A year of political mud-slinging and hyperbole

Australia is one of the most prosperous and best-governed nations on earth.  Our politicians, at least at national level, are mostly competent, honest and hard-working.

And yet our mainstream media conveys an almost opposite impression, and the blogosphere and twitterverse project an even more extreme vision of universal incompetent, corrupt political venality and double-dealing.

Personal smears and attack campaign strategies have long been a staple of politics both here and overseas, basically because they work.  People love hearing and retelling malicious stories about others, especially the wealthy and powerful.  However, over the last couple of years Australia has experienced a perfect storm of factors conducive to political smear tactics: a hung parliament with an Opposition leader determined to blast his way into an early power takeover by adopting Richo’s “whatever it takes” approach; a disgruntled former Labor leader convinced he’s been unfairly deposed and equally willing to do whatever it takes to get revenge and conceivably even re-take his stolen crown; and a mainstream media experiencing relentlessly declining income and therefore increasingly desperate to attract eyeballs  through tabloid sensationalism. The combination has resulted in a toxic political environment not seen since the last days of the Whitlam government.

However, at least from my personal and unusually non-partisan perspective, the remarkable thing about the assorted smear campaigns from both sides is that, with a couple of exceptions, they are either confected or trivial. This post is aimed at demonstrating that proposition in relation to each of the major smear stories of 2012.  I’ll take them in chronological order:

Abbott and punching walls

The earliest smear currently being purveyed by partisans is the claim retailed by journalist David Marr that  in 1977, when Abbott was defeated for presidency of the University of Sydney Student Representative Council by student left opponent Barbara Ramjan, he approached to within an inch of her nose and then punched both sides of the wall beside her in an act of intimidation.

Whether this actually occurred I have no idea.  However, quite apart from the fact that it was 35 years ago when Abbott was 19 years old, if police had been called at the time he would almost certainly have received no more than a sergeant’s caution.  Moreover, student politics at the time was quite extreme, with left and right-leaning baby politicians vying with extreme aggression for control of the Sydney Uni SRC and the national Australian Union of Students.  Abbott’s alleged behaviour is fairly mild in the context of those times. Only an utterly one-eyed partisan could regard such an event as relevant to contemporary politics.

Gillard and the AWU

By contrast, the Coalition’s attempts to smear Julia Gillard by association with apparent significant defalcations of Australian Workers Union funds in the early 1990s by her former boyfriend Bruce Wilson have achieved a much higher profile and public awareness than David Marr’s allegation against Abbott. Yet there is no evidence whatever that she knew of the alleged fraud or was complicit in it, and indeed any suggestion that she did is patently absurd.  The claims against Gillard are much more limited in scope: that she deliberately misled WA corporate affairs officials about the re-election “slush fund” objects of the creatively titled AWU Workplace Reform Association; falsely witnessed a power of attorney signed by Wilson’s former henchman Ralph Blewitt in relation to the purchase of a Brunswick house; and undertook legal work on these matters in an irregular way potentially involving conflicts of interest, conduct which ultimately led to her leaving Slater & Gordon “under a cloud”.

Former head of Western Australia’s anti-corruption watchdog Terry O’Connor QC has opined that Gillard has a case to answer in relation to the incorporation of the slush fund body, a view I also expressed here at Troppo some months ago. However O’Connor also noted that “it was very unlikely any charges would be laid given the elapsed time”.  In addition, it appears that all files relating to incorporation of the association have disappeared (not necessarily sinister given how long ago it was), and any case would be heavily dependent on the evidence of self-confessed fraudster Blewitt.  Moreover, Gillard’s private 1995 admission to Slater & Gordon partners that the association was a “slush fund” would be unlikely to be admissible in any proceedings against her, and does not in any event prove that she knew this in 1992 when incorporation took place.  Even if these events had come to light at the time it is unlikely Gillard would have been charged. It certainly suggests poor judgment and a somewhat lax approach to her professional duties, but we’re talking about events that occurred almost 20 years ago here, and not many of us could honestly claim never to have been guilty of occasional poor judgment in our past, both professionally and personally.

The same goes, though even more so, for Blewitt’s claim that Gillard did not personally witness a power of attorney he signed in relation to the Brunswick house purchase. Gillard has specifically denied the claim and Blewitt is among the least credible witnesses one could imagine.

Finally, in relation to conflicts of interest at Slater & Gordon, it appears that (contrary to my own previous assumption) Gillard did not in fact conduct the conveyancing matter for the Brunswick house purchase.  It was actually undertaken by a conveyancing clerk nominally under the control of disgruntled former S & G partner Nick Styant-Browne.  Gillard’s judgment in taking on the matter in the first place was certainly poor, as apparently were S & G’s then internal processes for detecting and avoiding conflicts of interest. But none of that can sensibly be regarded as relevant to contemporary politics, nor does it reflect on Julia Gillard’s integrity (which is of course the Coalition’s objective in engaging in all this muck-raking).

