Sunday, August 19, 2012

Union corruption: Julia Gillard lost her job after law firm's secret investigation

This revelation could well be the beginning of the end for her as PM

JULIA Gillard left her job as a partner with law firm Slater & Gordon as a direct result of a secret internal probe in 1995 into controversial work she had done for her then boyfriend, a union boss accused of corruption, The Weekend Australian can reveal.

Nick Styant-Browne, a former equity partner of the firm, broke a 17-year silence yesterday to reveal that the firm's probe included a confidential formal interview with the Prime Minister - then an industrial lawyer - on September 11, 1995, which was "recorded and transcribed".

In the interview, Ms Gillard stated that she could not categorically rule out that she had personally benefited from union funds in the renovation of her Melbourne house, according to Mr Styant-Browne.

She said in the interview that she believed she had paid for all the work and materials, and had receipts, which she later produced.

Mr Styant-Browne's revelations today mark the first time that anyone among the former and present partners of her employer before she started her political career has spoken on the record about matters that have controversially dogged Ms Gillard since 1995.

Mr Styant-Browne, now a Seattle-based lawyer, said the partnership "took a very serious view" of these and other matters, "and accepted her resignation".

The legal entity that Ms Gillard began to establish for Mr Wilson from mid-1992 was used by Mr Wilson and his then friend, AWU bagman and West Australian branch head Ralph Blewitt, to allegedly corruptly receive hundreds of thousands of dollars from large companies.

The companies were told their money would pay for safety and training of AWU members on major work sites. However, the funds were allegedly siphoned off for purposes including the personal use of Mr Wilson and Mr Blewitt.

 Mr Cambridge called on the federal Labor government to establish a royal commission into what he regarded as serious and criminal rorting by union officials.

Ms Gillard has repeatedly and strenuously denied that she had any knowledge of what the association that she had set up was going to be used for. She has also denied receiving any benefit from the funds. She has repeatedly rejected claims made in parliament that renovations to her own house in Melbourne in the early-to-mid 1990s were part-funded by money allegedly siphoned off by Mr Wilson.


Bosses' rights to sack workers for drug and alcohol use go up in smoke

BOSSES are being warned they may breach anti-discrimination laws if they sack workers for alcohol or drug use - and this may include smokers.

The latest legal advice to Queensland and NSW small business has raised concerns that the warnings may also apply to smokers.

Chamber of Commerce and Industry Queensland president David Goodwin accused smokers of costing the state "millions and millions" of dollars in lost productivity each year, and questioned why industrial relations laws defied common sense.

"They (smokers) can't always make it up in their own time," he said. "If you miss that sales call because you're outside smoking, you've cost your organisation."

Cancer Council Victoria recently cited research that found smokers who took four 15-minute breaks daily spent 1.2 years smoking on the job over an average working life.

Mr Goodwin said he believed business could dismiss an employee for ignoring smoking policies after verbal and written warnings, although the legal advice had raised some questions.

The Australian Business Lawyers and Advisors, which provides in-house counsel for Queensland and NSW's chambers of commerce and industry, urged firms to introduce smoking guidelines that were well explained.

However, it flagged the potential for discrimination.

"A decision to dismiss an employee on the basis of alcohol or drug use may infringe various pieces of federal and state legislation that prohibit discrimination on the ground of impairment and/or disability," it said. "Recent case law has established that drug and alcohol dependency can be characterised as an impairment ... (and) the use of drug and alcohol policies against an employee must be carefully considered to ensure that discrimination laws are not breached."

Australian Council on Smoking and Health professor Mike Daube said smokers had no entitlement to special consideration in the workplace.  "They can manage without cigarettes on aircraft, in cinemas, churches and in a whole host of circumstances," he said.  "Work is no different. Staff are employed to work."


Abbott: I'll revive Howard's golden age

Tony Abbott has promised to return Australia to the "golden age" of the Howard government under his "incoming Coalition government".

In a speech to the South Australian Liberal Party yesterday, the federal Opposition Leader emphasised the connection between the Coalition under his leadership and the government of John Howard, which was voted out in 2007 after 11 years.

The tradition of the Howard government would live on, Mr Abbott declared, in no small part because of the similarities between his frontbench and Mr Howard's ministerial team.

"Sixteen members of my frontbench were ministers in the Howard government," Mr Abbott said.

"We won't have to learn on the job because we have done the job before. There won't be questions about the judgment of an incoming Coalition government because an incoming Coalition government has shown good judgment in the past and that's where there is going to be such a contrast between an incoming Coalition government and the government that we currently have."

The number of former Howard government ministers on the frontbench could increase after the next election if Mal Brough, who served as the minister for indigenous affairs, is successful in his bid to return to federal politics.

Mr Abbott, who once described himself as the political love child of Mr Howard and the Liberal MP Bronwyn Bishop, has previously been criticised for the number of long-serving MPs he has kept on his frontbench at the expense of up-and-comers.

Many of the names mentioned as being at the forefront of the next generation of Liberal Party politicians were aides in the Howard government years, such as Kelly O'Dwyer and Josh Frydenberg.

