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A quick reminder of what was reported at the time that Wilson got away with the money

More on the Peter Gordon claim that Slater and Gordon acted properly in the matter of The AWU Scandal shortly.

First up here's a reminder of what Peter Gordon, Julia Gillard and others were reading as events unfolded in 1996.

I hope Victoria Police are reading this now, particularly this reported statement from Thiess:

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.

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.

 

And this observation about the Melbourne FIME (Bob Smith) and AWU (Wilson) crews and their respective lawyers at the Commonwealth Bank that day the big cheques went out:

 

A month later, in strange circumstances, the $160,000 was "unfrozen" in a peace deal done by Mr Smith and his lawyers on one side, and Mr Wilson and his lawyers on the other.

 

Finally have a think about the law firm Slater and Gordon which acted properly - even telling us that it took independent external advice from an independent external law firm Phillips Fox:

 

At the same time, the "unfrozen" $160,000 was split up and returned to several construction industry companies because, it is now suggested, of fears that the money may somehow have been tainted.

This included: $29,000 to Fluor Daniel; $38,000 to John Holland; nearly $30,000 to Thiess Contractors; $39,000 to the lawyers Philips Fox, acting for Woodside Offshore Petroleum; and $6,400 to the NSW-based firm Chamber Consulting Services, all of which insist the funds had been legitimate payments to the union.

However, all received letters saying the payments were being refunded because "there has recently been some controversy regarding monies received from your company".

Woodside, for example, has since told the AWU national office it had an "arrangement" to pay about $19,500 a quarter to have a union organiser "servicing" its liquid petroleum gas project at Karratha, near the North-West Shelf, and to cover some air fares for Mr Wilson.

 

What's that Skip????   Phillips Fox was acting for who?   Woodside Petroleum did you say?  In a liquid petroleum gas project at Karratha?   Not the Woodside that owned that North Rankin A platform that Bruce Wilson hijacked?   Who did they give that independent advice to again?

 

The Sydney Morning Herald

Ruptured union seeks enemy within

Author: By MURRAY HOGARTH
Date: 30/07/1996
Words: 1110
          Publication: Sydney Morning Herald
Section: NEWS AND FEATURES
Page: 6

 

"Fraud against the union could easily be perpetrated on a major scale," warned the confidential Ernst & Young review of the giant, conflict-ridden "AWU-FIMEE Amalgamated Union" in May last year.

"If fraud has not occurred," it continued, "it would only be because of the honesty and integrity of the employees, and not because of the lack of opportunity."

Inside what is now just called the Australian Workers Union (AWU), Ernst & Young are looking like hotshot fortunetellers.

Serious financial irregularities appear to have been happening for years and what should be the best trade union trademark in the country is looking very tarnished.

The "WA Inc" accounts affair - as AWU insiders are calling it - represents a dynamite scandal for a trade union movement facing an aggressive, new, conservative Federal Government and ever-declining membership.

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.

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, 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.

The "Transfer of Land" document was signed by Mr Blewitt's "attorney" for the purchase, his then boss, Mr Wilson, whose signature also appears to be on the dozens of cheques from the "WA Inc" accounts.

Other records show Mr Wilson later lived in the Fitzroy house while serving first as AWU State secretary for both Victoria and Western Australia, then last year as head of the new, strife-torn National Construction Branch.

About a year ago, the discovery of another unauthorised bank account sparked what is now known as the "Victorian affair".

This account, also unknown to the national office in Sydney until it was exposed by internal union feuding, was operated through the Commonwealth Bank in Melbourne under the name "AWU Members Welfare Association No 1 Account".

The Industrial Relations Court has been told Mr Wilson admitted the account held a mixture of "members' and private money", and insiders say that although it was a "slush fund" rather than an official union account, the AWU name was used to sidestep withholding tax.

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 national secretaries.

A month later, in strange circumstances, the $160,000 was "unfrozen" in a peace deal done by Mr Smith and his lawyers on one side, and Mr Wilson and his lawyers on the other.

Then the union's accountant, Mr Laurie Hutcheson, made a special flight from Sydney to Melbourne carrying redundancy cheques to allow Mr Wilson, Mr Blewitt and four others to depart the union with golden handshakes.

The payouts were authorised by a postal ballot of the national executive conducted by Mr Harrison, with the other joint national secretary, Mr Ian Cambridge, immediately denouncing them as a "rort".

Meanwhile, Mr Harrison's arch-enemy, the Queensland AWU supremo Mr Bill Ludwig, went to court in a failed last-ditch effort to stop the redundancies - even though Mr Ludwig had been Mr Wilson's greatest supporter, as well as partner in a dominant Queensland-Western Australia-Victoria voting bloc.

At the same time, the "unfrozen" $160,000 was split up and returned to several construction industry companies because, it is now suggested, of fears that the money may somehow have been tainted.

This included: $29,000 to Fluor Daniel; $38,000 to John Holland; nearly $30,000 to Thiess Contractors; $39,000 to the lawyers Philips Fox, acting for Woodside Offshore Petroleum; and $6,400 to the NSW-based firm Chamber Consulting Services, all of which insist the funds had been legitimate payments to the union.

However, all received letters saying the payments were being refunded because "there has recently been some controversy regarding monies received from your company".

Woodside, for example, has since told the AWU national office it had an "arrangement" to pay about $19,500 a quarter to have a union organiser "servicing" its liquid petroleum gas project at Karratha, near the North-West Shelf, and to cover some air fares for Mr Wilson.

The "Victorian affair" might easily have ended with the redundancy payouts and the money being sent back, and the "WA Inc" accounts may never have come to light, except for Mr Ludwig's court challenge and the persistent investigations of Mr Cambridge.

The Industrial Relations Court ordered Mr Wilson, Mr Blewitt and the four other former AWU officials last month to repay their redundancy payments, ruling them invalid because there was no proper redundancy situation.

In January this year, before the "WA Inc" accounts were discovered, Mr Cambridge wrote to the then Federal Minister for Industrial Relations, Mr Laurie Brereton, seeking a royal commission into the AWU - just as the Prime Minister, Mr Paul Keating, called an election.

In his letter, Mr Cambridge criticised Mr Harrison for taking "the unusual move of permitting the 'retirement' of the officials who could be held accountable for the unauthorised funds and their unknown use".

While the industrial court has since said there was no impropriety by Mr Harrison, it pointedly applauded Mr Cambridge's actions and those of Mr Ludwig.

"Although these matters are unpleasant," Mr Cambridge told the Herald, "and obviously damage our union's public standing, any failure to resolve these matters will only ensure that such events can occur again ... I am not prepared to turn a blind eye to these matters, as to do so would only foster corruption."

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