Abbott and the Pauline Hanson “slush fund”

Essentially as retaliation for the Coalition’s pushing of the AWU slush fund affair, Labor acolytes including former journalist Margo Kingston have recently been enthusiastically pushing a story from 1998 about Tony Abbott’s creation of the “Australians for Honest Politics Trust”.  It was intended to combat Pauline Hanson’s One Nation which then seemed to pose a mortal threat to the Coalition.

The gist of Kingston’s claims is that Abbott wrongfully failed to disclose donors to the “slush fund” as required under Australian electoral laws and misled the AEC about various related questions.  She also appears to suggest that the AEC acted wrongfully, perhaps under pressure from the Coalition government of the time.

However, given that the AEC apparently did not regard the matter as sufficiently serious to be worthy of investigation, that it still seems uninterested in pursuing it, and that all this happened long ago, it is hardly the investigative news story of the decade. In fact, given that Hanson’s One Nation was a repellent blot on Australia’s political landscape, and that it could conceivably have posed a threat not only to the Coalition but to the broader political culture, many (including me) are quite thankful that Abbott was able to take resolute steps to stop One Nation in its tracks.  Imagine if it had gained the sort of traction and prominence in conservative politics that the GOP Tea Party has achieved in the US.  Seems fanciful now but it didn’t at the time.

Craig Thomson and the HSU

I wrote about the Thomson/HSU affair earlier this year. Thomson apparently remains the subject of police investigations but no charges have yet been laid. Fair Work Australia has commenced civil proceedings against Thomson, but quite a few of the points of claim look likely to be struck out under time limitation provisions. It seems unlikely that the civil matter will reach any decisive point before the 2013 election, and even more unlikely that any criminal charges would be resolved by then. Indeed there’s a fair chance that criminal charges may never be laid.  Nevertheless, right-leaning bloggers portray Thomson as a major fraudster who is symptomatic of a much wider union movement malaise, and who has survived to date only through expedient Gillard government nobbling of the regulator FWA. By contrast, left-leaning bloggers like Peter Wicks see self-styled HSU “whistleblower”  Kathy Jackson as the real villain of the piece and a corrupt Coalition sellout arch-manipulator. Both perspectives look seriously hyperbolic to me.

In a wider sense, however, this scandal is the exception that proves the rule. Unlike the other scandals discussed here, it can’t sensibly be regarded as mere trivial partisan muck-raking.  The cumulative evidence of the alleged misdeeds of Craig Thomson, Michael Williamson and Kathy Jackson and her henchmen indicate a very serious problem in the Health Services Union at least, if not the broader governance of the trade union movement. Unless addressed seriously and urgently, these events may provide a plausible pretext for an Abbott government to impose draconian industrial law “reforms” that could seriously undermine trade unions’ vital capacity to effectively represent their members.

Ashby v Slipper

I’ve also written about this smear saga here at Troppo, arguing not only that Ashby’s sexual harassment claims look trivial if not completely confected, but also that his lawyer Michael Harmer’s manipulation of the legal process should be viewed seriously.

However, the ALP and left-leaning bloggers are desperately keen to pin responsibility on assorted Coalition politicians, especially Mal Brough, for what Federal Court Justice Stephen Rares found was a significant abuse of process.  The problem with that quest, from both a political and legal perspective, is that it isn’t actually wrongful for politicians to set out to blacken the names of political opponents, as long as they don’t use unlawful means to do so.  As the High Court explained in Roberts v Bass ((Gaudron, McHugh and Gummow JJ at [107] ~ KP)):

Publishing material with the intention of injuring a candidate’s political reputation and causing him or her to lose office is central to the electoral and democratic process. There is nothing improper about publishing relevant material with such a motive as long as the defendant is using the occasion to express his or her views about a candidate for election. That purpose is not foreign to the occasion that gives qualified privilege to such publications. The Constitution’s protection of freedom of communication on political and governmental matters would be of little effect if an elector was liable in damages because he or she had the motive of injuring the political reputation of a candidate for election to the legislature. The imputations made against  Bass  concerned the performance of his duties as a parliamentarian. The publications were aimed at lowering his reputation as a politician and parliamentarian. They were not directed to matters foreign to his political or parliamentary reputation.

Their Honours were discussing the rather narrow relevance of the concept of malice in defeating a defence of qualified privilege in a defamation matter concerning political subjects. The allegations pleaded against Peter Slipper, including those concerning alleged Cabcharge irregularities and 2003 sexual indiscretions with a staffer, were relevant in this wide sense. Somewhat ironically, it might well be that all of the matters pleaded against Slipper in Ashby’s abusive originating application could actually have been safely published under qualified privilege without any need for the protection of the absolute privilege that applies to court documents.

On the other hand, the Cabcharge and 2003 allegations were clearly irrelevant and scandalous for civil procedure pleading purposes in Ashby’s sexual harassment case.  However, although Rares J found that Mal Brough was a party to a “combination” (along with Ashby and his fellow employee Slipper staffer Karen Doane) designed to damage/destroy Slipper politically, His Honour did not make any finding that Brough himself had any knowledge that the matters ultimately found to be an abuse of process would be pleaded (as opposed to knowing in general terms that proceedings which would damage Slipper were to be commenced, and in various respects facilitating them).  Moreover, there was not even any evidence that could have led to a finding that Brough had any such specific knowledge, and commonsense suggests he almost certainly did not.

