August 26, 2012
Julia Gillard’s hasty presser on Thursday (Aug. 23) revealed much more about the unprepared press gallery than it did of her “young and naïve” role in the AWU’s fraud and racketeering scandal.
Shame on our Prime Minister for attributing to tawdry “sexism” questions about her role and character, as if a male law-firm partner-turned-politician would have been spared calls for an explanation. And shame, too, on the reporters who answered her summons for not pointing out as much. May she also be condemned for smearing award-winning journalists while simultaneously leveraging a trivial mistake by The Australian in order to draw an odious comparison between their work and America’s so-called Birthers, who harbour doubts about the validity of Barack Obama’s US citizenship.
Divorced from her pitch-perfect self-righteous indignation as a woman scorned -- with a “very robust sense of her own integrity” no less – her media conference’s transcript represents an exercise in dissembling, with its carefully parsed and practiced answers. Not one of her responses conveyed the comfortable candour expected of one at ease with the truth.
Let us take Ms Gillard’s answers, strip them of spin and subject them to the known truth.
PM: Okay, if we can turn to other matters. For a number of months now, there has been a smear campaign circulating on the Internet relating to events 17 years ago. Much of the material in circulation is highly sexist. I’ve taken the view over time that I will not dignify this campaign with a response either.
There have been a series of well researched articles and other material appearing in The Australian and other mainstream newspapers, all written by reputable and respected journalists. There is nothing “sexist” about the reporting of, and commenting on, these matters in the major metro dailies. Conflating that reporting with internet gossip is both disingenuous and an attempt to smear the sober reporting and reasoned comment on the serious matters alleged to have occurred. Former Slater & Gordon equity partner Nick Styant-Browne said there had been "misleading" attempts to conflate genuine reporting of the AWU issues with the "florid allegations" made online. At her press conference Gillard added another entry to the ledger of obfuscations.
However, this morning something changed on that. The Australian newspaper republished a false and highly defamatory claim about my conduct in relation to these matters 17 years ago. It is a claim about me setting up a trust fund.
The Australian made one error in the course of a series of articles that introduced new information into the public domain – information that has not been rebutted. What changed most was that, in an unusual move, at 5pm the night before, the Sydney Morning Herald released an editorial in which it also joined the call for the PM to answer the questions she has consistently dismissed, as well as new ones posed as a result of The Australian’s reporting. In other words, when even the Fairfax press admits to catching the whiff of something smelly, she knew she had lost the love media and felt obliged to do something about it.
A claim was first published by News Limited in relation to me and funds during the election campaign in 2007. On that occasion, the claim was retracted and apologised for. The claim was made again by Glenn Milne, a then-columnist with The Australian newspaper, such a dim view was taken of his conduct in relation to that matter his employment was terminated.
I can’t comment directly on Milne’s termination, but once again Gillard is being choosy with the facts, particularly about her hectoring calls to News Ltd, and to Fairfax concerning Michael Smith. She appears to be misleading by conflating several different issues – i.e. whether she moved in with Wilson after he bought the Fitzroy house (she did not, though visited), whether she set up bank accounts (she did not, but did do the preliminarylegal work so that they could be). A full and frank prime ministerial statement would have made mention of the her government’s ongoing wish that the press “not write crap” – ie., stories she and her ministers find disagreeable -- and the intimidating spectre of press regulators and further restrictions on free speech.
Despite these events, a similar claim has been re-circulated by The Australian newspaper today. People may have already seen that the claim has been retracted and apologised for and that retraction and apology appears on The Australian website and, as I understand it, on all News Limited web sites.
One mistake made, an inconsequential one, and an apology given. If The Australian’s editors had been feeling a little puckish, they might have phrased the apology thus: “A reference to a ‘trust fund’ should have been ‘slush fund’, to use the Prime Minister’s own words. The paper apologises for obscuring the fund’s real purpose.” (Safe to say The Australian will not again make the egregious error of referring to the PM’s past by using the word “trust”.) But let us not pretend that’s why a press conference was hastily organised.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, could you explain to us the circumstances of your departure from Slater & Gordon?Were you at any time asked to leave? Was it suggested that you resign?
PM: I determined to resign from Slater & Gordon (S&G). I did that in circumstances where there had been growing tension and friction amongst the partnership. I think these are matters of public record. Indeed, I believe you’ve commented on them yourself.
