Julia Gillard Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard appears at the Royal Commissioninto union corruption. Photo: Peter Rae
Julia Gillard’s conduct as a lawyer was “questionable” and evidence in the Royal Commission into unions “supports a finding” that she received money from her allegedly corrupt former boyfriend Bruce Wilson, counsel assisting the inquiry has said.
Counsel Assisting, Jeremy Stoljar, in an overview of submissions to the inquiry, recommends Mr Wilson and his sidekick, Ralph Blewitt, should be charged for a “sham” slush fund they ran in the 1990s that’s “sole purpose” was to “receive money fraudulently” from builder Thiess.
Ms Gillard, the former prime minister, should not be charged for her role in providing legal advice in setting up the slush fund, Mr Stoljar said.
In a wide ranging statement Mr Stoljar recommends charges should be considered by Police against a range of senior past and present union officials including CFMEU Victoria secretary John Setka for blackmail for his role in an alleged “black ban” of concrete company Boral.
The recommendation will put pressure on state opposition leader Daniel Andrews who the Napthine government has repeatedly attacked for his Labor factional links to the CFMEU and Mr Setka.The conduct of upper house MP Cesar Melhem, for his role in running a union slush fund, received adverse mentions as well.
Mr Stoljar also recommended charges be considered against one time union whistleblower Kathy Jackson for her role in submitting a “false claim” to the Peter MacCallum cancer hospital. As part of a deal to settle a back-pay dispute at the hospital, Ms Jackson’s HSU No. 3 branch received $250,000 from Peter MacCallum and it was then used as seed money for a bank account personally controlled by her.
Other possible charges against Ms Jackson were not considered due to civil action already underway against her. That could be revisited at a later date.
Charges were also recommended against current HSU Victoria No 1 secretary Diana Asmar “and others” for her role in allegedly directing a scam whereby union organisers did not sit their own right of entry tests.
But much attention will focus on Mr Stoljar’s comments about Ms Gillard, who was dogged by critics for years for her role in the AWU affair. In a lengthy and assured appearance before the Royal Commission in September, Ms Gillard was widely regarded to have finally put to bed the claims against her.
Mr Stoljar said while Ms Gillard did not commit any crime and was not aware of the criminality of Mr Blewitt and Mr Wilson “some aspects of her professional conduct as a solicitor appear questionable”. He said if she had a more “rigorous approach” to her task “it might have been more difficult for Mr Wilson and Mr Blewitt to have behaved as they did.”
Mr Stoljar also said the evidence before the inquiry “supports a finding” she benefited “or recipient of certain funds from Mr Wilson”. Three witnesses, including the allegedly corrupt Mr Blewitt, testified that Ms Gillard had received cash from Mr Wilson as part of renovations of her Abbotsford home.
Ms Gillard, before the inquiry in September, denied receiving money from the fund for renovations on her home in the early 1990s but said she could have done some things differently. “None of us get to go in a time machine and go backwards,” Ms Gillard said. “Obviously, if one got to do the whole thing again, you would do things differently, given what I know now that I did not know at the time.”
Ms Gillard told the inquiry she had been through her records forensically and was confident she had paid for her renovations in full.
Most of the other attention from Mr Stoljar’s statement will be on the CFMEU with charges recommended against its most senior leaders in Victoria and NSW.
The submission calls for Mr Setka, the Victorian secretary, to be charged for leading a “criminal conspiracy” to blackmail Boral into not supplying construction giant Grocon and freezing Boral out of almost all high-rise work in Melbourne’s CBD.
Boral did not agree to stop supplying Grocon, and several of Boral’s biggest long-term customers continue to be unwilling to order its concrete for use on union sites.
“We are at war with Grocon, and in a war, you cut the supply line,” Mr Setka is alleged to have said in a meeting with Boral.
Mr Stoljar said court injunctions to lift the ban were met with “utter disregard” by the union, and Boral’s customers seemed to consider Supreme Court orders as less significant than ceding to the demands of the CFMEU.
“The exchange reveals the lawlessness – and the power – of the CFMEU in Victoria,” Mr Stoljar said.
“Mr Setka committed the offence of blackmail … it is submitted that the Commissioner should recommend that the relevant authorities in Victoria consider whether Mr Setka ought be charged and prosecuted.”
CFMEU national construction secretary Dave Noonan said this was just the “point of view of one person, a highly paid commercial lawyer from Sydney”.
“It is not in any sense a finding and of course coming to this view he has not been bound by the rules of evidence,” he said. “This is a draft submission … this is at least five steps away from the Commission even making a finding on these matters.”
The submission also calls for perjury charges to be laid against the union’s NSW secretary, Brian Parker, for allegedly lying during sworn evidence about the leaked private details of hundreds of Cbus members. Charges were also recommended for perjury against two senior Cbus employees, one of whom has already been sacked.
The royal commission has previously heard damning recordings, testimony and sworn witness statements implicating the CFMEU in allegations of standover tactics, coercion and threats on Melbourne worksites.
Mr Stoljar’s submission was tabled as the Victorian and federal governments announced a joint police taskforce to probe criminal behaviour in the building industry and its main union. Mr Noonan called for an investigation into the timing of Friday morning’s announcement, saying it was “absolutely incredible” that the Police Commissioner would only learn his police force would be used this way the night before it was announced.