THE government has branded the opposition deputy leader, Julie Bishop, a liar and an embarrassment after she claimed not to know she was talking on the phone last week to the self-confessed fraudster and former union bagman Ralph Blewitt.
Ms Bishop's claim robbed the Coalition of momentum in its pursuit of the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, with Labor saying she had no right to quiz Ms Gillard about her actions as a lawyer 20 years ago while ''lying'' about her own actions just last week.
Ms Bishop ignored the taunts in Parliament to keep pressing Ms Gillard, who again declined to state whether she had written a letter to West Australian corporate authorities in 1992 vouching for the bona fides of the slush fund established by her then boyfriend and Australian Workers' Union Victorian state secretary, Bruce Wilson.
Ms Gillard said she would answer the question if the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, asked it but, for the third day, he didn't ask a single question on the issue.
Just a day after Ms Bishop had to backtrack after accusing Ms Gillard of being complicit in and profiting from the union fraud 20 years ago, she was again on the defensive after Fairfax Media reported she had spoken to Mr Wilson's sidekick, Mr Blewitt, by phone last week.
This contradicted a claim Ms Bishop made on Tuesday when she said she had spoken to Mr Blewitt once, on Friday last week in Melbourne when a meeting at a cafe was arranged by the blogger, Michael Smith, who is relentlessly pursuing Ms Gillard over the slush fund saga. When pressed on Wednesday, Ms Bishop said that while in Perth last week, Mr Smith had rung her and ''said he was at dinner with someone who wanted to speak to me''.
''That person did not identify themselves and said he was pleased that the AWU fraud was being raised in Parliament,'' she said. She then claimed her phone dropped out and she did not know who she had been speaking to.
The government said this was entirely implausible. ''Who on earth was she expecting on the phone? Humphrey B. Bear? Oh, no, he can't talk,'' Ms Gillard said.
''The deputy leader of the opposition is now an embarrassment to the Leader of the Opposition and the opposition generally,'' she said.
Mr Blewitt also contradicted Ms Bishop, telling Channel Nine that he spoke to Ms Bishop by phone for about three or four minutes after Mr Smith handed him the phone.
The Trade Minister, Craig Emerson, said Ms Bishop was a liar. ''She should therefore resign or be sacked,'' he said.
Ms Gillard said she provided routine legal advice to Mr Wilson in 1992 to help him incorporate the association but had no further involvement with it or knowledge that Mr Wilson and Mr Blewitt were misappropriating funds from the association.