A former union official went to the home of former prime minister Julia Gillard and gave cash to workers doing renovations, a royal commission into union corruption has heard.

Ralph Blewitt, the former secretary of the Western Australia branch of the Australian Workers’ Union, told the commission he had $10,000 or $20,000 in cash when, in 1994, he went to Ms Gillard’s Melbourne home to meet Bruce Wilson, his union boss and Ms Gillard’s then-boyfriend.

In an extraordinary opening day, the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption heard the payment was one of a series of cash deliveries drawn from a secret fund and flown across the country by Mr Blewitt.

The cash was from the Workplace Reform Association – a secret entity allegedly set up by Mr Blewitt and Mr Wilson with legal advice from Ms Gillard, who was a lawyer advising the AWU at the time.

Allegations surrounding the fund dogged Ms Gillard’s political career, although Ms Gillard has maintained she knew nothing about any impropriety.

Mr Blewitt told the inquiry Ms Gillard was at home when he arrived for the 1994 meeting, and the future PM directed him to the back of the house to find Mr Wilson.

Mr Wilson was in the kitchen or veranda where three men in “workers’-type overalls” were doing renovation work, he said.

Mr Blewitt said Mr Wilson asked him to pay one worker $7000.

“I counted off $7000, gave it to that gentleman. He stuck it in the front pocket of his bib and brace overall and went back outside to join the other two workers,” he said.

He said he gave the rest of the money to Mr Wilson, but Ms Gillard was not present during the handovers.

In an eventful day, Mr Wilson was spotted outside the commission building on Monday after a meeting with his barrister, and shoved, swung a punch and shouted abuse at a news photographer who took his picture.

Mr Blewitt detailed a series of flights in which he carried cash, drawn from the Workplace Reform Association, from Perth to Sydney to give to Mr Wilson.

In one 1993 example, Mr Blewitt took $50,000 that he gave to Mr Wilson at a Travelodge hotel in the inner-Sydney suburb of Camperdown, the commission heard.

Mr Blewitt also said that $93,000 from the fund was used by Mr Wilson to buy a $230,000 house in Melbourne in 1993.

The commission heard the Workplace Reform Association was established without the knowledge of the broader AWU in 1992 to receive payments from construction firm Thiess, which had a major infrastructure project in Western Australia.

Mr Blewitt said he submitted invoices to Thiess, including one for more than $25,000, to cover the cost of a union-appointed workplace safety adviser, but no work was ever done.

Mr Wilson told him the association’s purpose was to raise funds for union elections, he said.

Mr Blewitt said he was instructed by Mr Wilson to regularly withdraw cash and keep it until it was time to deliver it to him in Sydney.

Once, he had so much cash at his WA home, Mr Blewitt buried almost $10,000 in his yard and the money was water damaged.

He followed Mr Wilson’s orders because he was afraid for his job, he said.

Mr Blewitt, 69, flew in from his home in Malaysia for the hearing and will continue giving evidence on Tuesday.


By Peter Trute