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Thursday, 29 November 2012
Page: 13947

Mr ABBOTT (WarringahLeader of the Opposition) (14:06): I have been saying for weeks now that I was prepared to give the Prime Minister the benefit of the doubt when it came to the AWU corruption scandal but that I needed—the nation needed—to hear the Prime Minister's side of the story. Well, this week we have heard more of the Prime Minister's side of the story, but I have to say that the more we hear from the Prime Minister the more obvious it is that she has been involved in unethical conduct and possibly unlawful behaviour.

Honourable members interjecting

The SPEAKER: Order!

Mr ABBOTT: Let us look at the facts, and these are the facts.

Mr Combet: Back it up!

The SPEAKER: The Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, the Leader of the Opposition was asked to make this address; he should have the right to be heard in silence.

Mr ABBOTT: As a partner at Slater and Gordon, the Prime Minister had three clients: Mr Blewitt, Mr Wilson and the Australian Workers Union—her boyfriend, his self-confessed bagman and their union. The Prime Minister advised two of those clients in setting up an association that turned out to be a vehicle for defrauding the third client. She unceremoniously left the firm, and the AWU—one of the firm's most prestigious clients—dumped the firm. The Prime Minister says—she has consistently said—that she has done nothing wrong. If there was nothing wrong here, if there was nothing to hide here, why did the Prime Minister never open a file? Why did she never disclose any of these activities to her partners?

Mr Dreyfus: Put up or shut up!

The SPEAKER: The member for Isaacs is warned!

Mr ABBOTT: But it goes further than that. When queried by the Corporate Affairs Commission, the Prime Minister wrote to the Corporate Affairs Commission stating that the purpose of this association was workplace safety. But it was not workplace safety. We know that it was not workplace safety, because the Prime Minister subsequently told her own partners that it was a slush fund—a slush fund, pure and simple; a slush fund for the re-election of officers to the union which subsequently turned out also to be a vehicle for defrauding the union.

The Prime Minister, we know from the unredacted transcript released today, argued to the West Australian Corporate Affairs Commission that this organisation, this association, should be registered. Presumably, she said that it wholly complied with the law—only it did not, because the law requires it to have at least five members and the Prime Minister knew full well that the association had but two members.

Let me make these fundamental points. First, it is highly unethical for a senior lawyer, a partner at a law firm, to provide misleading information to an official body such as the Corporate Affairs Commission of Western Australia. Second, it is actually illegal to provide false information to the Corporate Affairs Commission. Third, it is wrong for a prime minister to fail to give full and candid answers to this parliament. It is wrong in ethics for any person in authority to cover up wrongdoing.

In this parliament this week, on five separate occasions the Prime Minister was asked about the representations that she had made to the West Australian Corporate Affairs Commission about the body which she knew was a slush fund. Did the Prime Minister come clean? Was the Prime Minister candid and honest? No. On every single occasion, the Prime Minister stonewalled or she engaged in unbecoming abuse of the questioner. And we now know why, because we have the unredacted transcript of her termination interview, her exit interview, with Slater and Gordon. She had written to the Corporate Affairs Commission. She had argued for the incorporation of this association. She had represented that this was an association that could validly be registered under Western Australian law when she knew that it could not be, because she knew all along that this was a slush fund—a slush fund for the re-election of union officials. She was party to the creation of a slush fund, on her own admission in her exit interview with Slater and Gordon.

This whole exercise was a sham to facilitate a fraud. And the Prime Minister's involvement in it was this: she gave the advice and she made the representations that enabled the association to be incorporated; that facilitated the fraud.

But the Prime Minister's wrongdoing did not end there. She must have known after the exit interview that there was an abundance of problems here. She must have known, because she terminated the relationship with Mr Wilson. She must have known that serious wrongdoing had taken place—that union money had been stolen. But, instead of making a clean breast of this, instead of reporting this to the relevant authorities, she said nothing about it. She said nothing at all about it for years and years and years, and her silence meant that the fraud could continue. Her silence meant that more money that belonged legitimately to the Australian Workers Union was siphoned off for the benefit of her, by then former, boyfriend and his bagman, Mr Blewitt.

