Slater and Gordon's role in protecting Ralph Blewitt and the AWU WA Branch payroll deduction election funds
New documents not made public until today show how AWU staff with legitimate concerns about Wilson/Blewitt's mismanagement and corruption in the AWU WA branch had their careers destroyed by Julia GILLARD and her Slater and Gordon partner Bernard Murphy.
On 13 February 1993 WILSON (accompanied by GILLARD) purchased the notorious Kerr Street property at auction, ostensibly on behalf of Ralph Blewitt.
On 18 February Blewitt was installed as AWU WA State Secretary, replacing Wilson who'd taken up the Victoria State Secretary role.
On 19 February Gillard was in Perth to appear before the Full Bench of the WA Industrial Relations Commission in matter No. 1281 of 1992. She remained in Perth to appear again on Monday 22 February on the same matter.
At that stage Ralph Blewitt had been acting state secretary for 6 months and AWU staff had had enough of his ineptitude.
I spoke with Blewitt earlier today - he agrees that he was a hopeless manager and he acknowledges the legitimacy and substance of complaints staff made against him. He says he was secretary in name only and that he was installed into the job by Wilson on the condition that he did exactly what Wilson told him to do.
The WA branch closed its financial year on 30 June, 1993 with a disastrous result - a deficit of just on $800,000.
Its problem wasn't income - revenues of $2.7M were about the same as FY 92 when the branch posted a surplus of almost $200,000.
The $1M negative turnaround was the result of spending that was clearly out of control.
A major contributor to the loss was the inexplicable donation of $110,000 of AWU members money to former Labor Premier Carmen Lawrence's campaign, a donation that was paid a few months after the incorporation of the AWU Workplace Reform Association on the instructions of a Lawrence Government minister.
Staff costs were up $160K, legal fees up $70K, travel up $80K, printing, postage, phones, seminars, cars - costs were out of control and trending even further upwards.
Given the way Wilson/Gillard responded with legal actions against 9 whistleblowers it's no surprise that the branch's legal bills rose from $27K in 92, to $99K in 93 - to $180K in 94.
Mick Baker was one of many staff who raised concerns about the branch management with colleagues and AWU national office holders.
What's not been publicly available until now are the branch executive meeting minutes which show Slater and Gordon's role in directing the day-to-day tactics used to sack and silence whistle blowers like Baker, Len Gandini, Sue Ellery, Tony Lovett, Colin Saunders and others.
On Monday 14 1993 Len Gandini and Sue Ellery met with AWU WA President Glen Ivory to discuss problems with the branch.
As a result of that meeting the Branch President arranged a meeting of concerned staff which took place on the evening of 16 June 1993 - 9 staff attended and spoke. They resolved to meet with Blewitt to put their concerns face to face. That meeting took place on 17 June.
Blewitt contacted Bruce Wilson immediately after the meeting and told Wilson that the staff wanted him (Blewitt) to resign.
Wilson spoke with Glenn Ivory and asked him to write up a verbatim account of who said what in those meetings and on Thursday, 17 June 1993 Ivory completed that statement, forwarding a copy to Wilson.
When Blewitt made it known that he wouldn't resign, the 9 staff asked Ivory for permission to put their grievances to the WA Branch Executive - and they called for an urgent meeting of that executive.
On Monday 21 June 1993 the WA Branch Executive met at an off-site location:
The first agenda item gave Bruce Wilson speaking rights.
Mick Baker objected to Wilson's presence, citing an AWU Rule that prohibited officials from one branch 'interfering' in the affairs of another branch. He then tried to have the 9 staff members invited into the meeting to air their grievance. He was wholly unsuccessful:
Glen Ivory then gave an extensive and very detailed report on the grievances put forward by 9 AWU officials.
The report continues for pages, noting Mick Baker's points of order and other comments - after the President's report was accepted, Baker spoke:
He concluded with this unsuccessful motion:
The group of 9 clearly had legitimate concerns. Their submissions regarding the branch's finances reflect the reality in the financial accounts. Their grievances had merit.
Prior to breaking for lunch, arrangements were made for Wilson, Blewitt and Ivory to conduct disciplinary interviews with the 9 complainants. Three interviews were conducted and completed during the lunch break.
