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Friday, 22 June 2012
Page: 4230


Senator JOYCE (QueenslandLeader of The Nationals in the Senate) (11:02): An issue has come back to light not by the recent actions of any person in the coalition but by the statements of a former Attorney-General of the Commonwealth of Australia in the other chamber, a person who most would say deserves the title 'honourable'. I have never found Mr McClelland to be vindictive, haphazard or unnecessarily partisan. He is a fair, reasonable and decent person and therefore the statements that he makes have to be taken seriously. At times like this, we must have the courage to reopen the files and have a look at what went on here.

Without being trite, I always remember one of my favourite movies, The Thin Red Line, and the discussions between Travolta and Nick Nolte, who was playing the character Colonel Tall. On the deck of the frigate when they were going in, he said, 'The closer to Caesar, the greater the fear.' Well may you have fear the closer you get to this Caesar, because we have seen the deliberate actions taken against those who dare to question. I have been listening in the last week to Senator Conroy talking about transparency and unreasonable influence on the media. One must assume that if he professes that creed in here then he believes in it. We must look closely at exactly what happens to people who follow that creed. Senator Brandis has already spelt out that this has had consequences for people. A range of people have done the right thing by our nation by trying to be transparent on an issue, which the Australian people have a right to know about, because it goes to the highest offices of our land. Mr Glenn Milne from the Australian basically lost his job. Mr Michael Smith, a person who acted as a police officer and detective for a number of years, a person who is extremely capable, not just on radio but in his understanding of the law, lost his job. They did not lose their jobs because they lied. That has never been asserted. It is because they breached editorial direction. And who was the person most aggrieved by that breach of editorial direction? Apparently it came from the Prime Minister's office. This influences the liberty of the fourth estate to express their views. If it was a case that could be defended no doubt somebody could have come out of the Prime Minister's office and defended it. That was not the case. They found the messenger and shot them.

That being the case I wish to go back over a number of documented cases and re-investigate this. Labor sources from Gillard's office have said in the past that they were looking at people and what they did in their 'younger days'.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Joyce, could I advise you to refer to the Prime Minister as 'the Prime Minister'.

Senator JOYCE: Certainly. The Prime Minister's office said that they should look at what people did in their younger days. I imagine that means that under their guidelines we can ask serious questions about what people did in their mid-30s, when they were a partner at Slater and Gordon. One would presume that a person who has been made a partner in Slater and Gordon was a person of some competency. I presume that Slater and Gordon know enough about the law not to appoint imbeciles or fools but are appointing people who are capable.

I would like to draw your attention to an article by Mr Ebru Yaman in the Australian in October 1995 that referred to an ALP candidate linked to graft. That ALP candidate was standing for the Senate at position No. 3 on the ALP ticket. The ALP candidate at that point in time was Ms Julia Gillard, the current Prime Minister of Australia. The article said:

"There is currently an investigation under way by the National Crime Authority who have also referred the matter to the Victoria Police, who are also investigating this particular matter," he said. Last night, Ms Gillard strenuously denied all of Mr Gude's allegations.

She said she was still a partner with Slater & Gordon and had "no intention of leaving". Ms Gillard also denied she had ever paid money to the AWU or borrowed money from the union to work on her house.

"I am aware it is an allegation of Mr Gude's that I acted on behalf of Mr Wilson. Whether or not Mr Wilson was a client of mine is irrelevant," she said.

It is interesting that at that point in time Ms Gillard, by her own statements, had no intention of leaving Slater and Gordon, so one would presume there had been no discussions. But later on we find out that she left. The first question is: why?

I would now like to go to a quote by the Prime Minister herself on Australian Story, Sunday, 12 March 2006. Ms Gillard said:

I remember in 1995 Phil Gude … raised a series of allegations against me they had the status of rumours going around the ALP the rumours where that I had been involved in a relationship with a man who was an official at the AWU and the nature of the rumours where that he in some ways had misappropriated created money to spend on my house renovations, I had been renovating a house at that stage and you know clothing for me.

The allegations also extended to her expenditure on clothing items. This house has now come back. An article in the Financial Review today says that Mr McClelland, the former Attorney-General:

… repeatedly referred to allegations made against Mr Wilson that have been made several times in the Victorian Parliament, most recently in 2001 when he was accused of misappropriating about $500,000 of union funds, including $102,000 spent on a house in Kerr Street, Fitzroy.

The Prime Minister had no comment yesterday and has repeatedly denied allegations she was linked to union corruption. Mr McClelland made pointed references to the Prime Minister's involvement.

I would now like to refer back to the Victorian parliament, where, on 12 October 1995, the Minister for Industry and Employment said:

Serious allegations of fraud and impropriety have been brought to my attention.

It is alleged that the former secretary of the Australian Workers Union, Mr Bruce Wilson, who left the union's employ in August of this year, has apparently misappropriated union funds and used his position as secretary in the most improper manner.

I understand the AWU is still receiving bills for strange items ordered by Mr Wilson. All attempts thus far to find him have come to nothing. What did Mr Wilson do when he found out that his actions had been discovered? The first thing he did was to seek legal advice from the union's solicitors, none other than Slater and Gordon. From whom did he receive that advice? One Julia Gillard.

I am informed that Ms Gillard is no longer with Slater and Gordon due to commitments as an ALP Senate candidate. That may not be the only reason she is no longer working at Slater and Gordon.

To further elucidate this, I will go to another article, from the Sydney Morning Herald of Tuesday, 30 July 1996, by Murray Hogarth, which I think clearly states the case for why this is a concern. We have a concern with Mr Thomson and his use of other people's money. That is the issue here—not what he did but the fact that he did it with other people's money. 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. This is not an issue of incitement. I read the paper like everybody else. We have to start asking serious questions of the Labor Party. If the former Attorney-General is asking questions of the Prime Minister, then I think it is incumbent upon this chamber to do its part in fleshing out exactly what is going on here. 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.

Indeed, says Thiess, the Government paid it money for an employee training program at a $58 million Thiess construction project and it then paid the AWU. But once in union hands, it seems, the funds went walkabout when the AWU branch in WA was crying poor and running up a debt with head office approaching $1 million.

It is now known that nearly $220,000 was withdrawn using about 40 cash cheques—

There seems to be similar vein here with another person, Mr Craig Thomson, and his use of cash—

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".

However, two of the so-called "WA Inc" accounts were finally emptied in April last year, when about $46,000 was paid into an even more mysterious Perth-based account called the Construction Industry Fund. It, too, is understood to have been closed this year and may have no legal connection to the union.

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.

A cheque made out to the "Slater and Gordon Trust Account" was dated five days before the firm arranged settlement on the $230,000 property.

…   …   …

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? It is becoming abundantly apparent to all and sundry, including the former Attorney-General, that, from what we can see—and with his calls for a further investigation and greater tightening—it is obviously not believable—and this is the former Attorney-General of the Common­wealth of Australia, one of the most respec­ted people in the Australian Labor Party.

Senator Mason: Deputy President—

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Mason, there are seven seconds left, so I will not call you, because the time allotted for the consideration of these bills has expired.

Senator Mason: Deputy President—

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: No, your time has now expired, Senator Mason. The question now is that these bills be now read a second time.

Question agreed to.

Bills read a second time.