In those circumstances, it is quite unlikely in my view that either criminal or civil conspiracy could ever be sustained against Brough, let alone against the various other Coalition politicians who clearly knew in advance that some such proceedings were in the wind:

The tort of conspiracy is committed where two or more defendants combine to do an unlawful act or to do a lawful act by unlawful means, thereby effecting some economic loss on the plaintiff.((Lonrho Ltd v Shell Petroleum Co Ltd (No 2) [1982] AC 173 at 188. ~ KP))

Commencing sexual harassment proceedings is certainly not an unlawful act, but the result of Rares J’s decision is that unlawful means were certainly employed in doing so.  However, in the absence of any evidence or findings that Brough or any other Coalition politician had any knowledge that unlawful means would be employed, the likelihood that a conspiracy case could be sustained against him is very low.

No doubt that is one reason why the Gillard government appears to have decided not to launch a judicial inquiry into the affair,((along with the fact that such an inquiry would prolong public focus on the extraordinarily unwise Gillard decision to appoint Slipper as Speaker in the first place. ~ KP)) instead contenting itself with allowing an obscure backbencher to lodge a police complaint which will inevitably go nowhere.  In the left-leaning portions of the fevered twitterverse it’s all a massive scandal that is being scandalously ignored by a biased mainstream media.

In the real world, partially engaged voters bemoan the mud-slinging of politicians but pay rapt attention to the juicier aspects of it.  However, one suspects they also accept the commonsense if depressing reality of the High Court’s observation that ” [p]ublishing material with the intention of injuring a candidate’s political reputation and causing him or her to lose office is central to the electoral and democratic process”.




About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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44 Responses to A year of political mud-slinging and hyperbole

  1. Alan says:

    I’d add to the ingredients in your noxious brew a prime minister who is not herself entirely innocent of superheated rhetoric against both Rudd and Abbott. I’d also mention the surprising number of sock puppets actually claiming that Ashby v Slipper amounts to an act of treason because it was an attempt to change the government of Australia.

    • Marks says:

      “Noxious brew”?

      And here I was thinking that Ken’s whole point was that most of this was all trivial and confected.

      When we observe the governance problems of the USA, presently demonstrated by the game of “fiscal cliff chicken”, Most of the stuff that partisans of the left and right huff and puff about in Australia is not worth a millisecond of our time. If these are the issues that journalists think are going to keep us buying newspapers, no wonder they are going broke.

      • Alan says:

        There is a tendency to assume that both our leaders use superheated rhetoric because they are naughty individuals. Rather I think they are both fairly innocent of any strong policy preferences so they need something to open up a gap between themselves.

        • Ken Parish says:

          It may well be that Gillard is “fairly innocent of any strong policy preferences” but I don’t think you can quite say the same of Abbott. I quite lke David Marr’s hypothesis that he’s a split personality – on the one hand Tony the passionate Catholic DLP social warrior with very strong policy preferences, and Abbott the ruthlessly pragmatic politician whose sole focus is on gaining and retaining power. Marr suggests that the latter always prevails. My fear is that the Catholic warrior will in fact emerge and begin prevailing when the Coalition wins government, and that more liberal forces in the Liberal Party may lack the guts and numbers to restrain him.

    • Ken Parish says:


      I wasn’t meaning to suggest that KRudd bears sole responsibility for the environment in which baseless character assassination has thrived. Clearly Gillard was more involved in the plotting that led to Rudd’s overthrow than she has admitted.

      Even more clearly she approved/orchestrated the carpet-bombing of Rudd’s character earlier this year in a bid to foreclose any possibility of another leadership challenge. That may yet prove the final fatal error for Labor, if polling results under Gillard don’t improve sustainably fairly early in the New Year. Reinstating Rudd as PM would still get Labor a significant immediate jump in the polls, but only until Coalition attack campaigning took hold, fuelled by the messages Swan, Crean and others have provided them.

      • Alan says:


        I pretty much agree. Abbott is a sort of whisky priest who thinks he knows what he should be doing but can’t quite bring himself to do it. In government he was quite moderate on issues like WorkChoices and nutty on the Catholic right’s obsession with the pelvic zone.

        I’d still ague that swinging unpredictably between Richo and Santamaria cannot really be described as a strong set of policy preferences and that precisely Abbot’s uncertainty about policy is why his rhetoric is invariably as stratospheric as Gillard’s.

  2. jennifer says:

    Why won’t the greatness of Australia sell news? The cringe is with us yet.

  3. mary jenkins says:

    This last year has been an attack on Gillard to discredit her and cause an election. End of story. It is treason to undermine a government who have managed despite all the rhetoric to get through a great deal of legislation that has improved the living for many lower end people. The installation and school funding has benefited many people yet the opposition saw no positives in these stimulation moves that helped the nation overcome a very difficult ecomomic period. The solar energy policy should have continued but the power industry realised they were threatened by a move to solar and alternatives so the Govt caved in. A great pity for this would have showed the world that Australia was making an effort to overcome their high polution and energy use. Only the well heeled benefited from the solar concessions the rest of us now have to pay more to enable the power companies to pay out to those who sell back their solar power to the grid. Martin Ferguson has a lot to answer for and the future will blame him as energy and resources minister of great blunder.

