Features Australia

The worst form of defence

Mark Latham makes a flimsy case for Gillard

3 November 2012

9:00 AM

3 November 2012

9:00 AM

Spectator Australia readers have seen enough of Mark Latham’s writing to know his attempts to project a blokey anti-intellectual persona are largely window-dressing. His is probably the sharpest mind to have graced Federal Labor’s front bench since (at least) the retirement of Barry Jones. Latham is perfectly capable of formulating a cogent and rational argument, if so minded, provided the facts allow for it.

So, when he offers (Latham’s Law, 27 October) a lame simulacrum of a defence concerning Julia Gillard and ‘the Slater & Gordon allegations’, only two explanations are open: either Latham’s heart really isn’t in it, or the evidence doesn’t allow him to do any better.

He begins with an ad hominem attack on Rebecca Weisser, which would doubtless be characterised as misogynic had it sprung from the lips or pen of a person lacking Latham’s impeccable left-wing credentials. But Weisser has not written a word on this subject. Her transgression, as editor of the Australian’s opinion page, is failing to censor or suppress discussion of an issue going to the Prime Minister’s fitness for office.

Latham ridicules Weisser over a remark which she supposedly ‘grunted’. I have spoken with Weisser on a couple of occasions. Her speaking voice could never be confused with grunting; not, at any rate, the kind of grunts normally associated with (for example) people who perpetrate malicious damage at Hungry Jack’s outlets.

According to Latham, Weisser grunted: ‘Craig Thomson and Michael Williamson want their matters to go away, so Gillard doesn’t want us to investigate her time at Slater & Gordon — it’s all part of the same problem.’ In his new career as a journalist, Latham might be expected to sympathise with attempts to discover the truth, when politicians would prefer such allegations not to be investigated. But no! Latham accuses Weisser of ‘warped logic’ and ‘political prejudice’, and puts her at the forefront of ‘the moral decline of Australian conservatism’.

Latham’s next gambit is a straw man: former AWU official Ralph Blewitt, identified by Latham as the Australian’s ‘star witness’, and described as ‘a shady character who fled Indonesia in 2009 to avoid arrest’. Blewitt may be every bit as dodgy as Latham suggests: who would cavil at Latham’s expertise in assessing the relative scruples (or lack thereof) of union heavyweights? But calling Blewitt the
‘star witness’ is preposterous.

Blewitt was never more than a bit player. The ‘star witness’ is Gillard herself. Interviewed by her employers in 1995, and fronting the media on 23 August 2012, Gillard admitted every relevant fact that Blewitt witnessed. Shady or not, Gillard’s admissions make him irrelevant.


Finally, Latham argues that ‘The Australian’s reporting … has been error-prone.’ If that were true, mistakes in a journalistic investigation do not discredit the entire process. How many ‘error-prone’ police investigations have resulted, eventually, in the guilty party being apprehended and duly convicted?

But the ‘one example’ which Latham offers as proving a propensity to error — presumably Latham’s best (or only) example — is entirely misconceived. It arises because, ‘on 3 September, [the Australian’s] legal affairs editor Chris Merritt argued that if Gillard had tried to register the AWU Workplace Reform Association as a fundraising body for union elections, it would not have passed muster under the Western Australian Associations Incorporation Act 1987’.

Merritt, of course, was unquestionably right. Latham thinks it an ‘error’ — so egregious an error as to justify a claim that ‘the Australian’s legal affairs editor knows nothing about this law’ — only because Latham misses the point.

Nobody doubts the theoretical possibility of incorporating a body to operate as a ‘slush fund’ for the benefit of Gillard’s then boyfriend, being (admittedly) Gillard’s intention from the outset. If called ‘The Bruce Wilson Slush Fund, Inc’, and with stated objects accurately reflecting that intention, there could be no problem. But such a body would have been useless to Wilson.

Wilson’s scheme (Gillard denies any knowledge of it at the time) depended on soliciting contributions, voluntary or otherwise, from businesses believing they were paying an AWU-related entity for benevolent purposes, like promoting safer workplaces and skills training. For this to succeed, the name and objects had to sound plausible.

Merritt is perfectly correct that ‘if Gillard had tried to register the AWU Workplace Reform Association as a fundraising body for union elections, it would not have passed muster’. Under section 8(1)(b) of the Act, ‘The Commissioner shall not incorporate an association … by a name that … is … likely to mislead the public as to [its] object or purpose’.

Hence, the objects were concocted to conceal the intention to which Gillard was admittedly privy from the outset. She insists she did not sign that document, nor draft the section which listed the objects. But she vouched for the association’s legitimacy to the WA Corporate Affairs Commission, although she always knew the real intention was to support ‘re-election of union officials’. Section 43(a) of the Act creates an offence of making or authorising a statement ‘that to the person’s knowledge is false or misleading in any material particular’ in ‘a document … lodged with or submitted to the Commissioner’.

If Latham wishes to apply his considerable intellectual powers to defending Gillard, here are four questions to begin with:

• Given the AWU retained Gillard’s firm, how could any lawyer have convinced herself there was no conflict of interest when her boyfriend asked her to set up a ‘slush fund’ under the name of her firm’s existing client?

• Gillard admits she was asked by Wilson for ‘legal advice to incorporate this association’. Precisely what advice was given regarding the adoption of a misleading name, and the fraudulent statement of false objects for the intended ‘slush fund’?

• How could Gillard conscionably vouch for the legitimacy of an association which, to her knowledge, was being registered with a deceptive name and specious objects?

