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.

Cathy Alexander — Freelance journalist and PhD candidate in politics at the University of Melbourne

Cathy Alexander

Freelance journalist and PhD candidate in politics at the University of Melbourne

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.

Free Trial

You've hit members-only content.

Sign up for a FREE 21-day trial to keep reading and get the best of Crikey straight to your inbox

By starting a free trial, you agree to accept Crikey’s terms and conditions


Leave a comment

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

  1. 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.”

  2. 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

  3. Lee Tinson

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

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

Leave a comment

Share this article with a friend

Just fill out the fields below and we'll send your friend a link to this article along with a message from you.

Your details

Your friend's details