    • Marks says:

      “Treason”? Or just plain politics as usual, and of the more than usually inept kind?

      When I have a choice between conspiracy and incompetence, I go for the latter every time.

      It seems to me that what we are seeing is an introduction of student politics into what should be the adult forum of Parliament. It is as if our MPs have regressed into some form of infantility. This regression has been aided and abetted by what amounts to an incompetent press gallery.

      I am not so much concerned about the bias exhibited by the media – that has always existed. I am more concerned about the fact that the media are also incompetent and therefore dragging down the level of debate to the trivial, and completely taking away any focus on real policy. I mean, in the hundreds of bills passed by the Government, there must surely have been some real shockers. It would hardly be humanly possible for a government of any political colour to pass that many bills without getting something fundamentally wrong, but where is the debate on any of this?

      No wonder “The Australian” is being renamed “The Sorbent”, and its circulation has plummetted. Perhaps we should also rename sittings of Parliament as “Trivial Pursuit”?

      • Alan says:

        Defining a political campaign against the government of the day as treason is fascism, pure and simple. I doubt even the most enthusiastic advocate of Godwin’s Law could disagree.

    • Ken Parish says:

      Hi Mary

      The focus of this post was the culture of extreme but confected personal smear tactics that have dominated media coverage of politics over the last year or so especially. I intend also writing a post in the near future reviewing the Gillard government’s performance on policy implementation, which I agree has been fairly impressive, especially given minority government and the constraints involved in a post-GFC economic environment.

      However I also agree with Marks and Alan that labelling disagreement with the government of the day as “treason” is at the very least extremely overheated rhetoric. Active debate on policy and performance is what democracy is all about. Only in a dictatorship is it regarded as treason.

      I think the real problem in Australia’s current political environment is the one Marks identifies. The political media is essentially incompetent or unwilling to analyse and critique policy and performance in any meaningful way. All we get is superficial “footie game” commentary about the current tabloid story occupying the 24 hour media cycle. That leads in turn to a form of contestation between the politicians which is inherently vacuous and fails to engage with policy and performance in any serious way. It isn’t treason, just a mass abrogation of responsibility for adult discourse.

      • john r walker says:

        My journalist acquaintances all speak of a workplace (both faixfax and news) that has lost so many staff that those left are in the position of having to do three or even four things at once – often involving stories that are not really in their area of expertise. They also speak of bean-counters more and more directing what stories will be covered.

        Re ‘marketing’ i.e brand differentiation replacing policy , that is what really gives me the merdes.

      • Marks says:

        Perhaps to develop the ‘incompetence’ theme, I would suggest that there are two areas of incompetence at work here. The first is organisational incompetence, where competent people are unable to function competently because of organisational factors. The second is personal incompetence.

        If we look at some of the things that have happened over the year, we can see both of these areas intertwining. For example, the famous “Rudd challenge” was an example of “Parturient montes, nascetur ridiculus mus” (The mountains will go into labour and give birth to a ridiculous mouse – Horace). This was a story that went on for months and had senior press gallery heads nodding sagely – and yet when the vote came, it was not even close.

        The fact that the journalists involved got it wrong was an example of personal incompetence imho. However, because it was something that enabled them to meet deadlines and fill column inches, there was an organisational factor that encouraged the pursuit of a story that, in the end, turned out to be a non-event. Time will tell how many other stories of the past twelve months are “…a
        tale. Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing…”
        (My emboldment, appologies to W Shakespeare).

        If, as I suspect, the Thomson saga, the carbon tax will doom us all saga, and the Slipper saga, all dwindle to nothing in the same way, I wonder how our media will retain any shred of credibility.

      • mary jenkins says:

        Editorial complaint to the WEST Australian: The WEST is totally partisan.
        Your editorial on 31st was full misinformation and very subjective.
        Your aim to promote Troy Buswell as a successful minister of housing, transport and treasurer failed the reality test on the present situation in WA today.
        There is less available public housing and more homeless in WA today since he became minister for housing.
        The roads and rail are in chaos and gridlock time costs have not been accessed to WA business. The Barnett’s transport plan for improvements in 2031 is unrealistic taking the present state of the transport system in Perth today. Trucks have taken over our poorly maintained roads, all this increases public stress and health problems.
        Another mistake failed to identify Adel Carles as an independent.
        As treasurer huge finances are made available to building the premier’s monuments like sports arenas and Elizabeth Quay while our education and health services are in dire need of finances.
        We are not all fooled by the WEST and their partisan reporting!.
        Mary Jenkins secretary of
        Concerned Citizens for Good Governance Inc.
        Ross Court
        Spearwood 6163.

