Three potential slipper portraits to kick off proceedings
Craig Thomson - the statement of claim lodged in court by Fair Work Australia

The AWU Scandal - Senator the Honourable George Brandis SC press conference today

Commonwealth coat of arsm



Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate
Shadow Attorney-General 
Shadow Minister for the Arts




Press Conference, Canberra


15 October 2012


Topics: AWU Scandal, Fair Work, Slipper Matter








BRANDIS:      The questions about the involvement of Julia Gillard in the AWU scandal simply will not go away.  On the Weekend, the Fairfax newspapers and, in particular, the journalist Mark Baker, revealed a new and, in the Opposition’s view, important development in this scandal.  According to the report in the Sydney Morning Herald and the Melbourne Age on Saturday, it has now been revealed that Julia Gillard, in her capacity as a solicitor at Slater & Gordon, corresponded with the Western Australian Corporate Affairs Commission to reassure the Commissioner of the bona fides of the AWU Workplace Reform Association.  Their bona fides, according to the report, had been queried by the Corporate Affairs Commission and Julia Gillard responded, in mid-1992, in a letter in which she reassured the Commissioner of the bona fides of the Workplace Reform Association and its consistency with its articles.  Now, in the Opposition’s view, that is important for two reasons, both of which go directly to Julia Gillard’s credibility.


In the first place, if, as Julia Gillard told her partners in September 1995 and as she repeated at her press conference on 23 August this year, that at the time the Workplace Reform Association was created, she knew it to be a slush fund – her words – then it would not be possible for her honestly to have reassured the Western Australian Corporate Affairs Commission of its bona fides. 


Secondly, in her press conference on 23 August, at the conclusion of which the Prime Minister asserted that there were no further questions to answer, she said this – and I quote:  “My role in relation to this [that is, the AWU Workplace Reform Association] was that I provided advice as a solicitor.  I am not the signatory of 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.”  But as has now been revealed this weekend, Ms Gillard’s role went beyond providing advice in relation to the establishment of the association.  Ms Gillard, at least, reassured the Western Australian Corporate Affairs Commission of the bona fides of the association, which is a substantially more significant role in these affairs than she hitherto admitted to.


If the association, as Julia Gillard said in September 1995, was a slush fund, then it would not have been possible for her honestly to have reassured and certified to the Western Australian Corporate Affairs Commission in 1992 that it was a bona fide organisation established for the purposes of promoting workplace safety.  By making that false claim to the Western Australian Corporate Affairs Commission, it seems to me that Julia Gillard may very well have placed herself in breach of section 43 of the Associations Incorporation Act 1987 (WA), which makes it an offence to make false or misleading statements in relation to the incorporation of an association. 



           Senator Brandis, at her news conference on 23 August, the Prime Minister said that the association was set up, as you point out, to help assist in the election of certain members of the AWU in the union election.  Their platform was workplace safety, and that was the explanation for the nomenclature, does that alter your point?  Or answer it, rather?


BRANDIS:      No, it doesn’t either alter my point or answer it for two reasons.  First of all, it was plainly of concern to the registrar, or else the consistency between the real purpose of the association and its declared, or ostensible, purpose was plainly a matter of concern to the Corporate Affairs Commissioner because he took it upon himself to write to Slater & Gordon – to write to Julia Gillard – querying whether there was a consistency between its declared purpose and its real purpose.  And she responded by reassuring him, that doubt having been raised in his mind, that it was established for its ostensible purpose.


                        Secondly, can I point out the way, at her 23 August press conference, Ms Gillard described what her then understanding of the purpose of the association was and I will quote her, “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.”  Now, I think it is pedantry at best, and an impermissible stretch at worst, to say that a fund which Julia Gillard declared this year, in August, and declared at the time was known to be a fund for the purpose of securing outcomes in union elections was a purpose which could honestly be certified as being primarily or indeed, at all, a workplace safety purpose.



                        Senator Brandis, are you proposing that this be investigated by a body like Fair Work Australia or the Police?


