Bishop backflips on PM accusation
The opposition's attacks on Julia Gillard's actions as a lawyer are foundering with Julie Bishop first accusing the Prime Minister of being complicit in, and profiting from, fraud 20 years ago - and then withdrawing the claim.
And the government has called for Ms Bishop to resign for having a secret meeting in Melbourne last week with the self-confessed fraud and Australian Workers Union bagman Ralph Blewitt, who is now being discredited by both sides of politics.
Ms Bishop claims the meeting on Friday was coincidental and unplanned. Fairfax Media understands Ms Bishop and Mr Blewitt spoke by phone on Wednesday while she was in Perth.
The opposition was relentless on Tuesday in its pursuit of Ms Gillard who, as a lawyer for Slater & Gordon, provided legal advice to her then boyfriend and AWU Victorian state secretary, Bruce Wilson.
In 1992, Ms Gillard advised Mr Wilson as he established a slush fund known as the AWU Workplace Reform Association.
The association was contributed to by construction companies and was supposed to be used for the re-election of AWU officials on a workplace safety platform, but Mr Wilson misappropriated hundreds of thousands of dollars from it and even bought a house in Melbourne in Mr Blewitt's name.
Ms Gillard has always denied wrongdoing, saying she provided advice to help establish the association but had no further involvement with it and had no idea it was being used for illegitimate purposes.
Early on Tuesday, Ms Bishop, who is prosecuting the case for the opposition, suggested Ms Gillard was complicit in the fraud because she never opened a legal file on the work she did to help establish the fund.
''The reason she didn't open a file within Slater & Gordon … was because she and Wilson and Blewitt wanted to hide from the AWU the fact that an unauthorised entity was being set up to siphon funds through it for their benefit and not for the benefit of the AWU,'' Ms Bishop said.
By the end of the day, Ms Bishop retracted the allegation with regard to Ms Gillard. It was the second successive question time Tony Abbott did not ask a question and Ms Gillard labelled him ''gutless'' for leaving the dirty work to his deputy.
Mr Abbott, who is personally unpopular in the polls, is trying to reinvent his image. Today, he will launch a book titled A Strong Australia, which features a selection of his speeches and outlines the ''values, direction and policy priorities of the next Coalition government''.