Unions royal commission clears Julia Gillard but questions her credibility as a witness

December 19, 2014 – 1:15PM

Matthew Knott

Communications and education correspondent

Former prime minister Julie Gillard arrives at the royal commission into trade union corruption in September.

Former prime minister Julie Gillard arrives at the royal commission into trade union corruption in September.Photo: Peter Rae

 

Former prime minister Julia Gillard did not commit a crime and was not aware of any criminality committed by union officials during her time as a lawyer for the Australian Workers Union, the trade union royal commission has found.

But Ms Gillard demonstrated a “lapse in professional judgment” in her work for the AWU and at times gave “evasive”, “excessive” and “forced” evidence to the commission.

A screen grab of Ms Gillard's appearance at the September hearing.

A screen grab of Ms Gillard’s appearance at the September hearing.

Ms Gillard’s demeanour during the commission’s hearings contained an “element of acting”, Commissioner Dyson Heydon found in his interim report released on Friday.

He also said Ms Gillard’s “intense degree of preparation, her familiarity with the materials, her acuteness [and] her powerful instinct for self-preservation” made it difficult to judge her credibility as a witness.

“Normally cross-examination of a non-expert witness is a contest between a professional expert who is familiar with every detail of the case and a relatively unwary member of the public who is not,” Mr Heydon said. “But Julia Gillard had 20 years’ knowledge of the case and immense determination to vindicate her position. She was, so to speak, a professional expert on her own case.”

While Ms Gillard was generally what judges call a “very good witness”, she demonstrated “occasional evasiveness, or non-responsiveness, or irritability”, Commissioner Heydon found.

The report recommends Victoria and Western Australia consider laying fraud charges against former officials responsible for the AWU Workplace Reform Association slush fund. The fund was allegedly used by union officials to embezzle hundreds of thousands of dollars from construction companies such as Thiess.

The fund was run by former AWU official Bruce Wilson, Ms Gillard’s former partner.

In his interim report, Commissioner Heydon finds Ms Gillard put herself in a conflicted position by helping Mr Wilson establish the association while also acting as a lawyer for the AWU.

Ms Gillard should have checked whether the association was officially sanctioned by the union’s executive, the report finds.

“Julia Gillard’s conduct in this respect must be regarded as a lapse of professional judgment, but nothing more sinister,” it says.

Mr Heydon found the AWU Workplace Reform Association’s name was false and misleading because it was not officially connected to the AWU and its primary purpose was not workplace reform. But he found that Ms Gillard was not aware of either of these facts.

But in a damaging finding for the former prime minister, Commissioner Heydon accepted the word of an 84-year-old former builder over Ms Gillard’s on the question of whether Mr Wilson had helped pay for renovations to her home in 1993.

Former builder Athol James told the commission that Ms Gillard had told him payments for the renovations were coming from Mr Wilson. Mr James also said he saw Wilson give Ms Gillard “wads of notes” to cover cheque payments for the renovations.

At a famous marathon press conference in 2012, Ms Gillard said: “I paid for the renovations on my home in St Phillip Street in Abbotsford.”

She told the commission hearings: “I paid Athol by cheque. I never said to Athol that Bruce Wilson was paying for his work and I did not obtain cash from Bruce Wilson for the work Athol James undertook.”

Commissioner Heydon accepted Mr James’ testimony over Ms Gillard’s, who had dug herself “an inflexible trench which she could not manoeuvre away from”.

“Julia Gillard was in many ways a satisfactory witness,” Commissioner Heydon found. “But the manner in which she uttered these words denying what Athol James said seemed to be excessive, forced, and asseverated.

“There was an element of acting in her demeanour. She delivered those words in a dramatic and angry way, but the delivery fell flat.

“She protested too much. She chose to fight him. It was a fight in which there could be only one winner. Unfortunately, she lost that fight. Athol James’s testimony is to be accepted over hers. He was a witness of truth. His version of events was correct.”

A final report will be released late next year.

 

Source : The Canberra Times

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