Gillard defence analysed
Senior Fairfax journalists Phil Coorey, Michelle Grattan and Jaqueline Maley comment on Julia Gillard’s defence of her conduct as a lawyer 17 years ago.
JULIA GILLARD has decried the Americanisation of Australian politics as she defended herself vigorously over her conduct as a lawyer 17 years ago, saying a spate of recent reports had been prompted by the ”ravings” of ”the misogynists and the nutjobs on the internet”.
After almost four days of silence, the Prime Minister called a news conference to confront head-on the claims surrounding her role as an industrial lawyer at Slater & Gordon in the early 1990s when acting for an Australian Workers Union branch run by her then boyfriend, the allegedly corrupt Bruce Wilson.
During an hour of questioning, Ms Gillard rejected emphatically any suggestions she had acted unethically or illegally, said she never had any knowledge of Mr Wilson’s illicit activities, and when she found out in 1995, she dumped him and had not had any contact since.
”If you got to relive your life again, there would be a number of things that I would do differently. Life doesn’t afford you that opportunity,” she said.Advertisement
Mr Wilson and another official, Ralph Blewitt, allegedly rorted hundreds of thousands of dollars destined for the union and put it in a workplace reform association, an entity Ms Gillard established.
Yesterday she said her role as a solicitor was to set up the association.
Mr Wilson and Mr Blewitt allegedly portrayed it as a training and workplace safety fund. They siphoned into it the money extracted from such construction companies as Thiess and John Holland.
It was alleged some of this was used to buy a house in Fitzroy and to renovate Ms Gillard’s house. The Fitzroy house was bought in Mr Blewitt’s name but Mr Wilson lived in it. Ms Gillard did the conveyancing.
”I was not an office bearer of the association. I had no involvement in the working of the association. I provided advice in relation to its establishment and that was it,” Ms Gillard said yesterday of the workplace reform association.
She said she thought the association was a re-election fund for safety-conscious union officials that would be topped up by fund-raisers and payroll deductions from other officials supporting their re-election.
In September 1995, once the scandal was exposed, Slater & Gordon held an inquiry and Ms Gillard was interviewed by her peers. She was cleared but during the interview referred to the association as a ”slush fund”.
Yesterday she said she regretted using that term. ”It wasn’t the best form of words,” she said.
Ms Gillard said she had no idea that association money was used to buy the house in Fitzroy and thought Mr Blewitt was buying it as an investment property. ”I did not, at the time, understand that any funds from any other source would be used to support the purchase – that is funds from the association or any other accounts related to the union,” she said.
Ms Gillard said again, as she had 17 years ago, that she paid for the renovations to her house. ”I paid for my renovations.
”In terms of people who continue to circulate these claims, will the misogynists and nutjobs on the internet continue to circulate them? Yes, they will, and it wouldn’t matter what I said.”
Ms Gillard took special aim at the cartoonist Larry Pickering who has been advancing theories and allegations on his ”vile and sexist” website, interspersed with obscene caricatures of her. ”It’s to do with this, you know, sort of Americanisation of our politics, this eccentric, lunar right Tea Party-style intervention that we are seeing in our politics – and there is nothing that a person of reason can do to deal with it.”
She likened them to the extremists in the US who refuse to accept that the US President, Barack Obama, was born in the US and insist he is a Muslim.
Ms Gillard has also been criticised as unethical for not opening a file on the side jobs she did for Mr Wilson.
She said it was routine practice at Slater & Gordon ”to do relatively small jobs which didn’t occasion actual outgoings for the firm like disbursements, as free legal advice”.
Ms Gillard said she was speaking out after The Australian newspaper accused her for the third time of setting up a trust fund for Mr Wilson. The paper was forced to apologise for the third time.