PM defends conduct as lawyer

PRIME MINISTER Julia Gillard has broken her silence on the two decade-old controversy which was reignited last week when claims surfaced of questionable conduct during her time at solicitors firm Slater & Gordon.

Ms Gillard has refused to answer questions previously, saying it had been thoroughly dealt with 17 years ago, but changed her mind when The Australian today republished ''a false and highly defamatory'' story which they have since retracted and apologised for.

''I had taken the view over the past few days that given no new assertions of any worth have been made that I should not dignify this campaign with a response either,'' she said.

''However, this morning something changed on that."

She said the claims were first published on the Sunday before the federal election in 2007 under a ''headline banner of 'Conman broke my heart'.''

The claims were retracted and apologised for at the time.

''For a number of months now there has been a smear campaign circulating on the internet relating to events 17 years ago,'' Ms Gillard. ''Much of the material in circulation is highly sexist.''

The Prime Minister today declared her conduct had been entirely ''ethical'' and said it was routine to provide free advice to union officials and trade unions at Slater & Gordon.

Ms Gillard said it was her understanding that the association she helped set up for then boyfriend and then Australian Workers' Union state secretary Bruce Wilson - which was later discovered to have been used for fraudulent purposes - was for the purpose ''supporting the re-election of union officials''.

Asked why she had not opened an official file on the establishment of the assosciation - as is the usual practice - Ms Gillard stressed her involvement was to ''provide advice" but conceded with ''hindsight'' she perhaps would have logged the action.

''There would be a number of things I would do differently,'' she said. ''Life doesn't afford you that opportunity."

Ms Gillard said when she realised she had been "deceived" on a series of issues by Mr Wilson, she ended their relationship.

Ms Gillard said she would not be making a statement to Parliament as she had attended three question times this week and no questions on the matter had been directed at her by the opposition.

The Prime Minister told a packed news conference that by the time she left Slater & Gordon there was considerable friction and tension in the partnership.

Her involvement in setting up the controversial AWU entity was ''to provide advice as a solicitor''. ''I provided legal advice for the establishment of the association.''

Asked whether she had benefited from the fund, Ms Gillard said she had paid for all renovations in her Abbotsford home and there had been no evidence in three investigations over the 17-year-old affair to prove otherwise.

Ms Gillard said she remains satisfied with her professional conduct as a lawyer.

More to come..

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