There was growing tension and friction amongst the partnership. I had also been preselected to stand on the Senate ticket for the Labor Party in 1996. As history records, I was not elected, narrowly missing out.
It had long been an aspiration of mine to move to a political career, so I made the determination to resign from Slater & Gordon. That is also verified by Peter Gordon and statements that have been made in recent days, but there was considerable friction and tension in the partnership at that time.
“Growing tension and friction amongst the partnership” over what? How to redecorate the office? Whether to hire a new tea lady? Whether the firm should subscribe to Union Slush Fund Management Today? The PM doesn’t answer the question or acknowledge or contest Hedley Thomas’s Aug 18 story in the Australian, Julia Gillard lost her job after law firm's secret investigation, in which Styant-Browne stated Gillard’s fellow partners "took a very serious view" of these and other matters, "and accepted her resignation" without further discussion after considering whether to sack her. According to Styant-Browne, her relationship with the firm's partners had "fractured, and trust and confidence evaporated" and that "the partnership was extremely unhappy with Gillard, considering that proper vigilance had not been observed and that (her) duties of utmost good faith to (her) partners especially as to timely disclosure had not been met.”
JOURNALIST: There has also been that statements some people at Slater & Gordon were considering terminating your employment. Was that the case?
PM: Well I direct you to the statement made by Peter Gordon which deals with this matter. I think you are referring to a statement from Nick Styant-Browne in relation to his recollections. You would have to raise them with him. My recollections and Peter Gordon’s recollections are as I’ve just outlined them to you.
Gillard is not even consistent within the same media conference. Near the end of the conference, Gillard states, “it’s 17 years ago. I don’t have a clear recollection about those matters,” when asked if at the time she believed “her future was on the line at Slater & Gordon?” So which is it: Is her memory clear as a bell and Styant-Browne’s recollections need to be questioned, or is it that she cannot remember. Clearly she hasn’t got her story straight and only one version of her departure from Slater & Gordon is true.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, one of the issues that’s been raised in recent days is the disparity between the creation of this Association and what you said in 1995. The former being that it was the creation of a workplace safety association and then three-and-a-half years later, you said it was “a slush fund”.
Now, going back to the documents that have been released under FOI, with relation to the Officer of the Commissioner of Corporate Affairs, listed April 23, 1992, is it your contention that in when Ralph Blewitt signed this document with nine pages attached which you, I believe, prepared and it says the objects of the Association are, and there is like (a) to (h), and include things like promoting within unions the adoption of the Association’s policies, supporting union officials.
Is your contention that those objectives of the Association are consistent with being a slush fund?
PM: Well, let me answer your question and answer it in some detail because I agree that you’ve gone to a number of matters that have been raised in recent days.
Minutes before, Gillard stated that the only reason she was finally addressing the press was that a “defamatory” error had appeared in The Australian. Mmm Hmm, as Peter Gordon might have responded to the answers she gave his questions.
PM: First and foremost, the terminology that you used in your question, which was terminology I used in the discussion with Peter Gordon and Jeff Shaw some 17 years ago, is terminology with a particular overtone to it which I don’t think helps with understanding these events. I’m not going to use it again. I will be far more precise than that.
Yes, good advice to yourself, PM – don’t fall into that old trap of terminological inexactitude. Only the term she used, though pejorative, was nevertheless accurate: it was a slush fund. And she knew it, as she admitted, when interviewed by Peter Gordon.
PM: I was a solicitor at Slater & Gordon. I assisted with the provision of advice regarding the setting up of an association, the [AWU] Workplace Reform Association that you refer to. My understanding is that the purpose of the Association was to support the re-election of a team of union officials and their pursuit of the policies that they would stand for re-election on.”
“Assisted with the provision of advice”? She was the sole member of the firm to provide the advice to her union-rorting boyfriend Bruce Wilson. Indeed, she did not open a file on the matter and it remained a secret from her firm’s other partners, who knew nothing of it. From Gillard’s September, 1995, Slater & Gordon “exit” interview:
Peter Gordon: Yes. And to the extent that work was done on that file in relation to that, it was done by you?
Gillard: That's right.
Gordon: And did you get advice from anyone else in the firm in relation to any of those matters?
Gillard: No, I didn't.
Now, back to Thursday's presser:
PM: It was my understanding that the Association would engage in fundraising activities, including, for example, there being regular payroll deductions from union officials who would be putting their money together to support their re-election campaign and that they may well have other fundraising activities like hosting dinners where it would be transparent to people that the money was going to support their re-election campaign.