  4. Pappinbarra Fox says:

    Ken, I cannot let your fuzzy grasp of the facts pass a second time without comment. In your October article, which you refer to again in this article and where errors remain uncorrected, you stated that the PM may be guilty of criminal offences by stating to the WA authority that a union association was not a union association. The fact is (and it seems either beyond your comprehension OR you do not want to correct your previous error – or admit to making an error in the first place) that the association was not a union association. This has been made clear. You should acknowledge your error. You made the same mistake that LOTO did and seem equally unwilling to rectify it. Shame on you.

    You state that Margot Kingston is a “labour acolyte”. I believe that you could not be further from the truth. MK, you may not know, voted for John Howard, but became disillusioned when he took the country to war on the back of US lies. I see MK as a morally upright supporter of an ethical public discourse, not to be dismissed with your glib assertions not based on fact. Shame on you.

    You state: Clearly Gillard was more involved in the plotting that led to Rudd’s overthrow than she has admitted. Another glib assumption. Let’s not mince words – you are calling the PM a liar but you only have your own assumptions, gleaned apparently from you own political experiences and not actual facts. Shame on you.

    • Ken Parish says:


      The legal issues surrounding the incorporation of the AWU Workplace Reform Association Inc have nothing to do with whether it was a “union” or “union association”. This was simply a spurious smokescreen set up by Gillard to distract attention from the real issues, which journalists at the time clearly did not understand. They were discussed in my previous post and are outlined in even greater detail in a recent article by Terry O’Connor QC, former head of Western Australia’s Anti-Corruption Commission. O’Connor’s conclusion is essentially the same as mine. As his article is behind a Murdoch paywall I am reproducing it in full below:

      THERE has been considerable recent media discussion about the 1992 incorporation of the Australian Workers Union Workplace Reform Association Inc and the involvement of Julia Gillard in its incorporation.

      In particular there has been conjecture as to whether or not Gillard has committed any offence in her role in the incorporation of the association.

      Before discussing that question, it is necessary to establish the facts. While some of the facts surrounding the incorporation are uncertain, there is sufficient on the public record to reach a view on what might be the legal position of those involved.

      In 1992 Gillard, then a salaried partner in the law firm Slater & Gordon, advised her partner, one Bruce Wilson, then an AWU official, and another official, Ralph Blewitt, on the incorporation of an association under the Associations Incorporations Act WA.

      In 1995 Gillard was interviewed by Slater & Gordon’s then senior partner Peter Gordon. It is implicit in what she said in that interview that Wilson and Blewitt, who were senior officers in the AWU, came to her seeking advice on how to deal with funds to be raised by them to pay the cost of their campaign for re-election to their branch executive.

      It would appear that her advice was to incorporate the association, which would open a bank account to hold the funds. In the interview with Gordon, she said that, “thinking behind the forming of the association (was that) it was better to have an incorporated association that was the holder of the account” to avoid disputes between officials as to who was entitled to the funds. Gillard prepared the necessary documents for the incorporation of the association.

      Section 4 of the act sets out the limited objects for which an association can be incorporated. If the purpose of the association does not meet the requirements of section 4, incorporation will be refused.

      The Corporate Affairs commissioner has a discretion to refuse incorporation in certain other circumstances. For these reasons it is important he is not misled as to the objects of any proposed association.

      Section 5 of the act requires that application for incorporation be made on the prescribed form, accompanied by the rules of the association and a certificate verifying that certain requirements of the act have been met.

      Gillard drafted the rules of the association. As drafted they set out a number of general objects for the association including things such as securing benefits for and, contributing to the safety and training of, workers. Significantly, as required by schedule 1 of the act paragraph 3(2) of the objects provides “no part of the property or income may be paid or otherwise distributed, directly or indirectly, to members”.

      In the formal application for incorporation, which was in the name of Blewitt, the main purpose of the association was described as being “development of changes to work to achieve a safe workplace”. The application also certified that the association was not formed for the purpose of providing a pecuniary benefit to members.

      Importantly, nowhere in either the rules of the association or the application for incorporation is the real purpose of the association set out, namely to raise funds to pay for officials’ re-election campaign. Indeed as noted above paragraph 3(2) of the rules expressly prohibits that.

      There has been no explanation from those involved as to why the real object or purpose of the association was not set out in the documents. In the absence of such explanation it appears that the proponents may have believed that, if the real object was disclosed the association would not have been incorporated because of subsection 4(2) of the act which prevents the incorporation of an association where the members receive a pecuniary benefit from the activities of the association. Whatever the reason for the failure to disclose the real object, the fact remains it was not disclosed, as required by the act.

      The association was duly incorporated.

      Section 170 of the Criminal Code WA provides that “any person who, being required under a written law to give information to another person, knowingly gives information to the other person, that is false in a material particular is guilty of a crime and is liable to imprisonment for three years”.

      Section 43 of the Associations Incorporations Act also makes it an offence for a person to lodge a document with the commissioner which the person knows is false or misleading in any material respect.

      In this case the rules lodged did not state the real object of the association. The application, which certified compliance with the act, falsely certified that the association was eligible for incorporation under subsection 4(1e) of the act as an association of more than five members formed for political purposes when in fact it had only two members – Blewitt and Wilson.

