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Australia’s Gillard Lashes Out at ‘Defamatory’ Newspaper Article

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said a newspaper report on her career as a lawyer that was published and then retracted today was “false and defamatory.”

The Australian newspaper, owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., issued an apology and retracted the story that called into question Gillard’s professional conduct in the 1990s.

“The Australian newspaper republished a false and highly defamatory claim about my conduct in relation to these matters 17 years ago,” Gillard said in a press conference in Canberra. “In these circumstances, where I am seeing, recycled again, false and defamatory material attacking my character, I have determined that I will deal with these issues.”

Australia’s first female prime minister is trailing in opinion polls ahead of elections that must be held by November 2013. The press conference, which lasted more than an hour as Gillard took questions from reporters on why she left the law firm Slater & Gordon, comes as she bids to focus voter attention on her Labor government’s economic credentials.

“An article in today’s The Australian reported that Prime Minister Julia Gillard had set up a trust fund for her then boyfriend 17 years ago,” the newspaper said on its website today. “This is wrong. The Australian apologizes for the error.”

Gillard today said she answered questions at an internal inquiry by Slater & Gordon in 1995 after establishing a legal entity for the Australian Workers Union. She resigned from the law firm of her own accord, she said.

‘Smear Campaign’

The first Australian prime minister who isn’t married, Gillard has no children and lives in the capital Canberra with her partner, hairdresser Tim Mathieson. Since winning the leadership in a backroom party coup in June 2010, she has faced protesters bearing placards reading “Ditch the Witch.” Today she said there were sexist overtones to allegations of misconduct at the law firm.

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

The Labor government was favored by 35 percent of voters in a Newspoll survey published in the Australian newspaper Aug. 21, up 2 percentage points from two weeks earlier, compared with 45 percent for Tony Abbott’s Liberal-National opposition coalition.

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