‘Tape recorder in bra “entrapped” union man,’ teases the headline. My partner, Peter, and I sit up in bed sipping über-strong coffee, served in beautiful china. We are looking over various articles spread out on the sheets discussing where I hid my recording device as I taped a conversation with a certain union official. Peter leans over and speaks into my décolletage: ‘Testing one two three, testing one two three.’ A Federal Court Judge expressed concerns and wanted to know if I thought I was in a James Bond movie after I admitted using a concealed recorder to tape an AMWU organiser. Peter expresses concerns about the whereabouts of the bra and wants to know if he can sell it on eBay. (‘It’s in the wash,’ I reply, ‘along with your stinking socks.’) Numerous calls and witty texts come in from my mates. Hedley Thomas from the Australian rings up. ‘Grace!’ he bellows, eager to share his renowned word skills with me: ‘You’re a human booby trap!’ ‘Oh Hedley,’ I sigh, ‘it’s all a storm in a D cup.’
Hedley and I have both written about the ‘AWU scandal’. Some weeks ago I sent the following question to the PM’s office after speaking with the police: ‘I am asserting that the PM is a subject of a police enquiry. I believe the investigation was initiated in response to an allegation made against the PM, specifically that she created a false document … I am wanting to know whether the PM is aware the investigation is into whether this allegation is correct and if so whether she intends to comply. By comply I mean respond to any police requests for interview that may be made.’ And the PM’s response: ‘The investigation into this matter has been known for some time. As the Prime Minister has repeatedly made clear, she was not involved in any wrongdoing. The investigation is a matter for the police.’
The Prime Minister hasn’t denied my assertion that she is a subject of a police enquiry, nor have the Victorian Police corrected it. It strikes me as ironic that a Prime Minister whose primary impairment is a lack of trust from the electorate may soon be interviewed by the Fraud Squad over her role in a major crime.
It’s 5 a.m. and I’m frantically hunting around the house for a pair of thick long socks to go with my shoes. My work attire for construction sites — heavy safety boots — tends to peel the skin from my ankles and toes. My partner finally offers up a pair of his hiking socks. I give them a suspicious sniff.
At the Werribee construction site, where dozens of unemployed local tradesmen are angrily trying to force my client to sack four Filipino workers on 457 visas, a young female policewoman asks me what ‘the go’ is. ‘These men are not employees, this is not a picket, it is an illegal blockade, a trespass and you will need to remove them,’ I tell her. The idea that police might enforce the rule of law seems to be a shock. She takes two steps back and glares at me. (Damn — if only I had my Hidden Bra Camera on!) I don’t waste my time any further. ‘Who is your boss and how far away is he?’
The next morning the police call and say they are pulling away from the blockade as they don’t feel it is safe. Peter leaps out of bed and forbids me from going there. Uber-strong coffee and fine china go flying. Astonished, I bolt for the door. He shouts after me that this is never to happen again.
On a Saturday morning, we have to use a helicopter to get the crew to work. If you can’t go through a barrier, fly over it. Now we really are in a James Bond movie — I just hope it isn’t Skyfall! The thumping of the rotors is like the pounding of native drums. The protesters jump up and down and shake their fists at the sky.
Channel Ten accept our invitation to fly in the helicopter with workers on the Monday beginning the second week of the dispute. An email from Sky comes in; I’m offered a permanent spot on Sunday night’s Paul Murray Live. Channel Nine rings on Monday morning to ask if they can have a turn in the chopper too, followed by Channel Seven. Numerous reporters on the ground ring me wanting to get into the site to interview workers. It’s like a party everyone is desperate to get into.
I was being interviewed by Alan Jones on 2GB when I first got word of the industrial blockade. We were discussing an article I had written in the AFR about ‘slushgate’ and the relevance of a current police investigation taking place in Queensland and New South Wales. As I explained to the extremely charming Mr Jones, the Victorian Police investigation is not into the AWU; police investigate people, not organisations — and this investigation began in response to an allegation made against the Prime Minister. I point out that depending on what the police discover the matter will either fizzle out or become the greatest story of the year. And that was when the text from my client arrived saying: ‘We have a picket at Werribee.’ Jones regarded me with an expression of kindly concern. ‘What is a nice lady like you doing in a game like this?’ I’m sure he was thinking to himself.
The blockade has ended. It has taken 12 days to clear 20 trespassers. I ring our client to pass on the good news. The phone rings again. It’s another client, and he has a written demand for $100,000 from a lady he declined to employ. He has 48 hours to pay before she launches a discrimination case in the Federal Court. I note the lady claims to have secretly recorded evidence. I try to suppress a smile and fail.
Grace Collier is a columnist with the Australian Financial Review and managing director of Australian Dismissal Services.