• Interviewed in 1995, Gillard ‘could not rule out’ the use of association funds for her own property; 17 years later, she categorically affirmed that ‘I paid for my renovations’. Contrary to all human experience, has her memory improved with time?

Latham might then address much more intractable questions: how AWU funds came to be used for the purchase of a property in Blewitt’s name where Wilson and Gillard sometimes cohabited; what steps Gillard took, as the AWU’s solicitor, to ensure her client’s interests were protected; and why those steps failed to prevent Wilson making off with the net proceeds, including the AWU’s money, when the property was sold. Was this mere incompetence, or something more sinister?

Famously, Latham told Parliament ten years ago, ‘I grieve for the rise of the new political correctness — the hypocritical demand of the conservative establishment in this country for civility in political debate’, because ‘civility … helps the ruling class to avoid public scrutiny and accountability’. Latham, of course, is no hypocrite. His defence of Gillard proves there is a way to help ‘the ruling class to avoid public scrutiny and accountability’ without any risk he will ever be accused of lapsing into even momentary civility.

Anthony Morris is a barrister in Brisbane.

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Show comments
  • Colin

    Excellent article Anthony – no less than Latham’s deserves for his embarassing attempts at journalism:



    (the comments beneath these articles make for a much better read than the articles themselves).

    Also great to get a Lawyer’s perspective on Gillard’s conduct – the “I was young and naive” excuse just doesn’t wash, does it…

  • sueanne

    I think it perfectly obvious that Gillard was and is, up to her neck in shady deals. This is not the person I want to be leading my country. She is the queen of evasion. This is a sad time for Australia.

  • tiwigirl

    Fantastic article Anthony – truth always prevails

  • Z M

    It would appear that Ms Julia Gillard has misled the parliament.
    In response to Ms Julie Bishop’s question as to why she didn’t report the alleged Wilson scam of the Association when she became aware of it, Ms Gillard stated that by the time she found out, there was an investigation being held into these matters.
    The facts are that she admitted it was set up as a slush fund, in Sept 1995 in her “exit” interview with partners of Slater and Gordon, but the AWU didn’t find out about this Association and its bank accounts till at least mid 1996,and proof is contained in Ian Cambridge’s sworn affidavit when he tried unsuccessfully to have a Royal Commission investigation begun into the whole matter.
    What is the next step? Is it a Senate Committee to question MS Gillard ,and call for her to resign if she cannot provide a ruthful answer, or can this country allow this sort of seeming lie from the holder of its highest office, demeaning therefore the whole parliament of Australia?

  • juggernaut

    This is not rocket science. The equation is very simple. Who did what and when and to whos benefit. The benefit has been established and the what and when is the reason Ms Gillard refuses to answer basic questions in the parliament. Until unsavoury acts are dealt with properly (not rewarded) and justice is perceived to have been done, this entire sordid affair damages our country.

    • Brian_R_Allen

      Well said.


      And meanwhile Bob Hawke sits in a house that, upon retirement from a “career” as a wage earner, an habitual drunkard bought for an alleged Several Million Dollars.

      Listening to failed Labor politicians is a bit like hearing the Darwin bloke who walked the streets the morning after Tracy telling all who listened, “Ain’t it grand the wind stopped blowing?”

      Is every one of them a psychopath?

  • Herme`s

    Well written, succinct article Anthony.

    Shouldn’t be too hard for the deniers to follow!

  • Andrew Whittaker
  • Melba

    Thank you for writing about the AWU-Workplace Reform Assn scandal, there needs to be a lot more discussion in the main stream media about the issue because it goes right to the heart of the integrity of the current Prime Minister and the ALP government. Seventeen years later the AWUWRA scandal and subsequent coverup still appears to be shaping some of the decisions and actions of senior ALP and union players and is deeply hurting Australia and all we value.

    • Brian_R_Allen

      Wonder when the focus will shift to where it belongs. Surely Messrs Wilon et al prima facie are but peripheral to these serial offenses – with regard every one of which the only essential player is Ms Gillard.

  • Steve

    An absolutely brilliant resume of both Latham and Gillard, talk about killing two birds with the one stone, thank you very much.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ianbar Ian Barnes

    “I refer you to my statements on this matter which are on the public record.. record…record…record…record…” (the broken record excuse)

  • Gordon LIddy

    Gillard’s inability to answer questions nor challenge critics for defamation of her shady union racketeering past has come back to haunt her. What is more concerning is the cover up continuing to the day at the highest levels of the police and judiciary. It also goes to her dishonest sociopathic character. This is Austalia’s JuliarGate. Help us Queen of Australia, QE2…

  • Maggie Qld

    The more questions answered and more logic applied then the more questions are then raised.
    Did Gillard not fill in the name of AWU Workplace Reform Association application form for the Commissioner leaving Blewitt or wilson to comple the details?

  • http://twitter.com/0rwellian Harry Tuttle

    Politics is a dirty game but we still must hold our elected officials to high standards. What has happened in the last few years is an utter degradation of our our laws & democracy under this vile & corrupt PM & the government she leads. It will not be enough that Julia Gillard is banished from politics & Labor cast into the wilderness. Only a Royal Commission seeing that justice is properly served will suffice.

  • Colin

    I’d love to hear your thoughts are on this article, Anthony:


    I’ve read it a few times now – it annoys me more every time I read it.

    It just seems like a very glib and superficial analysis of a story that crosses so many more ethical lines than the ones described in this article.