Slater and Gordon's legal professional indemnity insurer had reason to be nervous in August, 1995 - Part one
Gillard is working towards a free trade agreement with the United Arab Emirates, "Consistency is at the core of our relationship".

The Communist, the Liberal Party Minister, his lover and their sex scandal. Just another day at Slater and Gordon.

"I started at Slater and Gordon 16 years ago. When I started I was a communist. I am not a communist now, I am no doubt a capitalist ... a variety of people at Slater and Gordon have grown up at the place ... and I suppose they continue to have a progressive approach to social and political issues.

"I could quite baldly state to you, I want to make money out of this business, but it is not just that. I want to do both. ... I want to sleep at night and make a dollar."

Melbourne 9 June, 1995 - spoken by a man who was about to lose quite a bit of sleep and money, Bernard Murphy.

This story by Mark Skulley then writing for The Age sets out some of the background to the Cheryl Harris/Ian Smith matter.

This story was first published on 9 June, 1995.   But much more damage was about to come Slater and Gordon's way as you will see in our next post dealing with events in August, 1995.


CHERYL Harris, the woman whose allegations brought down a Victorian Government minister, comes from the dairy town of Colac, where her brother, David, is president of the local Liberal Party branch.

David Harris stands out in the highly-public row between his sister and the local MP and former Finance Minister, Ian Smith, because he has so far repeatedly declined to make public comment. Mr Harris told the Herald he thought the "best comment was no comment".

Nobody else seems to agree. Ms Harris, 31, launched the first barrage via her lawyers and comment has later been obtained from her lawyers, her father and sister. Mr Smith has replied outside and inside State Parliament, and comment has come from his two ex-wives and stepson, among others.

Some of this comment was zealously sought by the news media, but the most unusual and perhaps most influential feature of the dramatic bust-up to the Smith-Harris affair has been how little digging was left to the newshounds. The principal figures revealed virtually all the intimate detail themselves.

For starters, Ms Harris's writ alleging assault and breach of employment contract against her boss, Mr Smith, was apparently leaked to the Herald Sun newspaper within hours of being lodged in the Melbourne Magistrates Court on Tuesday, May 30.

Mr Smith, 55, resigned as a Cabinet minister late on May 30 and the writ was served on him the following morning, as he was giving a news conference, vehemently denying the allegations. Ms Harris's solicitor, Bernard Murphy, of Melbourne law firm Slater and Gordon, followed up with a news conference at which copies of the writ were distributed.

The Premier, Jeff Kennett, has accused Slater and Gordon of "playing it hard, releasing material as it so suits". Ian Smith told State Parliament that the firm would be called to account for its "disgraceful and unethical actions".

Ms Harris responded to Mr Smith's personal explanation to Parliament by reading a brief statement at a media function organised by her lawyers, in which she was recorded and photographed reading the statement by one television camera and one radio station, the results being "pooled" for general use. No questions were permitted and it was broadcast live by one Melbourne radio station.

Mr Murphy, 38, a senior partner at Slater and Gordon, declines to answer a direct question on whether the firm leaked the writ in the first place, but says the case was bound to attract a "great deal of interest, both for proper and for some ... rather salacious reasons."

"We advised Cheryl Harris that it would attract a lot of media attention," he says. "It is not so much a plan as an inevitable consequence of the subject matter of the proceedings."

Slater and Gordon has historically been a leftish law firm, with a partner, Ted Hill, appearing for the Communist Party in the Petrov Royal Commission. It won two landmark cases in 1988 against CSR over asbestos-related diseases which led to out-of-court settlements the following year and the eventual payment of about $100 million by the company.

But Slater and Gordon lost much of its bread-and-butter work when the Kennett government overhauled Victoria's compensation system soon after being elected in 1992. The firm most recently hit the headlines through acting for thousands of Papua New Guinea villagers who are suing the Big Australian, BHP Co Ltd, over alleged pollution and environmental damage from the Ok Tedi mine.

