WHILST DUBIOUS of her conduct as a lawyer, the decision by the Heydon Royal Commission to clear former Prime Minister Julia Gillard of criminal wrongdoing fails to surprise; the same can be said of its recommendation ex-boyfriend Bruce Wilson and his crony Ralph Blewitt be charged over the so-called AWU affair. Establishing who did what and who (if anyone) should be prosecuted for it satisfies public interest. Gillard’s past “answers” did not.
Labor people, union people, and Julia Gillard and her cohorts specifically will be cock-a-hoop this evening after the Royal Commission into the trade union movement announced today that it was clearing Gillard of any alleged criminal misconduct in regard to the so-called AWU slush fund affair, and whilst it added that Gillard’s professional conduct as a lawyer was “questionable,” the former PM got off far more lightly than her old flame, who — along with his sidekick and self-confessed bagman — now faces prosecution over what on any assessment was a fraud.
Depending on your preferences and journalistic prejudices (just to ensure the Labor types aren’t left out), there is coverage of these developments from Fairfax, the Murdoch press and The Guardian that readers can access from my website today.
I don’t propose to rehash all the ancient history of the AWU affair, Gillard’s role in it, or that of the two men now facing criminal charges; after all, this matter has held the country in thrall for some years now, and I see little point in pursuing a re-evaluation of these matters now when the reports I have linked (and past issues on the subject, accessible from the site archives to the right of this piece) already lay these facts and events out in great detail.
Instead, I am now going to share the opinion on these matters I have kept to myself to date; and respond to some of those, ranged against my political outlook as they are, who have had the temerity to accuse this column of engaging in an ambit witch hunt against Julia Gillard where the specific matter of the AWU scandal has been concerned.
My personal opinion of Julia Gillard, for what it is worth — and which I have never previously condensed into a single sentence — is that she is a highly intelligent but not particularly pleasant individual who has repeatedly demonstrated appalling judgement and surrounded herself with idiots, incompetents, and sycophants who have egged her on when counsel sought from them ought to have restrained her.
I would emphasise that “intelligence” and “judgement” are not the same thing, and that the description provided has been shown time and again over many years, sometimes in ways and concerning matters Gillard would have preferred not to have become public, to be very near the mark.
Whilst I could never be certain, I have always been fairly sure that where the so-called AWU slush fund was concerned, Gillard probably did nothing illegal, and in outlining my (admittedly rather jaundiced) reasoning I must stress that I am not accusing Gillard of anything other than poor judgement: and a deep-rooted self-obsession that probably always meant she was always going to stop herself crossing that line no matter whose interests might have been served had she done so, or compromised had she not.
This ex-lawyer (and “ex-lawyer” would be an appropriate description, for she will never practise in that profession again) was shrewd enough and sharp enough, I believe, to have always known precisely what she was doing and — most of all — whether or not it was legal.
I think it was inevitable, given the company she was keeping at the time, that Gillard would become entwined in the AWU fiasco; agreeing to undertake certain work for Wilson, whom she was in a relationship with, made it inescapable.
But the real misdemeanours Gillard committed were against her profession, not the law: it is the reason she was summarily dismissed from Melbourne-based Labor law behemoth Slater and Gordon, her professional reputation in ruins, and in need of a fresh career (which the Labor Party helpfully provided).
There seems to be a clear distinction between standards of professional practice (which, for example, have elicited revelations that Gillard failed to open a file at Slater and Gordon for the work she did establishing the quaintly named AWU Workplace Reform Association) and the flagrant commission of a criminal fraud, which Wilson and Blewitt now face possible charges over.
I think Gillard always knew how far she was able to go, in helping out her lover, without compromising herself legally; and whether or not she was fully aware of the activities and conduct — actual or intended — of the AWU WRA (which we will probably never know), there was always a limit to what she was prepared to do whilst ostensibly providing every possible support for her boyfriend.
In other words (and irrespective of whether it was a conscious position), Gillard’s legal career could be sacrificed for Wilson, but her criminal record was sacrosanct.
I have not spelt this out previously for the simple reason that such an opinion, with official enquiries continuing, would have been inappropriate, and in even saying what I have this evening I am not going to elaborate much further: after all, whilst charges against Wilson and Blewitt appear likely, those matters too remain on foot.
But even the highly restrained comment that this column has expressed to date has drawn accusations that I have leapt, in the spirit of a free for all, into a boots-and-all witch hunt against the former Prime Minister which I have not only repeatedly denied, but which were completely untrue and unsupported by any objective analysis.
I might not think very highly of Gillard, but I have never accused her of being a crook; and whilst I think the way she has handled herself has been tacky, intentionally misleading and fairly grimy, this in itself does not necessarily constitute a breach of the law: and I never said it did.
I concede that others who are allied to the Liberal Party, or opposed to the ALP and/or Gillard personally, may have suggested otherwise. But I am not responsible for those elements, their words or deeds; and for every cretin who has come to this site seeking to prosecute “the fight” on Gillard’s behalf, I simply say you picked the wrong target here.
And those who have stated that I “must account” for those who have made unfounded allegations of criminal misconduct against Julia Gillard, the response is equally blunt: no, I don’t.
This entire episode has been extremely distasteful, and what I will say is that by the way she handled it, Gillard herself perpetuated the speculation and rumour-mongering and (dare I say it) the witch hunt against her: holding press conferences “to answer questions” that then fail utterly to meaningfully respond to a single specific question — as Gillard did when still Prime Minister — smacks of being just too clever, contrived and conniving, and far from drawing anything to a conclusion, Gillard’s tactics merely prolonged her own discomfiture.
Issuing proceedings against anything on two legs with a job as a journalist who dared question her integrity (which Gillard also did) is the tactic of the bully, not the innocent; leaning on media outlets to silence discussion of the AWU matter merely aroused public suspicions that Gillard had something to hide.
Innocent or guilty, these further illustrations of poor judgement again underscore the point.
But in all the years I have followed (with great interest) the allegations that have swirled around Gillard over these events, I always thought she was too smart to overstep the line into the realm of breaking the law in furtherance of any scheme cooked up by Wilson and/or any of his thuggy mates.
Perhaps Gillard, and all her old buddies in the ALP and the union movement, should reflect that a lot of grief could have been avoided over this if the stonewalling tactics and other suspicious behaviour had been dispensed with, and the hard facts of events surrounding the AWU WRA been disclosed when those matters first became subject to inquiry and investigation in the public interest.
It would have necessitated abandoning the “maaates” whose hands really were dirty, to cover the arses of those whose weren’t.
But with the Heydon commission seemingly having got to the bottom of the matter once and for all, that is what has belatedly happened anyway.
Wilson and Blewitt are set to be prosecuted, and Gillard is safely out of it.
And whilst the Commission seems justified to question the way Gillard conducted herself as a lawyer, that was always likely to be the end result.