behaviour.

  16. Kate Ahearne

    Thank you, Crikey. There has been some sort of media ‘mob mentality’ going on about all this. People in the media who might otherwise have been quite intelligent, have been chucking themselves off the cliff like a herd of lemmings. Sometimes time plays into our hands, and on this occasion, we can all have a nice little nap until February when Parliament resumes. You have done a sterling, and quite lonely sort of job. Ms Gillard doesn’t always please me – refugees in particular, but I definitely don’t want to see the kind of behaviour the Opposition has been indulging in, rewarded with any kind of mandate next year.

  17. Mark from Melbourne

    The coalition pushed the question of morals in relation to Gillard over 15 years ago. One of the shifting positions (of many) they and the media have taken so far.

    If so then questions regarding Bishop’s morality around asbestos are equally valid, perhaps more so as the venality level is 50 times greater IMHO.

  18. AR

    BeachC – why would you trust ANY lawyer? They are the apotheosis of amoral, untethered pod people.

  19. Rena Zurawel

    I think that Julia Bishop was chasing PM on a hunting expedition. It was a bit too much listening ad nauseam to her daily diatribes about another Julia in the parliament. A bit too much. She deserves being questioned now. Same rules apply.
    I believe both ladies deserve each other and none of them would ever be my favourite politician. Too much of a personal ego, and too much of chasing career through relationships.
    And, what do they know about Australian battling families they are supposed to represent?

  20. Hugh (Charlie) McColl

    ulysses butterfly, you are worse than the sloppy journalists that have been covering this story. You “quote” Julie Bishop thus:
    “If the quote about Bishop saying solicitors can well give legal advice to their partners is correct then she is in direct contradiction with the teaching of an ethics lecture I just received this afternoon.” UB, Bishop did not say solicitors CAN WELL give legal advice to their partners (ie. their marriage-like partners).
    This is the “quote” from Julie Bishop published in the article:
    “I didn’t act as a solicitor at that time, he was entitled to have somebody present and I went.”
    “Bishop insists she offered Nattrass no legal advice — she had ceased acting as as solicitor in 1998 when she went into Parliament and her practising certificate had lapsed.”

  21. Achmed

    Julie Bishop in her work as a lead lawyer for the CSR company opposing compensation claims from workers dying of asbestos diseases sought to delay justice for those dying men.
    Such caring, such ehtics. so much compassion…yeah right

  22. Lee Tinson

    Nice one, Crikey. But will Bishop and her supporters get the joke?

  23. Bruce Michell

    The difference between Gillard and Bishop is stark and the dribble that is being spoutes as a comparative analysis is puerile and ignorant.
    I have worked with lawyers over the past 15 years (I am not a lawyer)and can make this observation based on the media reporting.
    Bishop has separated her perconal and professional associations, Gillard has not. By any moral, ethical, professional or legal standard, Gillard’s actions are reprehensible. The most telling point is her refusal to make a statement in Parliament, that can be scrutinised and verified. If she lies to Parliament, she’s out! Until she makes a clear statement, the opposition, on behalf of the people of Australia, is required to call her to account. That is their job and if the positions were reversed, all the socialist whingers would be marching in the streets.
    I certainly support Tony Abbott’s intention to have a full judicial enquiry into this squalid affair and union corruption in general and let the law take it’s course.
    The reason this matter now has legs, is that her own former Attorney General tipped the bucket on her and evidence is now emerging of wrongdoing.
    It must be resolved.

  24. Achmed

    Liberal supporter or a part of the 30% all are ignoring the fact that Murray Cowper a Minister in WA State liberal Govt has stated that there is nothing untoward. In his press release he states the money paid into the fund by Thiess, not the taxpayers as some lie about, was spent on training.

  25. Mike Moore

    Julie Bishop has stated “”It would be appalling for someone to draw some moral equivalence between my role in the Wittenoom case and establishing a union slush fund.” Never a truer word was spoken because Bishop’s behaviour was far more immoral.

    Using legal tactics to deny people justice is totally reprehensible and immoral by any reasonable person’s standards. Yes she may have been doing her client’s bidding but that does not absolve her of being responsible for her actions when acting for CSR. The fact that she appears to still still not see that what she did was immoral by most people’s standards is a damning indictment of her character.

  26. Achmed

    Would Abbott, Bishop and the rusted on Liberal supporters accept “doing the clients bidding” as a defence?
    How could anyone even think that arguing for the court cases for people dying of asbestos diseases to be delayed was in anyway moral? It shows a complete lack of any compassion

  27. Steve777

    “There is no evidence Bishop acted legally for (or provided legal advice to) Lightfoot …”

    Since when was evidence needed for a smear campaign. One way or another, Julie Bishop and Julia Gillard should be held to the same standard of evidence.

  28. Holden Back

    I believe you entirely miss the point Bruce Michell. You feel the Prime Minister has a case to answer for on some questionable legal grounds, and Julie Bishop was simply following her clients’ instructions, or blamelessly providing moral support as a retired legal practitioner.

    This stoush has been framed in terms of ‘character’ by its chief architects, so legality or otherwise is not the issue. Seems that might cut both ways.

  29. Karen

    @ AR #19 – don’t tar us all with that ‘bad lawyer’ brush, my dear. There are many of us who work committedly, if not passionately, in the criminal, welfare and community sectors for relatively modest incomes, on behalf of disenfranchised people and/or victims who completely rely on us for redress and justice.

  30. ulysses butterfly

    Charlie, I refer to this “I’m not saying that lawyers cannot have a relationship with someone to whom they provide legal advice,…”

    I’m saying, if that quote is correct, she is probably wrong. The better view, while arguable, is that fiduciary duty requires objectivity, which is absent in a relationship (particularly an intimate one, or immediate family).

    So no I was not being “sloppy”. Apology accepted.

  31. ulysses butterfly

    To get a bit researchy and primary sources on you Charlie, and dear readers:

    Refer NSW Solicitor’s Rules at http://www.lawsociety.com.au/idc/groups/public/documents/internetcostguidebook/026327.pdf

    Or here without the whole pdf http://www.lawsociety.com.au/ForSolictors/professionalstandards/Ruleslegislation/SolicitorsRules/027105

    Go to the prefacing paragraph under the title “Relations with clients Rules 1-16 / Statement of Principle for Rules 1-16”

    then this ….

    “Practitioners should serve their clients competently and diligently. They should be acutely aware of the fiduciary nature of the relationship with their clients, and always deal with their clients fairly, free of the influence of any interest which may conflict with a client’s best interests.”

    Opinions may differ as to whether it is really possible to give competent and diligent advice when judgment is clouded by close personal relationships affecting objectivity. Many will say, of course I was objective, and other’s would say that’s the essence of a blind spot for those near and dear.

    In the absence of evidence of illegality by Bishop, or the PM, in giving legal advice to a person in a close relationship, then I suggest it’s probably a breach of professional ethics. Did everyone do it back in the day? Possibly. I don’t know. One presumes the 1995 Solicitors Rules in NSW came into force to help educate and clarify expectations of practitioners at least in that jurisdiction, which don’t apply to Vic and WA specifically. Though the underlying principles probably do.

  32. Matthew of Canberra

    “All I can say is I am proud of my legal career”

    So was Johnnie Cochran

  33. klewso

    I’ll bet you Sir Terry Lewis was too?

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