Bitter year ends in vitriol

PRIME MINISTER Julia Gillard has told Tony Abbott to put up or shut up, as his allegation that she broke the law ensured a vicious parliamentary year ended on a vitriolic note.

After a weeklong intense and bitter focus on her role in the AWU affair, the Prime Minister admitted she did not recall writing the letter to the WA Corporate Affairs Commission in which she argued for the incorporation of the entity that became a slush fund from which two AWU officials, including her then boyfriend Bruce Wilson, siphoned funds. ''I don't have specific recall of this letter,'' she said.

Convinced she had a win in Parliament over her opponent, Ms Gillard told Fairfax Media last night: ''This is the second time in 12 months we've seen the Opposition Leader go negative, overreach, and end up failing.'' The first had been over carbon.

In Parliament, she challenged Mr Abbott to substantiate his claim that she had broken the law by what she told the WA authorities, or apologise to her.

The letter - about which the opposition had questioned her all week without getting answers - was referred to in a new section of Ms Gillard's Slater & Gordon 1995 interview reported on Thursday.

In the internal interview about her conduct, Ms Gillard agreed the WA commission had questioned whether the proposed entity was a trade union and so not eligible for incorporation. She agreed that ''we had prepared a response … suggesting that in fact it wasn't a trade union and arguing the case for its incorporation''.

Mr Abbott said this showed she had given false information to the commission. ''For a senior lawyer to make false claims to an important statutory body … is in breach of the law,'' he said on morning TV. Manager of opposition business Christopher Pyne said she should resign.

A furious Ms Gillard said in a statement issued through a spokesperson that ''the Liberals have nothing'' and the transcript backed what she had been saying.

''What does the transcript show? That the Prime Minister said the association wasn't a union. So what? It obviously wasn't. So, the Prime Minister can't remember writing one letter from 20 years ago. So what?''

Before question time, she moved to suspend standing orders so Mr Abbott could speak for 15 minutes on his claim.

Mr Abbott said Ms Gillard had been involved in ''unethical conduct'', conduct that was ''unbecoming'' and possibly ''unlawful behaviour''. He called for a judicial inquiry.

''We can expect more of the bluff and the verbal intimidation that she has practised throughout her career,'' Mr Abbott said, keeping his presentation measured to avoid restirring accusations of sexism. ''I have this piece of advice for the Prime Minister: this is not about gender, this is about character and, Prime Minister, you have failed the character test.''

Trying to fan Labor leadership tensions - the Rudd forces have been critical of Ms Gillard over the AWU affair - Mr Abbott said the issue for Labor MPs was whether she was a ''fit and proper person to hold the prime ministership''.

Ms Gillard told the House that Mr Abbott had relied on an incorrect Fairfax report - which said she had denied the entity was a trade union organisation - to accuse her of a crime. She likened it to the Godwin Grech affair in which then opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull had made false claims.

Ms Gillard also homed in strongly on the character issue, saying ''a decent man'' would apologise for his allegations. But Mr Abbott ''is not a decent man, and he is not a man who can be relied on to go to the facts of matters''.

She said later she had decided on the parliamentary tactic when Mr Abbott had ''made ridiculous and outlandish claims on something he couldn't know to be true and had taken no steps to check. I thought he needed to be held to account for … making crazy allegations against me.''

On the letter, she said: ''I've authored thousands of letters as a lawyer. I don't remember every letter I authored.''

She branded the opposition's tactics as ''pathetic'' and Mr Abbott as ''gutless''.

This story Bitter year ends in vitriol first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.