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This letter from Phillips Fox might help explain the trigger for shutting down the AWU WRA Inc in April, 1995

Wilson didn't leave the AWU because he was sprung soliciting improper payments.

On 14 July 1995 the AWU Members Welfare Association bank account was frozen as Wilson attempted to transfer $160,000 to another slush fund he controlled.   Gillard claims she ceased acting for Wilson (personally) around that date and handed the matter to Bernard Murphy.   But no one in the AWU knew about that cheque being bounced.   AT that point why wasn't Wilson advised to simply tell his superiors he had banked the money into the wrong account, he was sorry and here are the cheques?  

On 8 August 1995 Murphy claims to have ceased to represent Bruce Wilson, although he concedes he represented Wilson in negotiating his bogus redundancy from the AWU for some time after that.  

Peter Gordon contacted Slater and Gordon in August 2012 to check the dates in the relevant Slater and Gordon files - files which were later said to have disappeared - for this statement made public later that month.

Julia Gillard worked in the industrial department of Slater & Gordon in 1990 through 1995 where she was accountable to Mr (Bernard) Murphy.  She was also within Mr Murphy’s‘camp’ of close associates and friends at  the firm at the time.  Mr Murphy and Ms Gillard acted for the Victorian state branch of the AWU from 1991/1992 until 1995 and also for two of its officials Mr Bruce Wilson and Mr Ralph Blewitt.

Mr Murphy and Ms Gillard left the firm in late 1995 in circumstances where their relationship with the equity partnership group had become fractured, and trust and confidence evaporated.

....the partnership was extremely unhappy with both Mr Murphy and Ms Gillard, considered that proper vigilance had not been observed and that their duties of utmost good faith to their partners especially as to timely disclosure had not been met.

The partnership considered terminating Mr Murphy and Ms Gillard.

Ms Gillard elected to resign and we accepted her resignation without discussion.

.....the relevant Slater & Gordon files reveal that certain relevant  ‘new’ information was made to Mr Murphy in July 1995, and very shortly thereafter to Ms Gillard.  No evidence in any of the firm’s records exists that information as to  any matter which can incontrovertibly be described as wrongdoing was available to or known by either of them before this time.  Shortly after this time, this‘new’ information was passed on to the other partners.  There was a small delay in the transmission of this information by Mr Murphy to the rest of us which I interpreted as mediated only by the serious deterioration in our relationship and the mental strain under which he obviously labored at the time.  When the information was conveyed to the other partners, the firm immediately ceased acting for the AWU, for Mr Wilson and Mr Blewitt.

The period between 2 August when Bob Smith's allegations were raised at the AWU National Finance Committee meeting and 11 August are critical.

On 4 August 1995 Bob Smith sent this letter.

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On Monday 7 August 1995 Bob Smith, Ian Cambridge, Bill Ludwig and Steve Harrison met in Brisbane to discuss the Wilson allegations.   There was no talk of a redundancy.   There was no talk of returning money to the companies that had paid it to the AWU/Wilson.   The only thing that was discussed was that Wilson and put the money in the wrong bank account.


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Between 8 August 1995 and 11 August a deal was struck.  It involved Slater and Gordon.

On 9 August 1995 Ian Cambridge wrote to the Commonwealth Bank in Melbourne.

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The Royal Commission did not, so far as I am aware, receive this Affidavit of Jim Collins the former AWU official and co-signatory on the Members Welfare Association account into evidence.   We published it here;


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According to Jim Collins, by early July Wilson knew the jig was up - around the time the cheque to the National Construction Branch was bounced.   

But Cambridge did not know about that transaction.   He did not know about the National Construction Fund at all.   And because the bounced cheque appeared on the National Construction Fund statement and not the Members Welfare Association statement, he would not have discovered the fact that the cheque was bounced when the CBA sent him the statements either.

On 11 August 1995 Joanne Painter of The Age newspaper wrote this story:


The Age

Officials leave branch of AWU

Date: 11/08/1995
Words: 283
          Publication: The Age
Page: 7
The national construction branch of the giant Australian Workers Union was in turmoil yesterday following the departure of almost half of the senior officials.

At least three senior organisers, including the national branch secretary, Mr Bruce Wilson, yesterday accepted voluntary redundancy packages that have been offered to all staff.

The future of the remaining five officials is unclear.

The surprise redundancies come a week after the AWU national office was forced to bail-out the financially troubled branch after it was unable to pay workers for three weeks.

The AWU national secretary, Mr Ian Cambridge, said he was not aware that any redundancies had been offered to staff in the national construction division but confirmed the branch faced serious financial problems.

``I am unaware of any redundancy packages that have been finalised with anyone in the national construction branch (but) I am aware of some financial issues relating to the branch." Mr Cambridge said the staff had since been paid their entitlements.

The national construction division of the union was created in February to spearhead a major recruitment drive in the industry and to take on the rival Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union in key areas of coverage.

