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Mick Baker versus Ralph Blewitt and others, WA Industrial Relations Court 1993 Part One

Ivory biggie

For some background you might find this article useful.

On 23 September 1993 the President of the WA Industrial Relations Commission heard Mick Baker's application for orders that Ralph Blewitt's decision to sack him be overturned.   The matter was listed for hearing on 17 November 1993, in between lots of evidence was sought out by the parties and I now have it and I'll publish it for you.

I've interviewed Ralph Blewitt on the record about what went on at the time and I'll publish that interview with him.

Baker had lost his job.  He was in a very good position legally to be compensated, he had plenty of witnesses and helpful documents.  He was all set to go with his lawyer briefed, ready for action and present at the court-room as the court was brought into session.

But Baker didn't turn up for the hearing.   His application was discontinued on the grounds that his lawyer could not contact him to receive further instructions.   Something made Mick Baker just cop his sacking sweet.

We'll try to find out what - or who - made him decide it would be in his best interests not to proceed.

Ralph Blewitt explains a little more about what happened in this audio interview:

Further background from the Royal Commission

We now know Gillard had been doing "unofficial" legal work for Bruce Wilson for at least 6 months prior to Slater and Gordon's September 1991 retainer as the AWU WA Branch lawyers.

In April 1991 she gave Wilson legal advice on how to remove the duly elected Secretary of the Branch saying at her departure interview,

Bruce had been an organiser of the Western Australian branch. He had had a falling out with the then secretary. The secretary had dismissed him, He had been appointed as a national organiser 'cause he enjoyed national support. He  had run in elections as national secretary contender. He hadn't been successful in that but he had run it close. He was at that point basically stalking the then WA secretary with a view to getting him out and taking his position, and he needed some legal advice about arrangements to do with that. And Graeme Droppit asked me if I would give him some advice when I was over there about those things…., and I stayed on in Perth on the Saturday for the purpose of meeting with Bruce Wilson.

Here's the Royal Commissioner in his report:

From 1989 or 1990 a firm of solicitors named Slater & Gordon had been acting for the Victorian branch of the AWU.   On the recommendation of Victorian AWU officials, in September 1991 the West Australian branch executive appointed Slater & Gordon to provide legal services for that branch.  One of the solicitors in the industrial unit of the firm was Julia Eileen Gillard.   She had risen fast in the firm to the rank of salaried partner.  She had been in practice for four years.   But she had done some work related to the West Australian branch of the AWU a little earlier. 

In an interview on 11 September 1995 Julia Gillard told her partners, Peter Gordon and Geoff Shaw, that in 1991 Bruce Wilson ‘was …  basically stalking the then WA secretary [Joe Keenan] with a view to getting him out and taking his position, and he needed some legal advice about arrangements to do with that’.

At the request of another Slater & Gordon solicitor she stayed in Perth after conducting some litigation in order to meet and advise Bruce Wilson.  Who, if anyone, was paying for this advice to the young pretender?  That is unclear.  But that was how she and Bruce Wilson first met in about April 1991.  They commenced what they called ‘a personal relationship’ in late 1991.

The Royal Commission did not inquire further about who retained Gillard or who paid her for her work to remove an elected state AWU Secretary.  It's hard to see any proper basis for her to act for an employee as he pursued his personal ambitions to remove an elected Secretary.  The Commissioner described it thus:

(Wilson) then succeeded in ‘persuading’ Joe Keenan to retire, and in his place he was elected Branch Secretary on 2 May 1991.

After the putsch came the purge.  Without much false sentimentality Bruce Wilson removed some officials – ‘dead wood’  – and replaced them with others he trusted.

Bruce Wilson’s election as State Secretary meant that he automatically became a Vice-President on the national executive.  That left a vacancy on the national executive, and Ralph Blewitt was elected to fill it.  Ralph Blewitt also became Assistant Secretary of the West Australian branch. 

The Commissioner exercises precision in his choice of words.  He described Wilson's manoeuverings against Keenan as a "putsch'.   Putsch is a German word meaning "a secrectly plotted and suddenly executed attempt to overthrow a government".  Many definitions include the descriptor "violent" - the Munich Beer Hall Putsch is a case in point.   Gillard was a partner with Wilson as he executed a Putsch against the AWU leadership.  She says she gave legal advice to Wilson, it can only have been personally rather than as a low level organiser at the AWU - but for what price?   What obligations did she incurr?

Having putsched Keenan out with Ms Gillard's help, Wilson went to work on purging other dissenters.

While Slater and Gordon didn't act for the AWU WA branch until September, 1991, On 21 August Ms Gillard gave this detailed legal advice to Wilson about the process of making favoured appointments within the rules.  

During the 6 months April to September 1991 Gillard demonstrate a preparedness to work outside the interests of the AWU (ie its elected leadership team) to help Wilson achieve his personal ambitions.   There is the sense of close partnership between them, with the driving force in that partnership being Wilson's personal interests rather than the interests of the AWU.

Over those 6 months Ms Gillard clearly became very well versed in the AWU's rules, her references to them in her legal work are exquisitely detailed.   She would have known that Wilson, as State Secretary could only act with directions from the Executive and with the acquiescence of the State President:

Sec at least exec

Exec not sec

President and secretary to sign

That last rule shows the sanctity with which the union's name was treated.   It wasn't something to be shared around - more of that later.

The rules show it's the Executive that gives the Secretary his power and authority.   Wilson wanted one that was rubber-stamp supportive.   Even after his move to Melbourne Wilson continued to manoeuvre that Executive into shape.

On 18 February 1993 Ralph Blewitt became WA State Secretary during an Executive meeting.  The minutes of that meeting record the first signs of trouble for Mick Baker.



By June 1993 there were many more upset AWU staffers than just Mick Baker.  With Wilson and his charisma in Melbourne, Ralph was struggling to implement the new agenda and the natives were revolting.

Glen Ivory was then the AWU WA State President.   His relationship with Ralph Blewitt was as between a company's chairman and the CEO.   The President is there for support and advice.

On 16 June 1993 Ivory arranged for a meeting of unhappy officials with their Secretary, Ralph.   HR managers today might call it a focus group or perhaps an intervention.  In the AWU it was called a "delegation" and the delegation went prepared.  Ralph apparently got it with both barrels.

The first action after the delegation was not a soft and fluffy EEO course or counselling for Ralph.   Wilson had one request  - that Glen Ivory document his discussions with staff in order to identify the dissenters.   Ivory put it into the form of a statement dated the next day 17 June, 1993.

(I have spoken with Ralph privately about this note and he has given me the go ahead to publish it.  He says it's pretty accurate and that he was never cut out to be a State Secretary, he only ever did what Wilson told him to do - and without the "young pretender"'s charisma he apparently executed poorly.)

Ivory 1993

Ivory 2

Ivory 3

Ivory 4

Ivory last page

That statement was produced by Ralph Blewitt to the WA Industrial Relations Court as an Exhibit after Wilson had instructed Ivory to put it down in writing.  

Mick Baker's fate was sealed from the moment Wilson read it.

One month later Ralph received instructions from Wilson that Baker was going to be "putsched" out of his job.   The letter falsely suggests Blewitt made the decision that Baker's services were no longer required.  But as the industrial relations commission heard, the decision to sack Baker was made by Wilson and it was Wilson who instructed Gillard to find a way to do it.   Here is the letter Ms Gillard prepared on Wilson's instructions. 

19 July, 1993 - Mick Baker is sacked.

Baker letter