      Under either of these provisions Blewitt, as the person who made the application for incorporation, in my view could have been charged with knowingly giving false information to the commissioner as he was aware that the objects set out in the rules were not the real objects of the association and that the certification in the formal application was false.

      Section 7(b) of the Criminal Code provides that where an offence has been committed, a person who does or omits to do any act for the purpose of enabling or aiding another person to commit an offence, is also guilty of the same offence and is liable to the same punishment as if he or she had committed the offence. A lawyer who advises a client to do something that would constitute an offence would be caught by this provision.

      Gillard advised Blewitt on the incorporation of the association and prepared the rules of the association and, following a query from the commissioner, wrote arguing for the incorporation of the association.

      The letter has not been disclosed so it is impossible to draw any conclusions about it. Gillard has maintained that she did nothing wrong but has not explained why she says that.

      However, without some explanation from her as to what occurred, there is, in my opinion, a prima facie case that she could have been charged along with Blewitt as she drafted the rules of the association for Blewitt knowing that the rules did not disclose the purpose for which the association was being incorporated.

    • Ken Parish says:

      To make it even clearer what O’Connor and I are talking about, have a look at section 4 of the Associations Incorporation Act (WA). An association dedicated to promoting workplace health and safety (or even for general political purposes) would no doubt fall within the permitted objects in section 4(1). However the problem for Gillard, Wilson and Blewitt arises with subsection 2 which reads:

      Notwithstanding subsection (1), an association for the purpose of trading or securing pecuniary profit to the members from the transactions of the association is not eligible to be incorporated under this Act.

      Given that the ACTUAL object of the Association was to raise funds from industry for the re-election of a ticket of salaried AWU officials including Wilson and Blewitt, and that they were the only members of the Association, it’s pretty clear that the Association was NOT eligible for incorporation and that the Commissioner was misled in that regard. Funding re-election of association members to fairly generously paid salaried union positions is on any rational view a pecuniary benefit to those members.

      Gillard clearly knew in 1995 that this was the primary purpose of the Association. She said as much to S & G partners when interviewed. The thing that prevents a definitive conclusion at this point as to whether she committed an offence is that we can’t say for certain that she knew in 1992 that this was the intended purpose (although, as O’Connor argues, there’s a fairly clear inference from the S & G minutes that she did know at that time).

    • Tel says:

      The fact is (and it seems either beyond your comprehension OR you do not want to correct your previous error – or admit to making an error in the first place) that the association was not a union association. This has been made clear.

      Made clear? I would think we need to see the contents of this mysterious letter that Julia Gillard wrote to the WA Corporate Affairs Commissioner in order to clearly understand the nature of this association. Have you seen this letter? We know it exists because of the Slater & Gorden interview.

      I see MK as a morally upright supporter of an ethical public discourse…

      Great, let us have ethical public discourse. If only the missing letter was published we could achieve exactly that. It would make everything clear I’m sure.

  5. Alan says:

    What is a ‘union association’? What is the definition? Why did ‘AWU’ appear in the name of the AWU-WRA? The exchange of question and answer in the parliament was about claims the AWU-WRA was a ‘union’ not a ‘union association’.

    Why did the prime minister claim, in the S & G interview, that it is standard practice to incorporate union slush funds when (1) there appear to be no other incorporated union slush funds and (2) on dissolution the funds of an incorporated association do not get divided among the members?

    Why does the prime minister repeatedly deal with the AWU-WRA issue by press conferences without any notice to the press that they are about to ask questions on an exceedingly technical matter?

    If the prime minister was not involved in the plotting against Rudd, why did she not give a straight denial to Four Corners when they asked her about the preparation of a speech assuming the leadership 2 weeks before the Rudd overthrow?

  6. Sinclair Davidson says:

    Hi Ken

    Great piece – very sensible too.

    It is one thing to argue that Abbott took decisive steps to stop Hansonism – that’s fine but he also was involved in getting her sent to prison. That last bit does make me very uncomfortable.

  7. nottrampis says:

    Really interesting post Ken if not lengthy. I will definitely link this.

    Perhaps a couple of expurgated points.

    Marr didn’t make a big thing of the incident others did. Abbot exacerbated this by offering an answer that defied logic.
    Remember he wouldn’t even respond to Marr off the record.

    My understnding is others made the running to topple Rudd and Gillard was given it on a plate.
    It was the factional warriors behind the move. They used an internal poll that was so obviously rogue ( if you disagree read Mumble or Possum at that time) that they leaked it to one of the most innumerate commentators in the land.

    The ALP backbench swallowed this rubbish hook , line and sinker.

    Goodbye Rudd , Hello Factional overlords and party strategists soo bad even Mumble can laugh at their alleged skills. You know like leaking about Rudd and the security committee in an election campaign and believing nothing would occur.

  8. Alan says:

    My understnding is others made the running to topple Rudd and Gillard was given it on a plate.

