13 August 2012

Top law firm embroiled in Aussie political row

The world's first publicly listed law firm is embroiled in a scandal that could rock Australia's government and trade union elite.

Julia Gillard: denies any wrongdoing

Julia Gillard: denies any wrongdoing

Slater & Gordon – which listed in 2007 and merged with England’s Russell Jones & Walker at the beginning of this year – is pressing its former client, the 140,00-member Australian Workers Union, to waive privilege over files relating to a funding farrago that allegedly involves the country’s prime minister Julia Gillard.
According to a report in The Australian newspaper, the firm – where Ms Gillard qualified as a lawyer – is pressing union leader Paul Howes to allow it to release client files. The firm is also reported to have asked Ms Gillard’s former boyfriend and client, Bruce Wilson, the former head of the union’s Victoria branch, to waive privilege.

Intrigue and corruption

In a complicated tale of alleged intrigue and corruption, Mr Wilson’s former friend, Ralph Blewitt, was, says the newspaper, the union’s ‘bagman’. It is understood that Mr Blewitt has threatened to blow the lid on union scamming – if he can cut a deal with the authorities indemnifying himself from prosecution.
According to the newspaper: ‘It is understood that senior partners of the firm, which has been an active supporter of Labour governments and unions ... are reviewing all relevant files related to the AWU matters at the time.’ The report goes on to quote a Slater & Gordon statement, in which managing director Andrew Grech refers to ‘a number of allegations’ having been made about the practice’s conduct ‘relating to some legal work undertaken in the early 1990s’ on behalf of the union.

Ill-conceived allegations

Mr Grech’s statement continues: ‘Slater & Gordon is today undertaking moves to contact the former clients involved in this matter, asking that they agree to waive their right to legal privilege attaching to lawyer-client communication so that we can respond to the public allegations that have been made. We are not prepared to have our firm's reputation impugned by the allegations relating to these matters, which occurred almost two decades ago. Accordingly, we have taken these steps in the hope that we can respond to false and ill-conceived allegations that have been made against Slater & Gordon.’
The newspaper points out that as a solicitor at the firm, Ms Gillard worked on issues relating to the launch of the union’s workplace reform association in Western Australia, and that ‘at the time, Mr Wilson and the Prime Minister were in a close relationship’. Likewise, the newspaper says Ms Gillard has ‘repeatedly and strenuously denied’ any wrongdoing.

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