JULIA Gillard lashed out at ”misogynists and the nutjobs on the internet” and ”false and defamatory” reports in the Murdoch press as she delivered a 50-minute blow-by-blow rebuttal of allegations that she behaved improperly during her time as an industrial lawyer.
In a dramatic change of tactics, the Prime Minister abandoned her stonewalling on the issue after The Australian newspaper wrongly claimed she had set up a trust fund for her then boyfriend, Bruce Wilson, who was an official with the Australian Workers Union.
When she saw ”false and defamatory material attacking my character” recycled, she had decided to deal with the issues, she told a news conference yesterday.
In the 1990s, Ms Gillard, working at Slater & Gordon, gave legal advice on setting up an entity for Mr Wilson and his colleague, Ralph Blewitt. The fund was then used to siphon off money from companies, which believed they were paying for training. Ms Gillard has always denied any wrongdoing. There were also allegations that some union funds had been used on renovating her house.
Last week, a former partner in the firm, Nick Styant-Browne, said the firm had taken a very serious view of the situation and had accepted her resignation. Slater & Gordon and another former partner, Peter Gordon, have both said the firm’s 1995 inquiry into the matter had found nothing that contradicted Ms Gillard’s account.
The Prime Minister, who answered questions until journalists had no more to ask, said:
■She had ”determined to resign” from Slater & Gordon ”in circumstances where there had been growing tension and friction amongst the partnership” over several matters, including the AWU affair.
■She had advised on setting up the entity, the Workplace Reform Association, but did not sign the document for it and had no involvement in its operation.
■She had understood the entity’s purpose was to fund the re-election of a team of union officials. She preferred now not to call it a ”slush fund” – as she had in her interview during the 1995 Slater & Gordon inquiry – because that had an overtone.
■It was routine not to set up a file on the office system when free advice was given, but with hindsight it would have been better if she had.
■She had personally paid for all renovations to her Abbotsford house.
■She had ended her relationship with Mr Wilson when she
found she had been deceived, and had not been in contact with him since 1995.
Ms Gillard said the false claim about her was first made by News Ltd during the 2007 election campaign under the heading ”Con Man Broke My Heart”, and was repeated years later by Australian columnist Glenn Milne, whose ”employment was terminated”. The Australian yesterday apologised for the latest false report.
Ms Gillard said she had no plans to sue The Australian or former cartoonist Larry Pickering, who has been running a virulent internet campaign against her. Mr Pickering was operating a ”vile and sexist” website, but he was ”bankrupt or something, so you would end up with a never-ending trail – for what purpose?” she said. He could lose a dozen defamation actions and would still be ”propagandising sexist and vicious stuff about me until the end of time”.
Ms Gillard said this was not reasoned or factual but ”to do with this Americanisation of our politics, this eccentric, lunar-right, Tea Party-style interventions that we are seeing in our politics”.
Asked what her feelings towards Mr Wilson were now, Ms Gillard drew the line.
”I ended our relationship and I know that there’s some material in today’s Australian which would lead people to believe that our national newspapers are for Mills & Boon style recounts of words spoken between people who were formerly in a close relationship,” she said. ”It’s not my intention to canvass those matters.”