The Prime Minister says it is defamatory to say she advised on setting-up a trust fund for former partner and client Bruce Wilson to hold funds for his re-election campaign. It was her reason for calling her snap media conference last week, but it is hard to see how the claim could actually be defamatory in itself.
The AWU Workplace Reform Association, that she did advise on seemed to have been designed to act in a similar way to a trust fund, which is more or less what it did – holding money for Wilson and his co-conspirator, Ralph Blewett, and distributing it to them.
On the PM’s explanation the purpose of the association was to raise monies for their re-election campaign and that if there was a falling-out the money could be properly accounted for.
So, on the traditional test that for a comment to be defamatory it must bring a person into disrepute, or cause others to “shun ridicule or avoid”, it’s hard to see how it was defamatory, unless you thought that no competent legal practitioner would have set one up in the circumstances.
Which is where the mystery comes in to me.
I’ve been involved in a lot of campaigns, and I’ve never seen anyone set-up an association to hold the money. You would normally set up a bank account for the purpose which would be in effect a trust fund. If you couldn’t trust any of your associates you might approach a solicitor, or some other professional, to hold the money on trust for you.
Solicitors in fact have trust funds that are designed for just these types of purposes.
So why did Gillard advise Wilson and Blewett that they should set up an association?
I can understand why they might have thought it was a good idea. Their track record shows that they were able to get companies to pay money to the association in the mistaken belief that it was going to the union. They wouldn’t have made that mistake if it was just the Wilson-Blewett re-election account.
(Another issue that arises here is whether companies claimed a tax deduction for the monies paid to the association. If they did, then another question is whether the formation of the association facilitated tax evasion.)
The Prime Minister was apparently unaware of the fundraising techniques of Wilson and Blewett, so why did she think this was an appropriate way to hold money? Why didn’t she advise them to set up a trust account?