Mr Murphy says that Ms Harris's proceedings took their particular course, "not out of any desire to increase the profile of Slater and Gordon ... we took these proceedings because we were unable to settle this action confidentially.

"We were criticised by BHP in the Ok Tedi proceedings ... We were criticised by CSR in the Wittenoom case; we have been criticised by Kennett and Smith on this occasion. When you are in the business of running litigation again large, powerful institutions or bodies in the community, you will draw criticism. We don't apologise for aggressively pursuing the rights of our clients."

However, there is no doubt that Slater and Gordon is highly conscious of the media and that some views of its own role border on the messianic, although they deny any political agenda.

Says Mr Murphy: "I started at a Slater and Gordon 16 years ago. When I started I was a communist. I am not a communist now, I am no doubt a capitalist ... a variety of people at Slater and Gordon have grown up at the place ... and I suppose they continue to have a progressive approach to social and political issues.

"I could quite baldly state to you, I want to make money out of this business, but it is not just that. I want to do both. ... I want to sleep at night and make a dollar."

Slater and Gordon's peers seem to generally agree that the firm fights hard once it gets a client, although a number privately question its advertising and selfpromotion.

However, the president of the Law Society of NSW, Maurie Stack, says the firm had an obligation to protect the interests of Ms Harris and that it would be unfair to assume that their motivation was self-promotion in this case.

"Their client was embroiled in a dispute with a Minister of the Crown who had the opportunity, which he subsequently used, to put his version of what had taken place in a situation where he could not be sued for doing so, where it was privileged. It's against that background that they have made a decision that it was in their client's interest to make a public statement."

Mr Stack expects that publicity will be used in future cases involving high-profile people, but says there has to be a distinction between civil litigation, such as taken by Ms Harris, and criminal litigation, where pre-publicity runs the risk of prejudicing jurors.

Ms Harris has alleged in her writ that Mr Smith had sought to transfer her as his ministerial chief-of-staff because she was pregnant by him and had refused to have an abortion. Mr Smith has emphatically denied this allegation in Parliament, saying that she had been warned that her work was "totally unacceptable and unprofessional".

But the reason why this is not simply a "sex" scandal is that Mr Smith is alleged to have a signed a four-year employment contract, with generous severance conditions which breached Government guidelines.

ONE of the many remaining puzzles is that Mr Kennett has told Parliament that Mr Smith's resignation from Cabinet was accepted because he said he "signed a document that was not in accordance with those guidelines" - not because of the personal allegations about his relationship with Ms Harris.

Mr Kennett told Melbourne's Radio 3AW that "all members of staff and everyone else knew what the guidelines were for (ministerial) appointments so it was immoral that any two people ever entered into the contract in the first place, knowing what the rules were."

But Mr Smith has since told Parliament that the alleged contract was "fraudulently constructed", although he had signed a personal memorandum to Ms Harris which did not breach government guidelines.

So why did Mr Smith resign? Well, a spokesman for Mr Kennett says Mr Smith resigned because he was unable to assure the Premier that the contract had not breached Government guidelines.

The former Victorian Equal Opportunity Commissioner, Ms Moira Rayner, sees the Harris-Smith affair as indicating a change of attitude after publicity over sexual harassment complaints, including those against former NSW minister Terry Griffiths, and by women serving in the Australian Navy.

"This is case which she (Ms Harris) raised in a very public way and he (Mr Smith) is the one who is required to resign; that's where it shows a change to sexual relationships in the workplace," Ms Rayner says. "There's no assumption that the boss is all-powerful or that the female has to cop it."

In the end, Ms Harris went as well, but the Kennett Government's decision to sack her after the dispute blew up was a major political blunder, particularly after Mr Kennett said that "due process" should be allowed to take its course. The Government already has less support among women voters than males voters, according to polling.

The Government has also breached the psychological barrier of its first ministerial casualty. Mr Kennett has taken over the Finance portfolio for the time being and also wants to cut the size of Cabinet by three after the next election. All this is serving to concentrate the thinking of the large number of ambitious Government backbenchers.