My role in relation to this was I provided advice as a solicitor. I am not the signatory to the documents that incorporated this Association. 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.
So she admits it was to be a slush fund. Did she check with the AWU to see that the objects of the Association she helped to set up were permitted or/and legal? Slater & Gordon’s client was, after all, the AWU, not her lover Bruce Wilson.
JOURNALIST: Can you say categorically, Prime Minister, that none of the funds in this entity were used to pay for renovations on your house?
PM: I’ve dealt with this allegation a lot in the past and let’s be very clear about it. I paid for the renovations on my home in St Phillip Street in Abbotsford. Like millions of other Australians, I had the unhappy experience that I had a few blues with contractors along the way.
At the time Gillard was interviewed by Slater & Gordon, she gave convoluted, long-winded, answers to this simple question. In the end, she could not rule out that AWU money had not paid for renovations on her Abbotsford property.
JOURNALIST: Are you satisfied, was your conduct as a lawyer throughout this matter ethical?
As Peter Gordon said, Gillard does have a “very robust sense of her own integrity”.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, do you think that, you say that you weren’t a signatory to that initial document.
PM: No, I was not.
JOURNALIST: Did you help to draft the document that you knew was false because the purpose of the Association was fundraising for a union election, not workplace safety, as stated in that document?
PM: … let me re-state it. My understanding of the purpose of this Association was to support the re-election of union officials who would run a campaign saying that they wanted re-election because they were committed to reforming workplaces in a certain way, to increasing occupational health and safety, to improving the conditions of the members of the union.
That was my understanding of the purpose of the Association, and so I provided legal advice for the Association. The document you refer to is not signed by me. The section of the document you refer to was not written by me.
Gillard is again evasive and won’t answer the question, “Did you help to draft the document that you knew was false…?” Yet she goes on to give a very tenuous argument as to how the slush fund was consistent with the stated objects of the Association, which mention nothing about raising money for re-election of union officials. Why? Her strained argument appears to confirm that she is admitting that she drafted the articles and that she knew at the time they were fraudulent – the Association could not have been accepted for registration if its true purpose, to support her boyfriend’s career, had been known.
JOURNALIST: The purposes of this, it talks about it being a workplace reform association which people would take to be for the benefit of workers. Nowhere in that does it say it was for the purposes of re-election of officials?
PM: Well, I’m being clear with you about this. I understood then the purpose of the association was to support trade union officials who would stand on a platform about reform and improvements in workplaces.
Please be clear because, PM, you’ve been anything but so far. That argument is concocted – then and now. Why not mention in the Associations objects that funds were to be collected to re-elect union officials if that was part of a “workplace safety” program? The assertion wouldn’t pass the smell test if you soaked it for a month in a vat of Chanel No. 5.
JOURNALIST: Ms Gillard, the Melbourne house that was later bought with funds from this Association. Can you tell us about how much you knew about that house, your involvement in that house and whether you knew it was paid for by the Association and how that relates to workplace safety?
PM: Well, I dealt with this matter in the interview with Peter Gordon and Jeff Shaw of which you now have the transcript.
My understanding about that house was that it was being purchased by Mr Blewitt. It was being purchased as an investment property. It was purchased on the understanding that Mr Wilson would be the tenant of the property and that Mr Blewitt was in a position with a mortgage, like an ordinary person, to purchase the 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.
Yet, instead of bagman Blewitt, it was Wilson, with power of attorney drawn up by Gillard, in attendance at the auction, who bid on the property, if Phillip Coorey in the Sydney Morning Herald is correct, also did the conveyancing. Gillard then stayed over at the house after Wilson moved in. These circumstances appear at odds, to say the least, with a normal real estate transaction for an individual. But Gillard said at the time, “it all made, you know, relatively sort of sensible sense.”
JOURNALIST: Can you tell us just quickly why didn’t you open a file on this matter, as would have been common practice?
PM: I’m glad you’ve asked me that question because it gives me the opportunity to clarify this. Working at Slater & Gordon in the industrial section as I did for a number of years, it was par for the course to routinely provide free advice to union officials and trade unions.
We worked closely with officials. We worked closely with trade unions. We would provide limited free advice to them. Of course at a particular point when a job became big or it was occasioning disbursements for the firm, like court-filing fees or barrister’s fees, a file would be opened.