    My understanding is that people don’t find themselves prime minister by accident, even in a party as feckless as the modern labor party. The gee whiz factor in ‘It was the tooth fairy and the factional overlords, and I knew nothing about it, despite being one myself’ is too great, even for the modern labor party.

  9. nottrampis says:

    if people wanted Rudd out then Gillard was the natural choice to replace him.

    If you are told you have the numbersbut not rognasied them then you have not been involved in the challenge!

  10. john r walker says:

    This endless runaround about Abbott , Gillards ,Rudd and moral character is tedious .

    A more real question is about policy and implementation , this government has been long on announcements and short on things that actually do what they are supposed to do. For examples after all this time how many people are actually connected to the NBN? And what will lose out to pay for the unfunded National disability scheme.
    And on the Libs side … what are their policies? For example ordering the Navy to tow un-seaworthy boats (and the people aboard) out to sea is as practically impossible as it is morally troubling , many navy types would provably resign .

    The carbon tax might be nonsense but how would they pay for the costs of actually cancelling it ?

    Taken as a whole they remind me of the hollow plastic blow-molded ‘computers’ that IKEA used to use in its displays of home office furniture.

  11. nottrampis says:


    you have no evidence.

    Every book on the matter has verified what I said.

    My guess is that she was looking to challenge but in the second term.

    The numbers to get rid of Rudd came from Factional overlords wanting the power back.

    Gillard was nowhere to be seen.

  12. Alan says:


    Gillard is herself a major factional player. The notion that a challenge could be organised without her knowledge and consent is charming, but ridiculous. ‘every book’ is persuasive, but not persuasive enough to override logic.

  13. nottrampis says:

    Alan, She is not a factional warlord. She was not losing any power. They were.

    She wasn’t involved in leaking a very dodgy internal poll to Bolt nor showing it around to equally innumerate back-benchers.

    She did not have up until this event any spectacular relationship with the NSW right.

    Your logic ,as Mr Spock would say, is illogical.

    However it is correct to say if she had not accepted the offer then things would have become interesting.
    Very few if any people ever deny such an offer though

  14. Alan says:


    I did not say Gillard is a factional warlord. I said she is a major factional player. There is a difference and I stand by that difference.

    It is, incidentally, simply untrue to say that ‘every book verifies’ your position. The McKew book, for instance, does not. Those ‘verifications’ are journos repeating what they have been told. Treating them as gospel truth is every bit as charming as believing that Gillard relied exclusively on the tooth fairy to become prime minister.

  15. Peter Warwick says:

    What I miss in the debating pit (one can hardly call it a Parliament these days) is robust debate on national development:
    – food security for 200 years (we can literally grow anything !),
    – energy security for 200 years (we need six more Snowy Mountain schemes),
    – transport development (without a single doubt rail is optimal for long heavy haul (single gauge) from Cairns to Adelaide – we are relying on rail built post WW2).
    – ultra development of our scientists

    I can think of some more (for the 200 year bit), but that will do for now.

    But all I am hearing is vitriol over someone saying SHIT 40 years ago.

    I despair.

  16. Peter Warwick says:

    notrampis et al. Can you spare us from the “I said”, You said”, “No, I did not say that, but you said that I said it” Gillard, Abbot, Rudd drivel.

    Its sounds too much like Parliament.

    I gave that up in Grade 4 at Primary School.

    And with that I am deleting this site from my bookmarks,and turning to The Global Mail for a bit of common sense.

    Bye, bye and good luck to you all.

  17. Alan says:


    It is a shame you gave up debate in primary school. Had you not done so you might appreciate that not everyone has to agree with you or analyse things in the same way as you.

    ‘A plague on both your houses’ may feel good, but it does not really do a whole lot to advance the good, the true and the beautiful. Arguably neither does my exchange with Homer, but so what?

    There is a much better solution than casting the dust of Troppo from your heels forever. Just don’t read the chunks of this thread (by no means the majority of this thread) where Homer and I get a bit fixated.

  18. nottrampis says:


    when a person challenges for leadership they have a person who proceeds to get the numbers.

    Who did it for Gillard at her instruction?

    • Alan says:


      I don’t know for certain.

      I can’t name Mitt Romney’s campaign manager off hand. My ignorance does not prove either or both of the propositions that (1) Romney had no campaign manger or (2) Romney did not run for the US presidency.

      Both McKew and McLelland tell us that Brendan O’Connor shopped the famously dodgy poll personally to McLelland, although O’Connor denies this. McKew also tells us when and where Gillard exercised her near-veto of the carbon trading scheme.

  19. nottrampis says:

    Alan the fact O’Connor did this proves my point not yours

  20. Alan says:

    If and only if you can prove that Oconnnor was not acting at Gillard’s direction. So far your proofs have been:

    (1) every book

    (2) the missing campaign manager

    (3) a slightly weird misquote from Star Trek

    The McKew book kills the every book proof. The missing campaign manager is nonsense. Leadership challengers (especially leadership challengers who claim they are not leadership challengers) do not disclose their campaign tactics until long after the event. Mr Spock would never commit the schoolboy howler of placing a category error in a formal syllogism.

