When ex-union official Bruce Wilson discovered his mate Ralph Blewitt withdrew at least $50,000 from a slush fund, he didn’t take any action because it would embarrass the union, a royal commission has heard.
In November 1994, Mr Wilson confronted Mr Blewitt in his Australian Workers’ Union (AWU) office after noticing money missing from the bank account of the workplace reform association (WRA), the alleged AWU slush fund at the centre of the royal commission.
The WRA was legally established by Julia Gillard in the 1990s and managed by her then boyfriend Mr Wilson, who had appointed himself treasurer of the entity.
“I placed the WRA bank statements in front of him and said ‘what’s all this, what is this $50,000’,” according to Mr Wilson’s witness statement.
Mr Blewitt claimed the money was for Glen Ivory, who had been appointed as training officer on a Western Australia building site on behalf of the WRA.
But after noticing “a number of withdrawals” Mr Wilson said he suspected Mr Blewitt “had been accessing the account for non-WRA purposes.”
“Blewitt had arranged for his house to be painted and had paved his entire front yard. Blewitt had put up a carport,” Mr Wilson said.
“Blewitt had put up a limestone fence and … had made significant improvements to his home.”
Mr Wilson decided the issue “had to be managed in a sensitive way”.
He said he was concerned about taking the matter to the police or other union officials.
“If it became public knowledge, the union would also be embarrassed,” he said.
“I decided not to take it to police. I decided to do nothing.”
Mr Wilson said his suspicions were initially raised when he was shown a letter, which he allegedly wrote, backing a claim by Mr Blewitt for a permanent disability pension.
Mr Blewitt said he was “mentally wrecked” and suffered from alcoholism and depression as a result of injuries from the Vietnam war and wanted a veteran’s pension.
“I did not draft this letter,” Mr Wilson told the royal commission.
Mr Wilson went to visit Mr Blewitt that same month and saw “a bundle of money wrapped in plastic with masking tape around it,” according to his witness statement.
“I did not say anything about the money to Blewitt,” he said.
“It occurred to me over the day that it was odd to see a bundle of money sitting on Blewitt’s table and I was suspicious of it having been removed between the time I had left the room and returned.”
The union royal commission is examining whether WRA money was used to pay for renovations at Ms Gillard’s Abbotsford property as well as for part of Mr Wilson’s home at Fitzroy.
Mr Wilson met Mr Blewitt at AWU offices in November 1994 and found him “crying and confessed to me that he had been taking monies from the account.”
“Blewitt also said that he had buried money in his backyard,” Mr Wilson said.
“Blewitt said he did not have any monies invested and he had used the cash to pay for improvements to his house and that he had gambled with it.”
The hearing continues.