When the meeting resumed, Baker made pointed representations that no disciplinary action should be permitted against any of the 9 complainants. He made detailed submissions about the Branch's financial position - and suggested that the complaints should be escalated to the national executive.
The response was swift. Blewitt moved that the 3 who'd been interviewed be sacked on the spot with one week's pay in lieu of notice. His motion was carried unanimously.
Wilson then jumped in as the great mediator. He suggested that the sackings should be deferred until all 9 had been spoken to, and that perhaps there was another way to deal with the complaints.
A detailed motion was unanimously carried authorising Wilson alone to interview each of the 9 complainants and to work out an "action plan" in response. The terminations were to be delayed until all 9 interviews had been conducted.
Blewitt then presented a financial report which set out the branch's perilous financial position. He was authorised to carry out a review under a unanimous motion which stated the "review must take place to ensure the continued viability of the branch".
The meeting concluded with this charming piece of member-focussed good-will:
It beggars belief that the AWU's lawyers Slater and Gordon didn't so much as countenance the possibility that the allegations against Blewitt might be true.
Slater and Gordon were fiduciaries to the members of the AWU with a responsibility to act in the membership's best interests.
Blewitt states that he wasn't interviewed by anyone about the allegations made against him. From the moment he spoke with Wilson about the 9 staff-members who'd suggested he wasn't up to the job, the wheels were set in motion to silence the whistle-blowers.
Gillard at the very least knew about unusual and exotic financial transactions involving Blewitt/Wilson including
- The AWU WRA and the strenuous efforts to achieve its incorporation, including the ministerial intervention
- The $110K donation to Carmen Lawrence's campaign - Gillard was part of the Drive for Dignity bus tour
- The at the very least "unusual" purchase by Wilson via a Gillard drafted power of attorney of the Kerr Street property, and the use of the Power of Attorney by Slater and Gordon in the provision of a $150K mortgage facility to finance the purchase
Slater and Gordon was actively involved in pursuing allegations of financial impropriety against Bob Smith (One) in Victoria - the pretext under which Wilson was installed as state secretary of that branch. Yet when similar claims of impropriety and mismanagement were made against Blewitt - no consideration was given to any investigation of the merits of the reports, even though 9 staff members had voiced identical concerns.
Finally the $1M negative turnaround in the branch's financial statements were there in black and white - corroborating and supporting those staff members who were trying to report the mismanagement.
Slater and Gordon responded to the complaints against Blewitt by opening these files:
Just weeks after the delegation fronted Ralph, the Executive of the branch met again.
The first order of business was accrediting Wilson to speak at the meeting.
Then Ralph delivered this prepared report.
Here's the letter, prepared by Slater and Gordon - as was Blewitt's prepared statement to the branch meeting.
Wilson then spoke about his ongoing "investigations" into the 9 complainants.
After lunch the meeting recorded its confidence in the manifestly inept Blewitt.
Ralph then confirmed what Baker, Gandini, Ellery and others had been trying to bring to the AWU's attention:
Mick Baker was down but not out.
For 6 months he'd been trying to draw attention to the mismanagement of the branch's financial affairs - and he'd been quietly conducting his own investigations to get to the bottom of rumours about misappropriations of money.
A few days after he was dismissed from his post by Blewitt, Baker made a formal submission to the AWU WA Executive enquiring about the branch's election funds.
That letter from Baker drew the branch's election fund(s) into the scope of Slater and Gordon's direct involvement in the branch's affairs.
Slater and Gordon already had a file open on payroll deductions
Once Baker's letter about payroll deduction election funds had been received, Gillard was duty bound to enquire of Wilson as to the conduct of what she says she knew to be the Incorporated Association established as the holder of those funds deducted from the salaries of the team of WA branch officials with whom Bruce Wilson would stand for election.
With Baker's complaint, Gillard's claim that she made no further enquiries about the operation or existence of the AWU WRA once it was incorporated is looking very, very shaky.
The minutes of the 21 July meeting are here.
The Executive (which met only once in the entire 1994 year) would meet 3 more times over the next few weeks with Slater and Gordon managing each step.
I'll bring you the details of those meetings in our next post.
Every touch leaves its trace.