But I would routinely sit with officials of a clothing trades union and provide them with free advice about pursuing a claim for an out-worker, and keep those documents either on a file labelled JEG General, my initials, Julia Eileen Gillard, or a file labelled CTU General, Clothing Trades Union, or sometimes on a file that you would create for the holding of those documents but, you would not go to the stage of formally opening it up on the system because you didn’t expect the matter to go further.
I’ll keep answering the questions so there’s no need to interrupt. I took the same approach in relation to this file for the Australian Workers Union [Workplace Reform] Association. With the benefit of hindsight, of course it would have been better that I had opened the file on the system, but at the time it did not strike me as a matter of particular significance.
That was not what Gillard saying in her 1995 S&G interview:
GILLARD: This, this was a more substantial job than that and really ought to have been opened on system, but I think, well, I don't have a specific recollection of thinking to myself should I open it on system or shouldn't I open it on system, but apparently I didn't.
Peter Gordon: Response redacted.
Let me guess. That redacted response from Peter Gordon was most likely an expression of absolute astonishment which may well have included [expletive deleted]
JOURNALIST: You said that this has come from a smear campaign, but there’s been MPs within your own party that have made statements to Parliament about this and the Fair Work Commissioner, Ian Cambridge, has called for a royal commission. Do you think there needs to be some sort of formal investigation so the process, we can move on from this and you can be cleared?
PM: Well you are conflating a number of things that is prejudicial to me. Mr Cambridge has never called for an inquiry into my conduct and you ought not to assert that. Mr McClelland made a statement to the Parliament which he has said subsequently did not relate to my conduct either.
Gillard is being Gillard. Cambridge did call for an inquiry, which would have looked at her conduct. In calling for a Royal Commission, Cambridge said in a 1996 affidavit that he could not understand how S&G could allow money "obviously taken from the union, in the purchase of private property (a terrace house) ... without seeking and obtaining proper authority from the union ... and without recording the interest of the union on the title".
And here is what McClelland said in Parliament:
In my experience, the vast majority of trade unions are professionally managed by highly competent and dedicated people who act on the basis of sound professional advice. But, regrettably, there have been exceptions to that. Officers have sought to obtain personal benefit, or benefit on behalf of others, at the expense of members of their union. Reported instances include not only misapplying funds and resources of the union but also using the privileges of their office to attract and obtain services and benefits from third parties.
Aside from issues of profiteering, secret commissions and tax avoidance, these undeclared benefits can compromise officials. Rather than diligently representing the interests of their members without fear or favour, they effectively 'run dead' as a result of these side deals. This is no less than graft and corruption in its most reprehensible form, and it occurs at the expense of vulnerable members whose interests they have been charged with representing.
To borrow the words of Prime Minister Gillard, speaking on ABC Radio on 9 May of this year: 'Let me say I never want to see a dollar that a worker gives a union used for any purpose other than the proper purposes of representing that union member's best interests.'
Indeed, I know the Prime Minister is quite familiar with this area of the law; as lawyers in the mid-1990s, we were involved in a matter representing opposing clients. Indeed, my involvement in that matter has coloured much of my thinking in this area and resulted in me moving amendments on 17 September 2002 to actually strengthen the powers of the Federal Court of Australia.
In short, this bill has merit and I support it. But, with my new freedom as a backbencher, I would like to suggest where I think the law can be further strengthened. My main focus is on enhancing the ability of members of organisations to seek orders compelling officers of their union to perform and observe the rules of the union and, in so doing, comply with their broader fiduciary and statutory obligations, and ultimately, if required, to compensate the organisation for loss arising from their misconduct…
Significantly, it also significantly included the ability of the court to make an order against a third party who may have benefited from the breach of the rules or a breach of the fiduciary obligations. The motivation, as I have indicated, for my moving those amendments was the experience in that matter that I had involvement in in the mid-1990s.
And still the questions came.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, with the benefit of hindsight and leaving aside choice of renovators and stuff, is there anything you would do differently, apart from files?
PM: 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.
Pray tell, what are they, those things you would “do differently”?
JOURNALIST: Can you be specific about exactly when and how you were informed that it [the AWU Workplace Reform Association] might have been put to questionable use?
PM: These matters started to come to attention in 1995 when they became the subject of controversy within the AWU itself. That is the first time that they came to my attention.
