I said the other day that the Thomson scandal threatened to blow up into Australia’s Watergate. Boy, I wasn’t wrong! The muck is being piled higher and higher. Now it’s reached the person of Julia Gillard herself.
OK, first a bit of background. Back in the mid-1990’s Julia, then an industrial lawyer for the Melbourne firm Slater and Gordon, was doing some work for the Australian Workers Union, a Slater and Gordon client. She met, and became involved in a long-term relationship with, the AWU’s Victorian State Secretary, one Bruce Morton Wilson. All of which is old news and unremarkable.
Now however, a statutory declaration has come to light, drawn up last year by former AWU president Bob Kernohan. In it, he states that acting on Wilson’s instructions, Gillard set up several irregular bank accounts into which were funnelled union monies used, among other things, on house renovations to two Melbourne properties, one of which belonged to Wilson, the other to Gillard. She has produced written documentation that she paid (subsequently, at any rate) for these renovations personally, and she is not being accused of unlawful gain for those, at least. The fact that she was co-habitating with Wilson, while both his house and hers were being renovated with union funds, through bank accounts she herself set up, while simultaneously taking instructions from Wilson as a Slater and Gordon client, suggest a mighty conflict of interest, at a bare minimum.
There is, however, the small matter of between $11,000 and $17,000 of union-derived funds, spent by Wilson, through one or more of these irregular accounts, at Town Mode, a women’s fashion house, on behalf of a “close personal friend”, who by this stage worked as a senior staffer for the Victorian government. The transcript of relevant hearings in the Victorian State Parliament can be viewed here.
If true, the allegations against Craig Thomson just became very small by comparison. Bombshell doesn’t start to describe it. Unless the charges in this declaration are entirely false (and Andrew Bolt in the link above claims to have verified them independently), there’s simply no way Gillard can survive this latest scandal. Her tenure as PM can now be measured in weeks, if not days.
The full Kernohan affidavit is due to be published on Monday, and I will be updating this story as it unfolds. In the meantime, have a listen to this.
Update 29 Aug 2011 0700: Well, the full Glenn Milne article, months in the research and jumping through legal hoops, has been published in The Australian this morning, and the new revelation is that the Melbourne house shared by Julia Gillard and Bruce Wilson was not only renovated with, but actually purchased with, embezzled union funds funnelled through secret bank accounts set up by Gillard, acting under Wilson’s instructions as a client of the law firm of which Gillard was a partner.
There is no direct evidence that Gillard knew of the purpose of these bank accounts. And Gillard, when interviewed by Milne (see link), characterized herself as being young and naïve at the time. But just how naïve does she expect us to believe that she was? A woman in her thirties, a senior partner in a law firm, former secretary of the Victorian Socialist Forum and seasoned political headkicker—young and naïve?? How could she not have known? The mere fact that she was a direct and mighty beneficiary of Wilson’s crimes means it does not pass the smell test, on even the most generous construction.
How naïve does she think we are?
Bah—she really is sunk this time.
Update 29 Aug 2011 10:30 – Wow! The Australian has pulled the Milne story (the link above now raises a 404 error) and issued the following retraction:
THE AUSTRALIAN published today an opinion piece by Glenn Milne which includes assertions about the conduct of the Prime Minister. The Australian acknowledges these assertions are untrue. The Australian also acknowledges no attempt was made by anyone employed by, or associated with, The Australian to contact the Prime Minister in relation to this matter.The Australian unreservedly apologises to the Prime Minister and to its readers for the publication of these claims.
Well, we’ll have to wait and see what comes of this. Milne has been on this story for years, they check and verify all their facts—and it’s pulled the morning it’s published? And what’s all this about no attempt was made to contact the Prime Minister? Milne’s story explicitly quoted from an interview he conducted with Gillard in 2007 on these matters.
And remember, both the Melbourne Herald-Sun’s Andrew Bolt and radio station 2UE’s Michael Smith claim to have independently verified the claims made in Kernohan’s statutory declaration (although Bolt is unsure of whether Gillard and Wilson were formally cohabitating—hardly a substantial factor in the allegations though). So someone here’s lying—big time.
Censorship and free speech! This is likely to be a bigger story than the story itself. More as it comes to hand…
Update 29 Aug 2011 12:00 I’ve been thinking a little more about this retraction. I wonder if it’s occurred to the editors of The Australian that, in stating these assertions are untrue, they are in effect accusing Bob Kernohan of lying in a statutory declaration, a criminal offence which, if proven, carries a prison term? Shouldn’t Kernohan be seeking his own court injunction to force The Australian to retract its retraction?
Update 30 Aug 2011 0715 – We now know it was a personal telephone call from Gillard to John Hartigan, CEO of News Limited (which owns The Australian) that resulted in the story being pulled. I guess now a precedent has been set. Even Andrew Bolt has been ordered to silence. I wonder if this is a permanent state of affairs.
I don’t get why this detail burned her—it’s a matter of record that they were in a relationship, in all likelihood she was staying nights if not officially living with him. Big deal, most fair-minded people would say. The guy was corrupt to his eyeballs, and that’s also a matter of record. Milne was careful to state there was no evidence that Gillard knew the source of the money with which Wilson bought his house. This whole thing smells.
Update 30 Aug 2011 2045 – Stranger and stranger. Now News Limited is hitting back. Read about it here. Jeez, tomorrow’s going to be interesting.
Update 31 Aug 2011 0815 – And here’s the answer in Bolt’s column today. I’m glad he chose not to resign in the end, though he says he came close to doing so. But the real story now is the desperation of the Australian government to cling to power.
Update 09 Sep 2011 1715 – to bring the Thomson case further up to date, New South Wales police have formally dropped the investigation into Thomson, saying there is no evidence a crime has been committed in its jurisdiction. Labor supporters are trumpeting this decision as a vindication of Thomson, though on closer inspection, it is anything but. This is because all the NSW police were investigating was the possibility that Thomson’s HSU credit card was used fraudulently; that is, by somebody else. What the NSW police have said is, they are satisfied that the credit card was used for escort services by the person whose name and signature appears on the card. In other words, Thomson’s excuse that someone else’s signature was on the numerous brothel payment slips has been shot to hell. Meanwhile, Victorian police are now investigating Thomson’s possible crime committed in their jurisdiction—that is, embezzlement of HSU funds.
It gets worse. Fresh allegations against Thomson have been raised in this morning’s Sydney Morning Herald, that he and union boss Michael Williamson received secret commissions by way of open-ended Amex cards given to them by a contractor who has been publishing the union newsletter at a seemingly vastly inflated price. Shadow Attorney-General George Brandis has referred these new allegations to the NSW police in this letter, citing the secret commissions provisions of the NSW Crimes Act, an offence which carries a jail term of up to seven years.
This ain’t over, by a long shot.