  21. nottrampis says:

    Alan, who was O’Connor acting for?
    He was not the numbers man for Gillard but a minor faction player interested in getting the factions back the power they used to use.

    Are you trying to allege that Arbib was the front man for Gillard?

    If so you are in dream land.

    By the way it is you making the allegation so it is you that has to provide evidence.

    thus far it is severely lacking

  22. Alan says:


    If you’re following the first jump rule you originally made the innocent Gillard allegation which I am contesting. You jumped first, according to you it is on you to make your case. Personally I think the first jump rule is an absurdity.

    All you’re doing is repeating yourself and insisting that whatever is said supports your case unless I can prove otherwise to some unspecified but apparently very high standard. We do not even know know if you have abandoned your every book theory.

    Is it your position that Tales from the Political Trenches does not exist or that it supports your allegation?

    For the record, and as already noted, I do not know, to the Homeric standard of proof, who organised the numbers for Gillard. That happens when political actors put some effort into concealing their actions. It also means very little when it comes to deciding if Gillard made herself prime minister or the tooth fairy did the job for her.

  23. nottrampis says:


    It is very simple.

    I said Gillard did not organise the numbers, they were presented to her.

    I said the factional overlords got rid of her. please note the plural. it was a most unusual unity ticket. It has never been seen previously.

    All of what you have put forward simply reinforces my point.

    If you do not know who was organizing the numbers then you have simply not read anything.

    Have a read of Piping Shrike’s review of Barry Cassidy’s contradictory book.

    That is at least a start.

  24. Alan says:

    You’re assuming I have not read The Party Thieves. I could tell you that assumption is wrong but you’d invoke the first jump rule and start requiring me to prove what I have and haven’t read. Unless you come up with something that is both new and persuasive, I don’t propose to waste any more time on this exchange.

  25. nottrampis says:


    I don’t have to come up with anything.

    There is no numbers man for Gillard going hither and thither getting numbers.

    We know who was doing this and they weren’t pumping up Gillard challenge. They were white-anting Rudd.

    Once they had convinced everyone Rudd had to go. Gillard was given the fait accompli.

    She accepted it but after some heavy thought.

    If you have read the book then it doesn’t show.

  26. Marks says:

    Hm, surely it would be of more interest if a political deputy did NOT at some point knife their leader. Like Costello.

    Again, a headline “Deputy Knifes Leader” is just so not news, and only political tragics or lazy journalists desperate for a headline due in five minutes would worry about it. Come to think of it, when was it last that someone was NOT out to take over the top job? I think you have to go back to Menzies’ time – and that was only relatively calm (coup wise) because Ming had the habit of sending anyone with a scintilla of talent away from Parliament on nice plum jobs, from where they could not challenge him.

    • Peter Fuller says:


      I hesitate to say “as a matter of historical fact”, but I am happy to offer a pedantic suggested correction that you have to go back to Menzies’ time for an instance of an (overtly) non-ambitious deputy. My nomination would be Lance Barnard, devotedly faithful 2IC to E.G. Whitlam, The received version of this was that Whitlam was mindful of how a succession of deputies – certainly Evatt, Calwell and Gough himself – had operated; consequently he was keen to ensure that his deputy would accept the bridesmaid role. Barnard was especially effective in the oppposition years, but once in Government he was effectively undermined by others who wanted to rein in the PM.
      The other possible example is (the recently deceased) Lionel Bowen who was deputy to Hawke. However, it soon became apparent that the threat to Hawke was not from his de jure deputy, but Keating, who, if I recall correctly, was never formally deputy leader.

  27. Tel says:

    The gist of Kingston’s claims is that Abbott wrongfully failed to disclose donors to the “slush fund” as required under Australian electoral laws and misled the AEC about various related questions.  She also appears to suggest that the AEC acted wrongfully, perhaps under pressure from the Coalition government of the time.

    However, given that the AEC apparently did not regard the matter as sufficiently serious to be worthy of investigation, that it still seems uninterested in pursuing it, and that all this happened long ago, it is hardly the investigative news story of the decade.

    The AEC claim that they did investigate the matter, twice actually, once in 1998 when then incorporation was first set up, and again after the legal definition of “associated” was changed. First thing I found on google:


    Mr Abbott exercised his right under s.316(3B) and requested that the decision to issue the notice be reviewed by the Electoral Commission, the three person body established under s.6 of the Electoral Act. In accordance with s.316(3C) the full Electoral Commission met and considered the matter, including obtaining legal advice. It concluded that there was no information available to it on which it could conclude that there were reasonable grounds to believe that AFHPT is or was at the time an associated entity and duly set aside the decision to issue the notice of investigation.

    The AEC may have screwed up and got it wrong. Personally I believe that in cases where there is even a sliver of doubt, err on the side of disclosure. After all, that’s what the government types generally say when it comes to forcing members of the public to give up their individual rights. However, the AEC are the official body delegated the task of making such a decision, and it was made by the official process, and so far as I know, none of the paperwork has mysteriously vanished either. Presuming that everything Abbott sent to them can be verified as honest, there’s nothing for him to worry about.

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