Well, it’s finally happened. The scandal surrounding corruption in the Australian Workers’ Union in the 1990s, which LibertyGibbert covered last August, has now been formally raised in Federal Parliament.
To refresh your memory, the story regards the activities of one Bruce Morton Wilson, then the AWU’s Victorian State Secretary, and the AWU’s law firm, Slater and Gordon. Wilson instructed a Slater and Gordon partner to set up a number of bank accounts with names very similar to the Australian Workers Union, such that a casual observer would conclude that they were legitimate AWU accounts; when, in fact, they were accounts external to the AWU, created without the AWU’s knowledge, and under the direct and unaccountable control of Wilson. Wilson is alleged to have extorted from a number of large construction firms, in exchange for workplace peace, sums estimated to total between $500,000 and $1,000,000.
The Slater and Gordon partner who set up these accounts was the beneficiary of renovations worth over $100,000 to a Melbourne house she owned, paid for with funds from these accounts. She also was secretly rewarded with an account at a leading Melbourne fashion house, whose bills ran to a sum between $11,000 and $17,000. This partner was also at the time, not coincidentally, in a sexual relationship with Wilson.
That Slater and Gordon partner was none other than Julia Eileen Gillard, now Australia’s 27th Prime Minister.
It’s a long read, but Andrew Bolt has the full story here.
And the decisive thing is, these matters were raised in Parliament, not by the Opposition, but by Labor’s own former Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, whom Gillard dumped from Cabinet this year after he supported Kevin Rudd in his unsuccessful leadership spill. According to reports, McClelland in parliament made repeated references to the sums in question, commenting that this government has not done enough in strengthening the law to crack down on this type of union corruption—a direct and pointed reference to Gillard.
The Opposition has seized on the issue; Shadow Attorney-General George Brandis SC, said today on the floor of the House (I’m re-quoting from the Bolt article above):
One can but wonder why it is that Mr McClelland, as a backbench member of the government, chose to draw attention to those matters from the 1990s—matters concerning which, as a solicitor, he had direct and thorough knowledge. One can but wonder why, in particular, Mr McClelland chose, in a very pointed way, to throw a spotlight on the Prime Minister’s knowledge of those matters.
What we do know is that three courageous journalists, Mr Glen Milne, Mr Michael Smith and Mr Andrew Bolt, had sought to bring to public attention the matters Mr McClelland referred to—those proceedings which he chose to remind the House of Representatives about yesterday. We know as well that, of the three journalists whose names I have mentioned, two suffered a grievous professional price for trying to reveal to the Australian people what Mr McClelland was hinting at yesterday…
We must ask why it is that Mr McClelland chose to throw the spotlight on those matters yesterday. Why is it that he pointedly sought to refer to the Prime Minister’s knowledge of those matters? What are the facts which Mr Milne and Mr Smith sought to communicate to the public before they were interfered with that plainly Mr McClelland knows about and invited public attention to in his remarks yesterday?…
Let me conclude my remarks simply by saying this: there are matters being concealed. There is an area of public discussion being stifled here of the utmost seriousness. The public is entitled to know of those matters…
National Party Queensland Senator Barnaby Joyce was even more pointed:
If we look at what is happening currently in the Health Services Union, what resonates in the community is the misappropriation of other people’s money and the fact that people are receiving a pecuniary benefit that is in no way associated with benefit to the union members. This is the thing that so many union members are absolutely up in arms about. Allegations that go to the highest office in the land in regard to that have to be answered and answered clearly. Mr McClelland, a former Attorney-General of the Commonwealth of Australia, a member of the Australian Labor Party, has now raised this issue again…
So I look at this article by Mr Murray Hogarth in the Sydney Morning Herald from 30 July 1996, which says:
Between 1992 and 1995, about $370,000 flowed through two Perth-based accounts – operated in the name of the “AWU Workplace Reform Association Inc” – which, until last month, had never been heard of in the AWU’s national offices in Sydney.We have to find out who set these accounts up.
We have to find out whether the person who set these accounts up had told the Australian Workers Union that they were setting up these accounts. We have to find minutes to prove that the accounts that were being set up were under the instruction and the auspices of the Australian Workers Union and not set up outside. Any competent solicitor would start asking those questions. So who is setting these up? What is the purpose of these accounts? What is the source of these funds? What is the application of these funds? That is what a person who was competent would ask. Most certainly it is what a partner of a law firm would ask. They would definitely be the questions that a partner of a law firm would ask, especially if they were the ones drawing up the accounts. It also says:
All the money came from the big construction group Thiess Contractors, which says the payments were legitimate, arising from a tripartite agreement between it, the AWU and the West Australian Government…. But once in union hands, it seems, the funds went walkabout… It is now known that nearly $220,000 was withdrawn using about 40 cash cheques … ranging from $4,000 to $50,000.
Exactly where all the money ended up is far from clear. The man who should know, a former top official, Mr Bruce Wilson, says it is all “old hat stuff” and he has “nothing to say”…
Several other cheques totalling about $35,000 were made out in 1993 to a now ex-AWU official, Mr Ralph Blewitt, and, once, about $67,000 went to the trust account of the high-profile Melbourne law firm Slater and Gordon. The timing of this payment has caught the eye of AWU bosses. It coincides with the purchase of a house in the Melbourne suburb of Fitzroy in Mr Blewitt’s name…
In a major new development, the Herald has learned that on July 14 last year, a cheque bearing what appears to be Mr Wilson’s signature was written in an apparent bid to transfer about $160,000 from the “Members Welfare” account in Victoria, into the still-unexplained “Construction Industry Fund” in Western Australia. But the cheque was caught at the last minute by a “freeze” on the account placed by lawyers acting for the present AWU State secretary in Victoria, Mr Bob Smith, who was a bitter enemy of Mr Wilson, and remains a close ally of Mr Steve Harrison, one of the two rival joint … secretaries.
A month later, in strange circumstances, the $160,000 was “unfrozen” in a peace deal done by Mr Smith and his lawyers …
Now these are articles from the papers. This is public knowledge. The question that we have to ask is: is it that with these issues being raised once more by a former Attorney-General, the Hon. Bob McClelland, it is believable that a person in a relationship with Mr Bruce Wilson over a number of years and who had the competency to be a partner of Slater and Gordon would be unaware of the actions taken by her partner at that time even though the benefit of those actions was evident in the house she was living in—that is, they were paying for them? Is this believable? Is this believable that a person could be completely unaware? As I said, the defence given by the Prime Minister is that she was young and naive. Is that believable?
Now, as a result of these issues being raised in parliament, it is no longer possible for the Prime Minister to put a lid on it the way she did last August, when, following a reportedly hysterical phone call to News Limited CEO John Hartigan, Glenn Milne’s long-prepared exposé on the AWU in The Australian was pulled on the morning of publication. Now it’s in Hansard, it’s out of the media’s hands to suppress, even if they wanted to. The net is now closing, inexorably, around the Prime Minister herself.
Whether it is called now (which it certainly won’t be), or by the next government, nothing less than a Royal Commission into the entire union movement will now suffice.