Deputy opposition leader Julie Bishop has defended her decision to meet with one of the key figures in the Australian Workers’ Union slush fund scandal.
Ms Bishop met for 10 minutes with former AWU official Ralph Blewitt in Melbourne on Friday seeking access to documents to inform her questioning of Prime Minister Julia Gillard in parliament this week.
Mr Blewitt, who lives in Malaysia, has publicly admitted to participating in a fraud in the 1990s involving the AWU Workplace Reform Association but is seeking legal immunity from prosecution.
Ms Bishop on Tuesday said it was a “chance meeting” that only came about following a telephone call from former Sydney radio host Michael Smith.
She said Mr Smith, who had gone with Mr Blewitt to a police station when he made statements about three AWU related matters, had asked her whether she wanted to meet him.
“I spoke to Mr Blewitt for about less than 10 minutes and I left,” she told reporters in Canberra.
Ms Bishop said her meeting did not compare with Ms Gillard’s “four-year personal friendship” with Mr Blewitt who worked with her then partner, AWU official Bruce Wilson.
“Surely the prime minister is not suggesting that I shouldn’t spend 10 minutes with a man that she considered one of her closest friends over four years and for whom she did free legal work,” Ms Bishop said.
She said part of her conversation with Mr Blewitt was about a call Mr Blewitt received from members of his former army regiment, the 2RAR, who are serving in Afghanistan.
“The only interest I had in meeting with him is he’d met with police and I wanted to know whether he produced any further documents,” she said.
“I understand that he waived legal professional privilege over any advice that current or former partners of Slater & Gordon gave to him when he was Ms Gillard’s client and I wanted to know if he had any documents.
“And he said anything he said to police he wouldn’t repeat to me, so that was the end of it.”
Ms Gillard, when a lawyer with Slater & Gordon, provided legal advice on the incorporation of the AWU association but has denied any wrongdoing or involvement with the entity beyond that advice.