Lawyers contradict PM's claim

LAW firm Slater & Gordon has contradicted Julia Gillard's claim that she was not in charge of legal work for the purchase in 1993 of a Fitzroy property later found to have been bought with stolen union money.

Ms Gillard - a former salaried partner with the firm - last week denied responsibility for conveyancing work on the purchase of the Kerr Street unit by a crony of her disgraced former boyfriend Bruce Wilson.

''I was not in charge of the conveyancing file,'' she told journalists during a visit to Laos.

But Slater & Gordon managing director Andrew Grech has confirmed Ms Gillard ''acted directly'' in the conveyancing work on the property purchase. The confirmation came in documents lodged with the Australian Press Council in support of a complaint against Fairfax newspapers and this journalist over reporting of the firm's role in the Australian Workers Union ''slush fund'' scandal.

Ms Gillard is under sustained opposition attack over her role as a legal adviser to the union in the early 1990s when Mr Wilson was a senior official. She has denied any wrongdoing.

A West Australian fraud squad investigation discovered in 1996 that Mr Wilson had stolen more than $400,000 from the AWU Workplace Reform Association.

The association, established with Ms Gillard's professional assistance in 1992, was incorporated to promote workplace safety and training, but she has publicly confirmed it was a ''slush fund'' designed to raise union election campaign funds.

More than $100,000 from the association was used to purchase the Fitzroy unit in the name of Ralph Blewitt, a close associate of Mr Wilson and then WA secretary of the AWU.

The property - which Mr Blewitt had never seen - was bought at auction by Mr Wilson in the company of Ms Gillard using a power-of-attorney she had drafted. She then arranged finance from a Slater & Gordon loan facility to complete the purchase and waived legal fees on the conveyancing work.

Slater & Gordon has complained to the Press Council about reports in Fairfax newspapers and associated websites on October 13 detailing internal tensions within the firm in 1995 over Ms Gillard's conduct and her role in the formation of the AWU association.

One of the reports detailed how a letter written by Ms Gillard to the WA Corporate Affairs Commission in mid-1992 had vouched for the bona fides of the association and been instrumental in securing approval for its incorporation.

In a ''summary of issues'' submitted to the Press Council, Mr Grech objected to accusations by lawyers representing Mr Blewitt that Slater & Gordon was stalling the release of an unofficial file created by Ms Gillard detailing work on the incorporation.

''The only documentary evidence Slater & Gordon was in possession of was that Ms Gillard acted directly for Mr Blewitt in relation to a conveyancing matter, a union dispute and a defamation matter,'' he said.

Mr Grech confirmed to Fairfax on October 16 that the file was missing.

The story Lawyers contradict PM's claim first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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