Grace Collier in the Australian Financial Review
Claims about PM refuse to die down
Despite allegations about her time at law firm Slater & Gordon, Prime Minister Julia Gillard has denied any wrongdoing. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
The Prime Minister could be caught up in a criminal investigation. Victoria Police appear to be taking seriously an allegation made by serial campaigner Michael Smith. The allegation is extremely grave and if proved, it attracts a penalty of imprisonment (10 years maximum) as outlined in Section 83A of the Victorian Crimes Act.
Last October, Smith sent police a written complaint alleging Julia Gillard created a “false” document, a power of attorney, that enabled a house in Fitzroy to be purchased in 1993 with money from a union “slush” fund .
Smith, a one time policeman turned broadcaster, was sacked by radio station 2UE after his employer objected to his plan to air an interview related to the matter. Since his sacking he has continued his campaign through a political blog.
According to Smith, in mid November he heard from a fraud squad detective sergeant who identified himself as “in charge of the investigation”. Smith says the response by Victoria Police to his complaint has exceeded his expectations.
Last November, Ralph Blewitt, a signatory to the power of attorney, attended the Victoria Police Fraud Squad “at the invitation of detectives”, his lawyers say.
But in a significant development, this month a Victorian detective travelled to Queensland and spent days interviewing another witness relating to the document, Olivia Palmer, who worked with Gillard at law firm Slater & Gordon.
Palmer handled the power of attorney when she undertook conveyancing tasks related to the house in Fitzroy.
It is important to note that on November 26 in a press conference in Canberra, the Prime Minister vehemently rejected the allegations about the document saying, “I did nothing wrong in the witnessing of this power of attorney”.
The Prime Minister also said, “Mr Blewitt, according to people who know him, has been described as a complete imbecile, an idiot, a stooge, a sexist pig, a liar, and his sister has said he’s a crook and rotten to the core. His word against mine, make your mind up.”
She has also dismissed Smith as “the man sacked for wanting to defame me”.
Victoria Police confirmed its fraud and extortion squad is investigating a complaint regarding the alleged misappropriation of funds from a union and, quite properly, would not confirm who may or may not be under investigation.
Those waiting for police to confirm that the Prime Minister is a person “under investigation” before they ask questions may wait too long.
However, in the bewildering array of rumour and innuendo in the AWU scandal, there is one formal allegation on the public record and that allegation makes an accusation only against the Prime Minister.
We are all familiar with the Prime Minister’s strenuous denials. She has said there has been no wrongdoing and she has done nothing wrong. This may well be true. She is innocent until guilt is established by a court.
But next time the ALP use the word “smear”, someone could say police don’t investigate smears.
Next time the ALP say no allegations have been made, someone could say an allegation was made last October and the authorities seem to be attending to it.
Next time the Prime Minister says “there is not one substantiated allegation”, someone could say that only the finding of a court can substantiate an allegation so that statement is irrelevant. Wrongdoing doesn’t have to be proven before people can ask questions.
At some stage, Victoria Police will conclude their investigation.
For now, it seems the ALP caucus thinks people will ignore all this and those inclined to support the ALP will vote for Gillard anyway.
The progress of the police investigation will dictate how long this view can prevail.
Grace Collier is chief executive of Australian Dismissal Services.