Meanwhile, Ms Harris is reportedly being offered large amounts of cash for the rights to her story and the two Mrs Smiths are also understood to be in the sights of the women's magazines.

A woman named in Ms Harris's writ as Mr Smith's "other woman" has reportedly retained her own solicitor. She is not a public figure and the Government says that she has been identified by at least one television station.

A Geelong-based newspaper, The Echo, this week tried to conduct a "street survey" of what locals in Colac thought of the row, but the results were not used after nobody wanted to be named or photographed.

The Echo's editor, Gavin Whyte, told the Herald that the locals had had plenty to say, mostly suggestions as what Ms Harris "had in mind" in taking the action.

"Nobody would say a word against Smithy," Mr Whyte said. "They all love him down there."

According to Mr Murphy: "She (Ms Harris) has not presented to me as a person who is doing this for vindictive reasons."


You'll get a sense of how the issue gripped Melbourne and its media in these articles leading up to the events of August, 1995 which we'll come to next.

Sunday Age

Shame, scandal and a woman scorned

Author: Murray Mottram, Mark Forbes
Date: 03/06/1995
Words: 2845
          Publication: THE SUNDAY AGE
Section: News
Page: 1

EARLY in 1988, Ms Cheryl Harris a 23-year-old secretary who had spent one year outside her home town of Colac entered the Gellibrand Street office of Mr Ian Smith, MP for Polwarth and one-time hope of the Western District to lead Victoria.

Sunday Age

Slaters `tried to settle case'

Author: Deborah Stone
Date: 03/06/1995
Words: 261
          Publication: THE SUNDAY AGE
Section: News
Page: 17

SLATER & GORDON, the law firm representing Ms Cheryl Harris, tried to settle the case out of court and keep it confidential, according to a senior partner, Mr Bernard Murphy.

Sunday Age

Smith may sue law firm

Author: Gervase Greene
Date: 17/06/1995
Words: 197
          Publication: THE SUNDAY AGE
Section: News
Page: 6

LAWYERS acting for the former finance minister, Mr Ian Smith, have threatened to lay contempt charges against the law firm Slater & Gordon, which is representing his former lover and chief of staff, Ms Cheryl Harris.

Sunday Age

Inquiry on Smith divorce papers

Author: Murray Mottram
Date: 24/06/1995
Words: 274
          Publication: THE SUNDAY AGE
Section: News
Page: 1

THE bitter battle between the former finance minister, Mr Ian Smith, and his ex-lover, Ms Cheryl Harris, has taken a new twist, with the Family Court investigating allegations that details of Mr Smith's 1991 divorce case had been leaked.

Mr Bernard Murphy, of Slater & Gordon, which represents Ms Harris, said he had not been contacted by the Family Court or the Attorney- General's Department.

Earlier in the week, Mr Smith lodged a complaint with the Law Institute over Slater & Gordon's handling of the case.


The Age

(The Smith Affair)

Date: 02/06/1995
Words: 1513
          Publication: The Age
Page: 6
The former Victorian Finance Minister, Mr Ian Smith, who resigned late on Tuesday night over allegations by his former chief of staff and lover, Cheryl Harris, yesterday made this personal explanation to the Victorian Parliament.

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for the opportunity to make this personal explanation.

On Tuesday evening of this week I was first made aware of the allegations against me in the Magistrates Court earlier that day. This information was conveyed to me by a Herald Sun journalist who had been given a copy of the lodged documents before they were served on me.

The documents were not served on me until 9.50 approximately the next morning, Wednesday, in a blaze of media coverage.

This is the first serious breach of the legal process. The second breach is in the unsubtantiated allegations being publicly aired by Slater and Gordon before the court hearing. These disgraceful and unethical actions Slater and Gordon will be called to account for.

Any action by me against Slater and Gordon for redress will be commenced once the Magistrates Court allegations have been disposed of and my name is vindicated.