But according to union sources, the branch ran into financial difficulties when membership numbers plummeted to less than 2000. The financial crisis was exacerbated when the branch became financially independent of the national AWU organisation on 1 July. Mr Wilson could not be contacted for comment.


So why the hurry to get out Bruce?   Why did Bob Smith go from writing to Cambridge about police charges, to secretly agreeing to the return of money to the companies that paid it in.   Were any checks made on the basis for the payments?

At this point it's useful to look at what the companies say the money was given to Wilson for.

John Holland - the money was clearly paid to the AWU for union membership tickets.


Woodside - the money was ostensibly to subsidise the salary of an AWU official at the Karratha project (plus mention of airfares for Wilson).


Fluor Daniels - union dues for the rail guage standardisation project


Chambers Consulting (Hunter Industrial Management) union dues and extra resource for rail gauge standardisation project.


The only company that did not respond was Thiess - it waited until the AWU Workplace Reform Association's activities were made public through Ian Cambridge's efforts almost one year later.

Remember that it's only in the last week or so that we have put two and two together to show that rather than being for an asbestos study, the $20,160 payment from Thiess that Wilson banked into the AWU Members Welfare Association Inc account was a cheque made out to the AWU Workplace Reform Association Inc. in answer to an AWU WRA invoice.

There are two dimensions to Bob Smith's potential charges.

1.    Were the payments from those companies (excluding Thiess) extraordinary or on their face unlawful.   By the standards of the day, the fact that Wilson was out soliciting those sorts of payments doesn't seem terribly unusual.  Bulk union tickets and payments to subsidise officials appear to be the norm at the AWU.  It's unlikely someone like Wilson would have been so keen to resign and take his whole branch with him over soliciting the Woodside, John Holland Fluor Daniel or Chambers Consulting payments.

2.    Were the banking arrangements a hanging offence?   Wilson doesn't strike me as the sort of bloke who would throw his career and the jobs of those close to him away over that, certainly not without a fight.   He arranged for the payments he'd solicited to go into a single account.   He had plenty of arguments to make - the money was still there, it was a time of turmoil etc etc etc.  He had never in his past demonstrated such a defeatist attitude.   Given the laissez faire banking arrangements and Wilson's natural propensity to fight and defend, it strikes me as unusual that he would have gone so timidly, quickly and secretly, without any right to defend himself.   And it wasn't just himself (if he had any conscience) it was the livelihoods of those around him.

The AWU Workplace Reform Association was then unknown to the AWU and it remained that way until the next year.  Likewise the link between the Association and the Kerr Street property.   Similarly the central role of Slater and Gordon in the association was unknown at the time Wilson left the AWU.

When Slater and Gordon took instructions from Wilson the firm was the National Construction Branch's lawyers.   The National Construction Branch was brand new and Slaters had done the work to set it up.   It had the support of the entire AWU and as a national body must have been an attractive and growing client for Slaters.   

But rather than look for the means to defend Wilson, Murphy and Gillard didn't even give defence a chance.   They advised him to fold the tent and get out of Dodge City ASAP.  Their legal work included negotiating to extinguish the very branch they had just worked so hard to establish.  

Why?  On the face of it because Bruce Wilson solicited payments from bosses but banked the payments into the wrong account.  And when his lawyers were made aware of it, they apparently did not advise him to put his hand up, admit the banking error account for all the money and promise never to do it again.   They were faced with a circumstance where the money was still there, no one in the AWU (beyond possibly Bob Smith) knew about the account and Wilson could have at least arguably explained away the banking "error".

Wilson even had the potentially reasonable "excuse' that Wayne Hem had done all of that banking.  "Those cheques went where?   I'm terribly sorry, Mr Hem was probably confused in the scheme of things with the new branch arrangements, it won't happen again etc etc etc".

 Wilson went to Slater and Gordon and admitted to his lawyers what he had done.

Even though the money was manifestly AWU money, paid to the AWU for AWU purposes, Slaters and Maurice Blackburn each participated in a scheme to return it to the companies that had paid it in.   With the exception of the Thiess payment, all the returned money was unquestionably AWU money. The money wasn't unlawfully acquired by the AWU - it was improperly banked.   It wasn't the getting of the dough that constituted Wilson's major drama, it was simply the way he'd banked it.

That is with the exception of Thiess.

The advice and complicity in the return of the money makes no sense at all.  Wilson's sudden departure along with his people makes no sense at all if this matter related simply to Woodside, John Holland, Fluor Daniel and Chambers Consulting.    All of those companies made legitimate payments that Wilson improperly banked - the legal advice and Wilson's response are illogical, way over the top and patently absurd.

But add Thiess and the fact that one of the cheques in the AWU Members Welfare Association was made out to the AWU Workplace Reform Association and things become clearer.

Slater and Gordon had a conflict of interest all right.

Who knew about the AWU WRA Inc?   More soon.