At the very least, this is conduct unbecoming—it is unbecoming of a legal partner; it is unbecoming of a future prime minister of this country. The Prime Minister says she did not know anything about the actual fraud at the time the fraud was being committed. She says that she did not know anything at all about whether she was receiving any benefit from the fraud—indeed, she categorically denies receiving any benefit from the fraud. Again I say that I am prepared to extend to the Prime Minister the benefit of the doubt. The problem is that where we have had the opportunity to test the Prime Minister's assertions against the documents—against the record—her assertions have turned out to be gravely lacking in truth and in substance. So the charge is that the Prime Minister has been, at the very least, a dodgy and unethical lawyer and that she has been an incompetent and untrustworthy Prime Minister, as has been demonstrated abundantly by the evasions and the obfuscations that we have so consistently seen from this Prime Minister in the parliament this week.

But this is not just about an old scandal: corruption that dogged one union a long time ago. It is also about the ability of this government and this Prime Minister to stamp out union corruption wherever it occurs. We know that there is a very long echo of the AWU corruption scandal in the Health Services Union scandal, which is taking place to this very day. We know that one of the Prime Minister's own MPs has been involved in gravely unethical conduct—conduct in breach of the law—because the Fair Work Australia report into the Health Services Union states exactly that. These are not allegations and these are not claims. These are findings from the government's own organisation: the quasi-judicial body Fair Work Australia. We know that a former National President of the Australian Labor Party, Michael Williamson—who is also the former boss of the Health Services Union—has been guilty of grave misconduct because, again, Fair Work Australia has found it to be so. The gentleman in question is now subject to serious charges.

How can a Prime Minister and a government be expected to stamp out union corruption when senior members of the party and the government have been associated with union corruption themselves? As I said, let us return to the nub of this. The Prime Minister gave the advice and she provided the representations which enabled the incorporation of the body that facilitated the fraud. She made representations to the Western Australian Corporate Affairs Commission that she knew were not justified. She made representations to the Western Australian Corporate Affairs Commission that this was a body that had the requisite number of members and that had been established fundamentally for workplace safety, and she knew that this was purely and simply a slush fund.

I say to the Prime Minster and members opposite: let us get to the bottom of this. Let us have the judicial inquiry that Mr Ian Cambridge, the then National Secretary of the Australian Workers Union, was calling for at the time and has been calling for ever since. Let us have the judicial inquiry that quite a number of the Prime Minister's own backbenchers thought was warranted then and think is warranted now. Let us have the judicial inquiry that will finally get to the bottom of this whole squalid affair. I have for the benefit of the Prime Minister some terms of reference which I will seek to table at the end of this time.

There is another issue. It is an issue for those opposite; it is an issue for the Australian Labor Party.

Mr Combet interjecting

The SPEAKER: The Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency is warned!

Mr ABBOTT: What kind of person do members opposite wish to have leading their party? What kind of character and judgment and integrity do they expect of the person leading their party? Plainly there has been an abundance of unethical, illegal conduct here. Much of it has been facilitated, at the very least, by the Prime Minister and the advice that she has given. Since this time, in the parliament and elsewhere, she has consistently given evasive, misleading and obfuscating answers—and that, frankly, is conduct unbecoming of a Prime Minister of this country. So the question for members sitting behind the Prime Minister today is: is she a fit and proper person to hold the prime ministership of our country? That is the question they need to ask themselves.

Government members interjecting

Mr ABBOTT: They can shout all they like today, but that is a question that will play on their consciences over the next couple of months until this parliament comes back.

The Prime Minister has clearly been preparing for this moment. I think we know what we can expect from the Prime Minister. We can expect more of the bluff and the verbal intimidation that she has practised throughout her career. I have this piece of advice of the Prime Minister: this is not about gender; this is about character—and, Prime Minister, you have failed the character test.

I seek leave to table the terms of reference I referred to in my speech.

Leave not granted.