Gillard's Australian Workers Union controversy
It’s the final sitting week of parliament and attention is focused on Gillard's involvement in the Australian Workers Union slush fund, as the opposition weighs how to handle the scandal.PT0M0S 620 349
Deputy Opposition Leader Julie Bishop has vowed to put a "range" of new questions to Julia Gillard in parliament tomorrow about the Prime Minister's involvement in the AWU affair, saying the questions will be supported by "documents".
Ms Bishop said today she would use the last parliamentary sitting week of the year to ask Ms Gillard about her work as a lawyer at Slater & Gordon in the 1990s and whether she was "honest" with her firm's clients and the AWU in terms of her involvement with a union slush fund, set up for union officials, including her former boyfriend Bruce Wilson. The fund was allegedly used by Mr Wilson and another union official, Ralph Blewitt, to defraud union members and pay for part of a home loan.
Ms Bishop told Sky News that she will ask why the Prime Minister "did nothing" to help recover money stolen in the AWU fraud or alert the police or the AWU about the matter, once she realised what was going on.
On the attack ... Julie Bishop. Photo: Andrew Meares
There will also be questions about where the "hundreds of thousands of dollars went out of this slush fund and (haven't) been recovered", Ms Bishop said.
"They'll go into other areas that I've been able to discover in the weeks since the last parliamentary sitting."
Ms Bishop said the questions about Ms Gillard's knowledge and involvement in the affair would be supported by documents, although she also said the "recollections" and "opinions" of other people, such as former AWU officials Tim Daly and Ian Cambridge, were also important.
Ms Gillard has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing in the matter and said that her conduct as a lawyer for Slater & Gordon on the matter was ethical.
In an August press conference, Ms Gillard said she provided assistance in setting up the slush fund, but did not know what its true nature was and did not knowingly benefit from it. Ms Gillard said she first learned of the AWU fraud in 1995 and then ended her relationship with Mr Wilson.
On Friday Ms Gillard told reporters in Melbourne that no one had put a “substantiated” claim of wrongdoing put against her in 20 years.
“What this all means is that this whole campaign of smear actually boils down to absolutely nothing,” Ms Gillard said.
It is understood that the Coalition's response - whether it would push for a parliamentary statement from the Prime Minister or a censure motion - will then hinge on Ms Gillard's answers during question time.
But Opposition Leader Tony Abbott will continue to turn the spotlight on unions when he introduces a private member's bill tomorrow to increase penalties to union officials who breach the Fair Work Act.
Coming in the wake of the Health Services Union scandal, the bill aims to "improve protection for the hundreds of thousands of [union] members" by improving financial disclosure rules and enshrining higher standards for officers.
Labor frontbenchers today came out swinging in the Prime Minister's defence over the AWU affair.
Environment Minister Tony Burke told ABC TV that the story was "over" and called on the Opposition to stop "beating up" the Prime Minister's involvement the the affair and focus on policy.
Mr Burke's comments follow Mr Wilson's declaration over the weekend the Ms Gillard had nothing to do with the scandal and had no knowledge of it.
"Let me make this absolutely clear: apart from the initial legal advice Julia Gillard provided on the AWU Workplace Reform Association fund, she had nothing to do with any of it," Mr Wilson said on Saturday.
Foreign Minister Bob Carr and Attorney-General Nicola Roxon also dismissed the Opposition's plans for parliament.
Senator Carr said that continued interest in the affair was a "right-wing indulgence".
Ms Roxon said the worst people could say about Ms Gillard's conduct was that she had not chosen her boyfriend wisely.
"Now it's getting to the point that I think Julie Bishop is applying to be Miss Marple," Ms Roxon told Network Ten.
"She's running around the country trying to solve something but at the end of the day she can't actually tell us what it is she's trying to solve."
As Fairfax revealed last week, Ms Gillard told Slater & Gordon partners in 1995, she knew nothing about the mortgage on a Fitzroy property, bought partly with union money stolen by Mr Wilson, despite having been involved in the mortgage arrangements for the property two years earlier.
A 1993 bank letter confirms that Ms Gillard - then a salaried partner with Slater & Gordon - received an insurance certificate of currency, which was required for approval of a $150,000 mortgage provided by the firm's loan department. A West Australian fraud squad investigation in 1996 found the rest of the purchase money - more than $100,000 - had been siphoned from a union association by Mr Wilson.
Labor backbenchers also dismissed the Opposition's parliamentary plan. Queensland MP Graham Perrett said there was a "hint of desperation" in the Coalition's pursuit of the matter.