Tony Abbott’s Royal Commission into Trade Unions was supposed to be about two things, the vindication of Kathy Jackson and the persecution of Julia Gillard.
However just like Tony Abbott’s first budget, these two objectives have both turned into monumental public failures.
We have already seen Kathy Jackson land face first as she falls off the pedestal that she built for herself. Jackson spent the year prior to the Commission smelling like roses and now that the media have caught up with what Jackson has called the “blogosphere” she is smelling more like what those roses are fertilised with. Jackson is still yet to face questions on the evidence she sought to have suppressed which is expected to be bigger than what has already been made public.
Today it was time for Julia Gillard to face the tough questions.
Counsel Assisting Jeremy Stoljar SC ignored their involvement in the HSU and their relationship with Kathy Jackson and instead decided to focus on their dealings approximately a quarter of a century ago with Julia Gillard.
Stoljar was clearly seeking to try to show a pattern of behaviour from Gillard in relation to the setting up of associations for questionable purposes, however these efforts failed.
It turns out that Gillard had participated in what were seemingly boring routine conversations regarding industrial affairs with two union officials, Elliott and Darveniza.
On social media much was made out of the witnesses appearing vague. However the finer details of a conversation or meeting on what would have been routine affairs for union officials such as fundraising and industrial matters would tend to become vaguer as the years roll on I would imagine, particularly when one’s memory may be impacted by Multiple Sclerosis as Darveniza’s statement confirms.
Soon enough it was time for the main event and Julia Gillard took the stand.
Gillard testified about her current work status, her background with Slater and Gordon and how she came to meet her former partner Bruce Wilson.
Wilson had asked Gillard’s legal advice on the setting up of an incorporated association for him and his team as he was seeking to become Secretary of the AWU in WA. Giving advice in this regards was a common practice for Slater and Gordon. Gillard testified that the law firms major source of work was plaintiff personal injury work. It was common for work to be done with no charge for unions so that the firm may pick up personal injury work from the unions members.
From there on in the questioning up until lunch was all about goings on of the association, the invoices they sent, the members it had, and the bank account details and transactions.
As Gillard was forced to point out on numerous occasions she gave legal advice on the setting up of the association, she had nothing more to do with it and no idea how on the inner workings of the association.
This sounds to me not only feasible, it sounds highly likely. For those on social media who chose to make more out of this than defies logic I would use this analogy. Just because the green grocer advises you what vegetables are in season does not mean 20 years later he can explain to a court what you cooked with them.
The other aim of Counsel Assisting in my opinion was to extract the “I don’t recall” answer from Gillard as many times as possible to make her testimony seem less reliable.
This was done by asking ridiculously minute details of conversations that may or may not have taken place two decades ago, or mundane details of what sections of an act were used to form part of legal advice, and where the witnessing of documents took place and who was in attendance at the time. Questions that given the passage of time involved would be almost impossible to give exact answers on. Gillard eventually gave this response that resulted in cheers and laughs in the media room.
“My evidence is that I was a busy solicitor across the years in which I practised as a lawyer. I would have witnessed thousands of documents. I do not have specific recall of, you know, each and every document I witnessed and the circumstances, you know, which room, which desk, what I was wearing, I don’t have that kind of recall, but I witnessed documents appropriately.”
This led to this question from Stoljar which resulted in an answer from Gillard causing a roar of laughter from those in the media room
Stoljar: What about your practice in respect of dating a particular document? Did you have any practice in that regard?
Gillard: You put the right date on a document
However it was the blunt tone of Gillards response that put Stoljar in his place and highlighted the disrespect and desperation in the line of questioning.
Gillard also stated that the work done on this matter would have taken between three and five hours and that in her time at Slater and Gordon she had done far more substantial work than that for no charge whilst working at Slater and Gordon.
There was heavy questioning on the subject of an advertisement that appeared in the printed media regarding the association and its incorporation. The placement of this advertisement is a legal requirement in the setting up an incorporated association.
Stoljar seemed to be determined to have Gillard admit that she wrote and placed the advertisement, despite Gillard stating under oath that she did not have anything to do with the ad. Stoljar fired many questions at her regarding this yet had absolutely no evidence on which to base his line of questioning on. The best he could use to lend credibility to this theory was to say the ad was written in what seemed like legal terms. This line of repetitive questioning and the desperate attempts to trip Gillard up on the matter eventually, after what seemed like an eternity, ended with an interjection from Commissioner Heydon.
Heydon pointed out the likelihood that it was a standard advert that was placed by someone with the details of the association’s name changed to suit.
This simple logic had been lost on those in the right-wing commentary business leading the witch-hunt until now.
After lunch Gillard was asked questions on several matters that involved the payment of accounts and billing regarding work done for the association.
Many of those who have sought to trash Gillards reputation must have been shocked upon finding out that a law firm the size of Slater and Gordon might have a separate accounts department. In fact the solicitors that worked there did not have to perform every task relating to their clients.
Allegations that Slater and Gordon may have a separate mail room were not explored, and talk of the solicitors taking turns to act as the receptionist are rumoured to be highly exaggerated.
When it came to the renovations that it has been alleged were paid for by Wilson using funds from the association there was nothing to back up these allegations.
Gillard testified that she had the work done and paid for with cheques and had receipts for the work.
At one stage Gillard mentioned that she had invoices and Stoljar leapt at the chance to bring Gillard crashing down. Stoljar started with rapid fire questions around these invoices stating that Gillard had not mentioned having invoices in her statements, seemingly accusing her of withholding evidence. Stoljar was going for the jugular and clearly had the taste of blood until once again the facts got in the way.
Commissioner Heydon interrupted Stoljar to point out where Gillard had in fact stated to having invoices in her statement.
In the end Gillard finished the day having faced all of the allegations against her and shooting them all down in flames.
There will always be those out there that believe Elvis Presley is still alive and that Bigfoot exists, just as I’m sure there will be those out there that believe Julia Gillard is guilty of something.
However just as the public would not like to see vast amounts of taxpayer funds spent hunting mythical creatures and dead celebrities, the vast majority of the public are dismayed to see so much money wasted on a baseless attack from a bunch of sexist commentators and politicians on our first female Prime Minister.
It is about time this travesty ended.