Apparently Our Prime Minister subscribes to a more than somewhat vague definition of “specific”. While she nominates 1995 as the “when” she utters not a word about the “how”.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, will you be making a formal statement to the Parliament and I ask this in the context of a statement to Parliament, of course, as a high duty of truthfulness?
PM: Well, I’m acquitting a high duty of truthfulness here. I won’t be making a statement to Parliament. There’s no need. I do note that I’ve been to three Question Times this week, I’ve taken a large number of questions and not one has been directed at me.
I also do note that the Leader of the Opposition has been asked on more than one occasion to articulate what it is that he would ask me, what any allegation it is that he says I should deal with, and he has been unable to do so.
Apparently Gillard believes that she is only accountable if the Leader of the Opposition raises a question, which is an interesting view of the Westminster system. Will she make a statement if he does ask questions?
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, why didn’t you tell other members of the firm that you were conducting this work?And also, why wasn’t the AWU National Executive, for example, informed of the creation of an entity within its boundaries? And also, can I just clarify the terms of the apology today – if we had called the ‘trust fund’ a ‘slush fund’, the story would have been correct, wouldn’t it?
Gillard doesn’t answer the first or second questions and contradicts the transcript of her S&G interview when answering the third. It was, in her own words, “a slush fund”.
JOURNALIST: And my advice is that the newspaper stands by every other word of its coverage.
PM: Well, good defence for a newspaper that’s apologised today for a clear error that it published first in 2007 and had to rush to change its second editions because it recognised it was defamatory and wrong and that it subsequently sacked a senior commentator over.
Good defence, Sid, but it’s very, very hard to explain why, three times, these defamatory allegations would come around when on every occasion News Limited has ended up apologising for them and retracting them. That’s a matter for News Limited and for its internal processes to work through.
On the other issues you’ve raised with me, obviously I acted as a lawyer on instructions from the people giving me those instructions. You do not, as a lawyer, take instructions from a client and then take it into your head to work out who you should be conveying those instructions to. That’s the way that lawyers work.
JOURNALIST: Could you explain the protocol for working with the AWU? Who were you authorised to take instructions from? How did that work?
PM: You misunderstand the way law firms work. Law firms work on the basis that people who are clients come in and give instructions to solicitors. I was a solicitor.
Once again, another question goes unanswered.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, putting the issues of renovations to one side, when these allegations were first made in Victorian Parliament many years ago, as you know, there were allegations made around other companies, I think the Town Mode Fashion[s], was raised in one instance.
Is there any way of you knowing whether you may have unwittingly benefitted from money from these accounts, for example, via gifts and so on and what’s your understanding of the allegations that were raised in the past about the Town Mode?
PM: Well, because this matter has been dealt with on the public record for 17 years, yes, at some point in those 17 years an allegation was made that I had received clothing from a business known as Town Mode. That allegation is untrue.
She doesn’t answer issue of whether or not money was paid to Town Mode Fashions on her behalf for other purposes. Thus, the two payments of $8750 apiece to the boutique, the first October 10, 1994, and the second nine days later, remain a mystery.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, as I understand it, when these issues were first questioned within the AWU, the matter was looked at at Slater & Gordon by Bernard Murphy. Now, I presume he then informed you of these issues. What was your reaction at that time? This is specifically the activities of Mr Blewitt and Mr Wilson?
PM: Well, I’m not in a position, for all the obvious reasons about legal professional privilege, to canvas the contents of files operated by solicitors at Slater & Gordon.
What I can say to you, Dennis, and what I think your question is trying to drive at, is once I became aware that I had been deceived about a series of matters, I ended my relationship with Mr Wilson.
Yet Gillard did not attempt to inform the police. As for invoking solicitor-client privilege, none applies where advice is sought to commit an offence. More concerning is that, according to her S&G interview, Gillard attempted to contact a potential witness:
GILLARD IN '95: I have spoken to David Feeney. I spoke to him on Friday afternoon.
The information from David Feeney is that Bob Smith doesn't believe that I am at fault in relation to this. He has got no agenda about damaging me in relation to this or using it against me, that he will be quite happy to see the issue go away, and that he thinks that Bob will respond well to a direct discussion like that. I've left that matter on the basis that David Feeney will sound Bob out and, provided there isn't any unforeseen problem, I will meet with Bob as soon as possible for the purpose of clarifying that matter.
It is an offence to attempt to dissuade another person who may be called as a witness. What she said to Freeney, who would have been a potential witness, and why she said it? Curious minds remain in the dark on that point..