Despite his sustained lead in the polls, Mr Abbott has stressed his team must remain disciplined and focused to win the next election, due in the second half of next year.

Mr Abbott's vision for the next Coalition government, as outlined in his speech, made it seem as if the two terms of Labor government were no more than an inconvenient blip on the radar of political history.

Last week, the federal government all but reinstated the immigration policies of the Howard government, one of the most defining and controversial features of its time in office.

"If you want to get John Howard's results on border protection, you've got to show John Howard's resolve on border protection," Mr Abbott said.

"That's why the longer this government lasts, the better the Howard government looks and that's why the Howard government now looks like it created a golden age of prosperity, which is lost."


Federal tax bullies meet their Waterloo  -- again

The Wickenby enquiries are notorious for their shallow reasoning, lack of scruple and low success rates.  They are just scalp hunters

TWO high-profile targets of Project Wickenby have scored a major victory after the New South Wales Supreme Court found their right to a fair trial had been so compromised by authorities' handling of material against them that criminal charges should be permanently quashed.

The ruling raises questions about whether other Wickenby prosecutions have also been compromised.

Lawyer Ross Edward Seller and Patrick David McCarthy were charged in March this year over an alleged tax fraud, which involved a Scotch whisky operation, and their links to the Wickenby-targeted Swiss-based firm Strachans, run by Richard and Philip Egglishaw.

The pair, in a Wickenby operation code named Operation Polbeam, were compulsorily examined by the Australian Crime Commission in 2007 over their business dealings in 2001-02.

The men's appeal centred on material obtained during the crime commission hearings - transcripts of their examinations that were forwarded to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions, and also the role of a key witness in the coming trial. The expert witness had been seconded from the Australian Taxation Office and had observed the men's crime commission examinations.

A "very happy" Mr Seller said he would "let the judgment speak for itself [about his opinion of the Wickenby investigations]".

"The relevant thing is if this is [happening] on other cases. I think it's an issue that flows."

When asked about seeking compensation, he said: "These things are being mooted at the moment, but I think it's early days yet. We have to see if there's any appeal."

Justice Peter Garling yesterday found the "conduct of the Crime Commission, in conjunction with the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions, has deprived them of the protection which the law ensured. Any trial would not be fair."

He noted that charges were only stayed by courts in "extreme" circumstances, as there was a strong public interest for criminal allegations to be prosecuted.

But he said it would offend the "administration of justice for the applicants to be confronted by prosecution authorities who have had access to material ordinarily caught by the privilege against self-incrimination, but which has been compulsorily obtained".


Hospital coverup in Canberra

A Canberra Hospital nurse almost killed on the job by an electric shock says she has exposed serious flaws in the official report into her accident, saying the mishap ended her nursing career and plunged her into financial crisis.

Nurse Kate Virtue has come forward for the first time to say the publicly released ACT government report wrongly claims she returned to work after just three days.

Two years after being thrown up to three metres across a room by an electric shock, she has confirmed she never resumed work at the hospital.

She told the Sunday Canberra Times she was still on cardiac medication and suffers from other serious ongoing medical problems. She has had to rely on financial support from her family to support her two children.

"I feel they tried to sweep this case under the carpet," she said. "[It is] as if they're trying to avoid recognising the significance of the accident."

Ms Virtue said she attempted three return-to-work programs at Canberra Hospital, the first of which was several months after the accident.

These failed to get her back to work at the hospital where she had worked for most of the past 19 years as a registered nurse.

To make matters worse, Ms Virtue said she had temporarily reduced her working hours to eight hours a week because of family reasons.

She was due to return to at least three times this amount of hours the week following the accident.

The fact she was working fewer hours at the time of the incident meant her weekly payments from Comcare - which has not paid her a lump sum - were considerably less than they could have been.

In July 2010, Ms Virtue was working in the surgical recovery unit when she received an electric shock, believed to have been caused by exposed wires in a power cord.

Staff heard a loud bang and saw a blue flame. The report into her accident, which claimed she returned to work after three days, was written by an investigator from the Justice and Community Safety Directorate as well as the ACT Work Safety Commissioner.

Ms Virtue said she was not interviewed by investigators.

Liberal MLA Vicki Dunne will be taking Ms Virtue's complaint to ACT Attorney-General Simon Corbell who tabled the report in the assembly.

"There's an apparent attempt to minimise the seriousness of the incident if not a straight cover-up," Ms Dunne said.

Ms Dunne said there had been not enough follow up by the hospital into Ms Virtue's health.

After the report was tabled in the ACT Legislative Assembly, Ms Virtue complained in an email to a senior manager at WorkSafe ACT in August last year.

Work Safety commissioner Mark McCabe said there was no point interviewing Ms Virtue because the facts about what happened were easily established and not contested.

Mr McCabe said the inaccurate information provided to his office about when she returned to work did not change his assessment of the accident as being in the most serious category.

A Health Directorate spokeswoman said she could not discuss Ms Virtue's specific case. However, injured staff were encouraged to return to work as part of a planned rehabilitation program when appropriate.


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