The government's Senate leader has defended embattled Liberal MP Gladys Liu but stopped short of opposition calls to tell parliament she is a "fit and proper" person.
"The member for Chisholm is a strong advocate for her constituents and a valued member of our team in this parliament," Mathias Cormann told the upper house on Wednesday.
"She has the government's full support."
He described Labor's targeting of Ms Liu as a "disgraceful, unsubstantiated smear and dog-whistling".
In response, Labor's Penny Wong labelled coalition senators "a shameful group of cowards" as they walked out of the chamber.
Senator Wong said his response to the Senate's order for an explanation underscored the government's arrogance.
"What we have seen is Senator Cormann and (Foreign Minister Marise) Payne having refused on seven separate occasions to assure this parliament and this senate that one of its members, the member for Chisholm, is a fit and proper person to be in the Australian parliament," she said.
"And now we've had it for the eighth time."
Ms Liu is under fire for her previous links to community organisations associated with the Chinese Communist Party.
Saying that Ms Liu was the elected member wasn't any kind of answer to the serious allegations raised, Senator Wong said.
"But, as inadequate as it was, we heard a little bit from Senator Cormann but we've yet to hear anything at all in the parliament from the member for Chisholm."
Crossbench senator Rex Patrick said the coalition and Labor were keen to fire partisan shots about Ms Liu and disgraced Labor figure Sam Dastyari but were avoiding bigger issues.
"They refuse to talk openly about the elephant, or rather, the panda in the room," he told parliament.
He wants the major parties to back a parliamentary inquiry into Australia's relations with China, a proposal they've voted down twice.
The Senate spat comes as Chinese state media blasted a "fear and smear campaign against China" by Australian media, academics and politicians.
In an opinion piece published in The Global Times, pro-Beijing academic Chen Hong said the prime minister's backing of Ms Liu was a decent gesture.
"For the 1.2 million Chinese Australians who have been subject to unjust suspicion and bigotry, such remarks are significant," she wrote.
"In contrast to his predecessor Malcolm Turnbull's reckless spoiling of the Australia-China relations, clear reason and judgment have prevailed for Morrison."
Meanwhile, new reports have emerged that Ms Liu received several donations from Communist Party-linked groups at a fundraising dinner for a tilt at state parliament in 2014.
Australian Associated Press