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, at any point were you aware that this Workplace Reform Association was to receive lumps of money from companies like Theiss and John Holland?
PM: I was not aware of the receipt of these funds. I had no knowledge about the operation of the Association. I provided advice, as the Association was established, I then knew absolutely nothing about its workings until allegations about its workings became the subject of discussion within the AWU and then more broadly.
Gillard has stated (above) that the Association was supposed to raise funds for union officials and has claimed this goal was consistent with the stated aims of improving workplace safety, as detailed in the articles she drafted. “Was she aware that this workplace reform Association was to receive” money? Where did she imagine it would come from? Did she really think small-change contributions from union officials, perhaps augmented by sausage sizzles and T-shirt sales, would be its only sources of income.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you mentioned this was first disseminated, this situation, during the election campaign in 2007.
PM: No, not first disseminated, no. These matters have been canvassed on the public record for the best part of 17 years.
JOURNALIST: My apologies. They were again disseminated again in 2007 and that you believed that the timing of that was significant. Do you believe the timing of the dissemination of this now is significant? If so, what is the significance?
And do you believe any of your Parliamentary colleagues have been involved in disseminating this information now?
PM: No, I don’t. I believe the people who have been involved in disseminating this information are people like Larry Pickering, who is operating a vile and sexist website, and then, of course, you would be aware that The Australian and a number of journalists there have been reporting on it in recent days.
JOURNALIST: Do you think there is any larger political motivation behind this?
PM: I’m not asserting that, no.
JOURNALIST: In terms of the discussion around why you left Slater & Gordon it’s been suggested that you felt you had been shabbily treated in some way. Can you explain to us whether that’s accurate, whether you were of that view and why, and did your departure have to do with other issues? … Can you give us an honest answer about why you actually left?
PM: Well everything I’m saying to you today is accurate and honest. Slater & Gordon, there were increasing tensions in the partnership, there were some underlying tensions about the direction of the firm. Slater & Gordon is an old firm, a historic firm, a firm that’s proudly operated for working people. It commenced around this period of time to move increasingly into the class-action area.
There was the class action on Wittenoom, asbestos; there was the breast implant litigation. There was the Ok Tedi litigation for people who had been prejudiced by the action of a mining company and so on.
So yes, there were discussions about the direction of the firm and you would expect people to have different views about that and they did. That underlying discussion was happening, causing some friction … And then it is also true to say that these matters, these AWU matters also added to tensions in the firm.
Is Gillard seriously trying to imply the main reason she left S&G was because of its future direction and business strategy? This is dissembling – and just after that she says “everything I’m saying to you today is accurate and honest”.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, should the AWU pay back money to companies that sunk money into this reform association?
PM: All of these are questions you’re going to have to deal with elsewhere. We’re talking about events 17 years ago.
A series of allegations made, there were some police investigations at the time. No charges have been laid, so there have been processes engaged in. They are not processes that I oversaw. They were processes that were overseen by the union.
She has no view on whether monies obtained under a cloud and used for purposes other than that stated in the articles of the Workplace Reform Association need to be returned? And our Prime Minister, who neglected to contact police when the frauds came to light, still maintains – even now – that she has no responsibility.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, if the Opposition were to use Question Time to ask you about these issues and you answered them, would that in your view satisfy any calls for a full statement to Parliament?
PM: Well, I think I should be, I’m in the process of satisfying calls for the provision of further information. I remind you that there is not one direct question that has been put to me either in Parliament or through their regular media interviews by the Opposition that they say I have to answer.
In those circumstances where they are unable to articulate a question and I am sitting here in front of, what, 20, 30, people, answering any question they choose to ask me, I think that that is satisfactory to deal with the matter.
So she will give a statement to Parliament if questions are put to her there? Or perhaps she won’t.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you’ve said The Australian’s published allegations, in your words, that are false and defamatory-
PM: And they’ve been retracted and apologised for.
JOURANLIST: Are you considering any legal action?
PM: No, I’m not.
JOURNALIST: And secondly, you’ve had your reputation and your integrity put under a lot of scrutiny. How are you handling it personally?
PM: Well I’m fine. I do – when I see claims that have been dealt with in the past, let me just put that a little bit more precisely. I have decided to come to this press conference today because this matter had got to the stage where we were starting to see recycled, false and defamatory allegations which I have dealt with in the past.
And every time I’ve dealt with them, retractions have been put onto websites, second editions have been pulled of newspapers because these are defamatory allegations, and they are wrong.
