Aside from Slater and Gordon denying the allegation, there's a major problem with the latest instalment in the vitriolic anti-Gillard campaign being waged by Larry Pickering: it's being waged by Larry Pickering and therefore immediately lacks any credibility.
Pickering is commonly known as a cartoonist, but he's also an inveterate liar, a bankrupt conman with a seedy history of fleecing the gullible of millions of dollars while not paying his own bills.
With various failed business ventures and numerous personal relationships of equal standard, for decades he has plied a grubby trade behind sundry stooges and partners, assisted by the odd sharp lawyer and hapless corporate and consumer regulators. He is not a nice man.
The best that can be said about Pickering's pursuit of the dubious activities of a former AWU official is that it might be a case of being one to know one. And the best that can be said of hacks who promote his tawdry campaign might be that they are poorly researched and ignorant – or perhaps not wanting to look a colourful yarn in its source.
By way of history, having lost a fortune or two trying to grow tomatoes and building a horse stud (among other things, stables built of arsenic-treated pine aren't a good idea), Pickering turned to scamming in the 1990s and found his true talent.
Hiding behind other people, Pickering ran a high-pressure cold-call racket that promised mug punters computer software that would pick winners on the race track for them. Yes, you would have to be a fool to fall for such a thing, but as shysters like Pickering know, there are actually a lot more than one born every minute.
Pickering used his creativity to refine the fraud, an early adopter of mailing out glossy video presentations of the good life to be had from the magic of computer power applied to hayburners. His first effort featured himself, but he quickly retired from the front line, hiring an actor for the role, a familiar face from a well-loved soap. It became a very big business with glossy offices in a prime Gold Coast site, the home of so many scams.
All of this must seem a long way from the business pages, but Pickering decided he could apply the same formula to the stock market. Substitute picking stocks for picking horses, hire an unfortunate newsreader who thought it was legitimate software, and the scam was taken to market under the name of National Futrax.
Which is where the Channel 9 Business Sunday team I was part of came across the story, exposing the fraud and Pickering. On this occasion, the Pickering plan had done enough to fall beyond the letter of the law and the corporate regulator was able to close National Futrax down for the want of a securities licence.
It was gone, but like other Pickering ventures, managed to be reinvented. Under the public face of Larry Pickering's son, Jamie, the stock trading software idea was tidied up and brought within the letter of the law to the extent of being listed on the ASX as Tomato Technologies. And subsequently failed.
The horse race software racket rolled on though, despite regularly being done over by A Current Affair. Pickering appeared to be running it from very comfortable quarters in Vanuatu for a period, but soon enough was back at his spiritual home on the Gold Coast – which is where the Daily Telegraph and Gold Coast Bulletin caught up with him last year over another horse betting con of which Pickering, as usual, denies all knowledge.
So Pickering can afford to run his blog and subscription campaign, defaming and taunting all he likes – there's no point trying to sue a bankrupt for damages - but in the strange world that is the blogosphere, he has earned his own critics, Kangaroo Court of Australia one example.
A small mystery is why the serial bankrupt with the millionaire's lifestyle has been trying so hard to bring down a Prime Minister over her poor choice of men two decades ago. Relevance deprivation, a nasty streak and a touch of the rabid right come to mind. It seems there's plenty of it going round, along with a public that wants to believe the worst.
There's absolutely no doubt that some appalling (and worse) union officials have ripped off their members. There's no shortage of corruption of one sort or another around some of the more obvious unions, just as surely as horse races are sometimes fixed. A better prime minister would be imposing the same standards of governance on unions that we have for public corporations, instead of being a captive of the unionists who delivered her job.
Mike Carlton nailed Julia Gillard's union weakness last month:
The Temby report into the Health Services Union detailed the biggest scandal in the union movement since the Melbourne Painters and Dockers were shooting each other a few decades ago. It required a strong response from Julia Gillard, along these lines:
"As Prime Minister, I am dismayed and angered by the sleaze and corruption Mr Temby has uncovered in the HSUeast branch. I am especially angry for those low-paid workers in our hospitals whose hard-earned union dues, millions of dollars, have gone to line the pockets of greedy manipulators who betrayed their trust. Without pre-empting the police inquiries, I want to assure those workers and all Australians that my government will see justice done and will ensure this sort of scandal can never happen again."
Instead, on the TV news that night we got:
"It's clear there have been real problems at the Health Services Union." And that was it.
That was a dire prime ministerial failure, but it's a long bow that stretches from there to feeding the public's more scurrilous instincts with concocted details of an old affair. The stink of Pickering remains on the hands of those passing his material on.
Michael Pascoe is a BusinessDay contributing editor and former Nine Network finance editor.