BRANDIS:      Well, what I am saying is that first of all, all documents relevant to this correspondence and the establishment of the Workplace Reform Association which have not hitherto been revealed should be released by Slater & Gordon and if an offence against section 43 of the Associations Incorporation Act 1987 (WA) or any other criminal law of Western Australia has been apparently committed, then that should be investigated.  But before such an investigation is initiated, it would be necessary to examine the documents.  Now, the journalist, in his report in the Fairfax newspapers refers to these documents.  They, at least on their face, seem to reveal a plain contradiction between what Julia Gillard said to her partners in September 1995 and what she repeated to the Press Gallery in August 2012 and what she knew at the time and certified to the Western Australian Corporate Affairs Commission at the time.



                                Do you really think the Police or any of the corporate regulators are going to investigate matters that are, sort of, up to 20 years old now?


BRANDIS:      Well, of course they should.  They do that all the time in relation to various sorts of white collar crime.  There’s no statute of limitations against the criminal law.



                           And when you say “release”, do you mean release publicly or release in Parliament?


BRANDIS:      Release publicly.  Julia Gillard said, on 23 August, after that very long press conference, that there were no more questions to be answered.  Well, there plainly are more questions to be answered.  The report, in the Fairfaxnewspapers at the weekend, is a new and significant development in this story.  There are plainly many more questions to be answered and I’m afraid bluffing her way through a long press conference is not a sufficient substitute for answering all the questions.  The question the Opposition directly poses is why did Julia Gillard write to the Western Australian Corporate Affairs Commissioner in 1992, in response to concerns raised by him with her, certifying the bona fides of an association which she, herself, described as a slush fund.



                                What’s the likelihood of Slater & Gordon handing over these documents, just publically, if there is no investigation?


BRANDIS:      It’s a matter for them but there is a very high level of interest in this because it goes very directly to the integrity of the Prime Minister.



                                Does legal privilege come into this at all?


BRANDIS:      Legal privilege can be waived.



                                You don’t think you’re part of the “misogynists and nut-jobs”, as the PM termed them, by pushing this issue?


BRANDIS:      The Opposition’s criticism of the Prime Minister is that she is a very poor Prime Minister who lacks integrity.



                                This only goes to the question of her credibility.  Should there equally be investigation into the events at Sydney University involving Tony Abbott?


BRANDIS:      There were no events.  There is no comparison between the two.  It has been reported, credibly, by a senior journalist at the weekend, that Julia Gillard prepared a document which seems to be so completely at variance from her own contemporaneous assertions of the purpose of this fund that the Western Australian Corporate Affairs Commissioner was misled.  If that is so, that is an offence.



Senator, the Government has responded to the Fair Work recommendations today, when is the Coalition going to announce its industrial relations policy?


BRANDIS:      Well, that’s a matter for my colleague, Senator Abetz, but in due course and at an appropriate time, that policy will be released.



                                Do you think it is sufficient that they’re only going to legislate a handful of these recommendations?


BRANDIS:      Well, look, I haven’t looked at what has been released this morning.  That’s a question that I’ll leave for commentary by my colleague, Senator Abetz, the Shadow Minister.



                                Why do you want James Ashby’s lawyers to front a Senate Committee?


BRANDIS:      No, I don’t want James Ashby’s lawyers to front the Senate Committee;  I want the Commonwealth’s lawyers to front the Senator Committee, as they do.  The Australian Government Solicitor is one of the Commonwealth agencies that are responsive to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Estimates Committee.  They are routinely there and given the unusual nature of the Attorney-General’s very close personal involvement in this case, it’s entirely appropriate that the lawyers who acted for the Commonwealth of Australia give the public an account of exactly the way in which the Commonwealth’s litigation proceeded.



                                Shouldn’t you hold off until the judge has, at least, given an indication as to where this case is going?


BRANDIS:     The Commonwealth’s out of the case.  The case is settled.  The case between Ashby and the Commonwealth is over.