When it was getting to a stage that these allegations were being recycled about my character, and they are so clearly wrong, I thought it was appropriate for me to come and deal with the matter. Apart from that, for many, many months now I’ve been the subject of a very sexist smear campaign from people for whom I have no respect, and I am not going to spend my time answering the ravings of Larry Pickering and the like.
Gillard again attempts to conflate, smear by association, and make the false claim that she has properly and publicly answered questions in past.
JOURNALIST: Was there anything in your working relationship with him at the firm that may explain why he has spoken out the way he has?
PM: I’m not able to give you an insight into his thinking and I’m not able to explain it for you.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, it seems that part of the justification for the reporting in the last few days is that it goes to your character, it goes to your judgment as the Prime Minister, as the leader of the country, and that on face value you were at least naive and perhaps conned. Do you accept that?
PM: Well, what I would say, Mark, and this perhaps goes to issues about why these allegations are being re-circulated, it is my understanding of the media that the biggest selling newspapers in our country circulate on Sundays.
In 2007, on the Sunday before the election campaign, it is my recollection that those biggest selling newspapers ran with a banner headline, ‘Conman broke my heart’.
So I don’t think anybody in this place or indeed any Australian who in their hundreds and hundreds of thousands would have bought and read those newspapers would be in any way surprised by this material. It’s been on the public record before people were required to go and vote for the election in 2007.
So if Australian voters had a judgment about it, then they had the ability to record that judgment in 2007. If Australians had a judgment about it, they had the ability to record that judgment in 2010.
None of this is new. I am standing in front of you now as a 50-year-old woman. Have I learned a few things across my lifetime? Yes, I have.
Follow this link to Glenn Milne’s 2007 story in the Sunday Telegraph, which outlined the Wilson affair in only the most fleeting detail . Indeed, reading the story again and at a distance of years, the first and only impression to be drawn from Milne’s account is that the future Prime Minister was an innocent and blameless victim.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, when the scandal erupted and it became known that this money had been stolen by two shysters, who told you? Was it someone at the AWU or was it Bernard Murphy who’d been told by someone else?
PM: Well, I can’t go to matters of privilege, but first and foremost, allegations were being raised and dealt with within the AWU. Those allegations came to my attention. I formed a view that I had not been dealt with honestly and based on that view I ended a relationship I had back then, 17 years ago.
If informed by a third party, no privilege exists – certainly nothing that could have stopped Gillard providing an answer. Even if she learned of the rorting from Wilson himself, privilege still would not apply, as a lawyer cannot remain silent if aware of a crime having been committed.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, these events, particularly the ones over the last few days, are they having any impact on your thinking about what to do about media regulation?
PM: My thinking about media regulation will not be defined by these events. I’ve well and truly got my eyes on the public policy questions and the future. So the test I will use in dealing with any issues about media regulation is not what difference it makes today, but what will be the circumstance for the ability of Australians to get quality, diverse information in five, 10, 15, 20 years’ time.
The timing of her government’s attacks on News Ltd. is just a coincidence. Nothing more than pure, unadulterated happenstance. No malice nor message there. Not at all. Never. Not a bit of it. Perish the thought!
JOURNALIST: Do you regret calling it a slush fund in that transcript and does the fact that you called it a slush fund in that transcript indicate that you knew when it was set up that it wasn’t set up for the purposes stated?
PM: I’d refer you to the whole sentence. Read the whole sentence and you will see the sentence is about the purposes I’ve articulated to you today. It wasn’t the best choice of words. We’re talking about a transcript of an interview 17 years ago where I think you can tell from the way in which I deal with a series of issues, I’m talking to two people I know well.
Some of the discussions we are having are of a casual, even jovial nature, and some of the commentary today has remarked on some of the funnier things in that transcript. So it wasn’t the best form of words, but I’d ask people to assess the form of words in the context in which it was being used in a sentence where the description of the purpose of the Association, as I understood it, is exactly the same as the description I’ve given you here today.
Gillard attempts to be jovial in the S&G interview. It would be the rare reader who could scan the record and conclude that her interrogators also were inspired by good fellowship.
JOURNALIST: Given your difference with Sid over [The Australian’s] correction, could you just precisely tell us where it was wrong, your version of where it was wrong?
PM: I can certainly tell you where it was wrong. The Australian newspaper today asserted that I created a trust fund.
