If the mud don’t stick, attack on another front
Tony Abbott is wisely standing aloof from the manufactured debate over Julia Gillard’s culpability—or lack of—in creation of a questionable union fund.
The Opposition Leader has other things he wants to focus on, such as the Government’s scrambling to meet commitments on a fresh wave of spending promises. He doesn’t want distractions.
And there is no strong evidence that Ms Gillard did anything wrong when she worked with Melbourne law firm Slater & Gordon and helped her then boyfriend, a trade union official.
These things have a capacity to backfire, as former Queensland Labor Premier Anna Bligh found when she made allegations against her LNP rival Campbell Newman and then had to admit she could not back them up. Voters punished her for that in the March election where she was trounced.
And it might not pay to make the work history of senior MPs a high-profile subject for examination. At around the time Ms Gillard was blueing with some of her law firm colleagues, Tony Abbott was grating against some his workmates in the office of then Opposition Leader John Hewson.
But further, the Liberals believe the fuel for the renewed debate over what Ms Gillard did nearly two decades ago is coming from inside the Labor Party and is part of leadership agitation.
If that’s the case, they argue, why break our backs stoking the fires when someone else will do it for us?
Ms Gillard 17 years ago gave her boyfriend Bruce Wilson, an official of the Australian Workers’ Unioin, legal advice on setting up a fund called the Workplace Reform Association, which collected donations from businesses.
It is alleged that some of that money was used for a house which Ms Gillard lived in as Mr Wilson’s girlfriend. When other AWU officials heard of the previously secret fund they ordered an investigation and drew in Slater & Gordon.
When alleged irregularities were made known to Ms Gillard she left Mr Wilson immediately and has not seen nor spoken to him since.
News reports today say the Slater & Gordon executives at the time, and the AWU investoigators, did not believed Ms Gillard was knowingly involved in any wrong-doing.
One of the union lawyers involved in the case is current Labor MP Robert McClelland, a former Attormey General who lost his job in Ms Gillard’s showdown with her predecessor Kevin Rudd early this year.
Mr McClelland was hired to held get the fund money back, and so he knows the details of the affair.
In June he reignited the debate by telling Parliament there were still questions to be answered “in the interests of all parties’”.
This broad statement provided permission for the speculation to be renewed.
Mr McClelland has not, in private or in public, gave any indication he believes Julia Gillard had broken any rules or laws.
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