Brad Norrington, journalist at the Australian, filed this report following Wilson’s appearance:
JULIA Gillard’s former boyfriend has admitted to extracting many thousands of dollars from the Thiess construction company when he was a senior union official for training services that were never provided.
Bruce Wilson told the royal commission into union corruption today that he arranged invoices to be sent to Thiess for almost a year in the early 1990s in exchange for no services.
The company responded by sending regular cheques to a union “slush fund” called the AWU Workplace Reform Assocation that he had set up with legal advice from the future Labor prime minister.
Counsel assisting the royal commission, Jeremy Stoljar SC, has alleged that Mr Wilson committed a fraud as a senior official of the Australian Workers’ Union and should face criminal charges over the slush fund – along with his former union sidekick Ralph Blewitt.
Ms Gillard, who was a salaried partner of the legal firm Slater & Gordon at the time, has denied any wrong doing in relation to her legal advice to assist in setting up what she later agreed was a union “slush fund”.
She has also denied being a beneficiary of Mr Wilson’s fund, saying she paid for renovations on her house in Melbourne in 1993 and money for this work did not come from Mr Wilson and the slush fund as it has been alleged.
Mr Stoljar today accused Mr Wilson of setting up the AWU Workplace Reform Association “deliberately and knowingly” as a “device” to obtain funds from Thiess for a secret fund he concealed from others in the union.
While Mr Wilson conceded that Thiess paid money to the fund for almost a year in return for no services and that “in part” he did conceal its existence from others at the AWU, he denied invoices sent to the company were false.
Mr Wilson claimed the company sent regular cheques to a Perth post box from January 1992 until late that year as agreed in return for no services because it did not have training facilities ready.
Challenged by Mr Stoljar that no training was ever provided to Thiess, Mr Wilson disagreed, claiming that an AWU official Glen Ivory, who died in 2004, was employed by the association as a training officer at the Thiess Dawesville Channel project near Perth from January 1993 until at least late that year when training facilities were available. The pay rate was allegedly $36 an hour, including expenses.
Mr Stoljar produced a sworn statement by Mr Ivory to police in 1997 in which the late former AWU official said he and the union’s executive were never made aware of the Workplace Reform Association, and he never worked for it as a training officer. Mr Ivory also said he had not known money was paid to the fund by Melbourne Water, as well as Thiess.
Mr Wilson claimed Mr Ivory’s statement was a lie. He also claimed today that other key witnesses had lied to the commission, including his former self-confessed union bagman Ralph Blewitt, who helped Mr Wilson set up the slush fund and now claims that both men misappropriated funds.
Mr Wilson claimed today that a Melbourne builder, Athol James, lied earlier this week when he said in the commission under oath that Ms Gillard had told him in 1993 that Mr Wilson was paying for her home renovations in Melbourne suburb Abbotsford.
Other lies, according to Mr Wilson, were contained in parts of a statement from Ian Cambridge, a member of the Fair Work Commission and former AWU official who tried to get a full investigation into the slush fund affair in the mid-1990s.
Mr Wilson admitted he was the “driving force” behind the fund but tried to pin the blame for irregularities on Mr Blewitt. He claimed he operated the fund within its broad rules, separate to the AWU, to promote and encourage work reform for union members in the construction industry, which he drafted with legal assistance from Ms Gillard.
He claimed he asked Mr Blewitt to withdraw $15,000 from the fund in September 1993 to cover training services that he alleged Mr Ivory had provided to Thiess – but he later found out that Mr Blewitt had withdrawn $50,000.
Mr Wilson said he had an angry confrontation with Mr Blewitt about the matter in 1994 and even “threw him against a wall” – but he did not go to police. He confirmed that – despite this confrontation – he also signed at least six blank cheques for Mr Blewitt to use when Mr Wilson was away from Perth, and opened another bank account with Mr Blewitt in February 1995.
Mr Wilson confirmed that money from the slush fund was used to partly fund the purchase of a house in Melbourne suburb Fitzroy in 1993, and that he had a power of attorney document arranged by Ms Gillard so he could bid for the property at an auction on Mr Blewitt’s behalf.
Mr Wilson said funding for the Fitzroy house came from the slush fund, but the house was bought in Mr Blewitt’s name “in part” to keep activities of the AWU Workplace Relations Association concealed from others in the AWU.
At this time in 1993 Mr Wilson moved to Melbourne to become acting secretary of the AWU’s Victorian branch, and he lived in the Fitzroy house while Ms Gillard was his girlfriend.
He confirmed to the commission that during this time he was providing financially for his wife and young children who remained in Perth. His only other source of cash was the fund he set up.
Mr Wilson claimed the Fitzroy house was used as an office, with $8000 in cash handed to him by Mr Blewitt from the fund to buy a computer, printer, fax machine, whiteboard and answering machine.
The former AWU leader, who split with Ms Gillard in 1995 around the time that her role in providing legal advice was investigated by Slater & Gordon, is now a cook on the NSW north coast.
Mr Wilson denied a claim by Mr Blewitt last month that he handed $50,000 from the fund to Mr Wilson at one point and that Mr Wilson said was these funds were to go to AWU Queensland secretary and national president Bill Ludwig.
According to Mr Wilson, Mr Ludwig did suggest in late 1993 that he might provide $10,000 to help the Labor Party with federal election funding, but Mr Ludwig dropped the issue and no money was paid.
He admitted sending $8000 to union shop stewards in Port Headland, and keeping no records of this payment, but he denied a claim by Mr Blewitt that he arranged a $5000 payment to then Transport Workers Union official Jim McGiveron.
Mr Stoljar accused Mr Wilson today of setting up the Workplace Reform Association with no members, contrary to the rules drafted with legal assistance from Ms Gillard requiring at least five.
Mr Wilson disagreed, saying Mr Ivory and another dead former AWU official, Jim Collins, were signed up as members after the fund was incorporated. Other members, he claimed, were AWU officials from Melbourne Mark Barnes and Bill “the Greek” Telikostoglou, who now lives in Athens. Mr Wilson said he automatically counted himself and Mr Blewitt as members because they were the fund’s secretary and treasurer respectively.
Questioned about difficulty in setting up the fund, Mr Wilson said Ms Gillard travelled from Melbourne to Perth at one point in May 1992 when the Corporate Affairs Commissioner of Western Australia questioned aspects about the association’s application for incorporation.
Mr Wilson said he believed the difficulty related to whether or not the association “could be construed as a trade union”.
Earlier today, royal commissioner Dyson Heydon dismissed as a “sideshow” the allegations by Mr Wilson – as aired this week by ABC Melbourne radio broadcaster Jon Faine – that a lawyer who has closely followed the scandal, Harry Nowicki, might have offered payment to Mr Wilson to fabricate evidence and discredit Ms Gillard.
Mr Nowicki dismissed the allegation this week, saying any discussion of an financial offer to Mr Wilson related only to the possibility that public relations entrepreneur Max Markson could arrange a fee for telling his personal story to a TV program such as 60 Minutes. No arrangement was made.
Mr Heydon, a former High Court judge, dismissed an attempt by Mr Wilson’s legal counsel, Dr Kristine Hanscombe, to challenge earlier evidence from Mr Blewitt on the basis that Mr Nowicki had helped draft three statements he made to Victoria Police about the slush fund scandal.