That is wholly untrue and seriously defamatory. The Australian, in the past, has asserted that I created bank accounts. News Limited has known that that allegation is wholly untrue and defamatory since the Sunday before the 2007 election campaign.
Indeed, so concerned about it were they, that they changed the second edition of the Sunday newspapers and put a retraction and apology on News Limited websites.
The Australian has certainly known that that allegation is defamatory and untrue since Mr Milne reproduced it, and the determination was made that the appropriate course of action was to terminate Mr Milne’s employment.
That is why I am so amazed, I think is the right word, to see it reproduced today.
She thinks a journalist should be sacked for an honest mistake but she should keep her job in the highest elected office after all of this and everything else. On a broader point, while Gillard did not establish bank accounts, those accounts could not have been established in the name of the AWU Workplace Reform Association if she had not prepared papers stating that its goals and objectives were other than what history has shown them to have been.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, that’s the only contention with the last week’s reporting, isn’t it?
PM: I’ve got other contentions with the last week’s reporting, but I want to be clear with you, Sid, about what’s motivated me today. I did not want to dignify what is, I believe, a very sexist smear campaign on the Internet.
The Australian newspaper commenced to report on a number of matters that I thought had been dealt with publicly before and which no wrongdoing by me was alleged.
Today, a move has been made from those matters to a specific contention which is highly wrong and defamatory, and I believe it is appropriate for me to deal with it. I am taking the opportunity to deal with related matters. I am answering all of your questions and today is an end of it.
Ginger Rogers, eat your heart out – you never danced so finely, as does Gillard around matters she prefers not to discuss. She won’t say what else she disputes about legitimate reporting. She conflates internet campaigns with the work of professional reporters and then, to cap her evasions with arrogance, imperiously asserts that she will entertain no further questions once the press conference is done.
JOURNALIST: Can I assume you’ve had no contact with Bruce Wilson since 1995?
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, do you have any information which you are prevented from giving by lawyer-client privilege that could assist the authorities in relation to the funds, you know, that Mr Wilson-
JOURNALIST: And also, whose decision was it to tape the interview, between you and the partners?
PM: I don’t recall.
JOURNALIST: Why was the interview taped?
PM: Sid, I don’t recall and there is no significance in it. I simply don’t recall. It was a discussion; obviously people thought it was best to have it on the record.
Let’s remember – and for the younger ones in the audience, they might now faint from shock – the usual way of dealing with instructions at Slater & Gordon back then was for lawyers to interview clients and then quickly dictate matters into a Dictaphone which was then sent to a centralised word processing pool we referred to as WANG because that was the word processing system that was operated by lawyers back then. Then it would come back, then you would correct the typos in it, then it would go back to WANG. And so life went on. So, you know, lawyers having tapes, Dictaphones handy was, you know, nothing unusual in Slater & Gordon or any law firm at the time; that’s how we did our work. Of course, life is now different and there are no centralised word processing pools to the best of my knowledge.
Gillard knows the answer to the question has nothing to do with Dictaphones. Her pre-departure interview was taped because S&G were very concerned about their exposure as a result of Gillard’s activities. Indeed, S&G lost the AWU to another law firm, Maurice Blackburn.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, just getting back to the interview, how was it characterised to you when you were asked to do the interview and did you feel your future was on the line at Slater & Gordon?
PM: Sid, it’s 17 years ago. I don’t have a clear recollection about those matters. I can’t tell you whether we drank coffee or whether we drank water. You know, it’s 17 years ago. It is there in terms of the contents of the interview for people to read. And with respect, Sid, there is nothing about this line of questioning that is going to end up justifying the claim that has been apologised for today.
Remember, at beginning of press conference, Gillard had a crystal-clear view of the reasons for her departure and how she felt at the time. Somehow, when pressed specifically on that matter, the prime ministerial memory is swallowed by fog.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you have said in the past that you were young and naïve when you got involved with Mr Wilson. But, I mean, you were 30 at the time. You were establishing your legal career. It might seem a bit odd to people on that defence; it wasn’t like you were off the first train from Adelaide, for instance.
PM: Well, how old are you? How old are you?
PM: Right. Let me assure you, you will know a lot more by the time you’re 50 than you do now.
Her questioner won’t know too much more by the age of 50 if his only sources of information are as artfully averse to candour as our current Prime Minister.
-- edited by Roger Franklin
The Quadrant Book of Poetry: 2001 - 2010
edited by Les Murray