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Morrison government renews push for union-busting bill to fight CFMMEU

The bill would need the support of at least four crossbench senators to pass into law, as Labor and the Greens have previously blocked it.

Tony Burke, Labor’s industrial relations spokesperson, said: “The detail of the bill that was introduced in 2017 didn’t even match the Government’s own description of it. I presume if they’re going to introduce a bill with that title again, they’ll change the detail and we’ll look at it then.”

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A source close to the government said the bill would be treated as “a priority”, but it remains unclear whether it will be debated in the first week of the new Parliament, which sits from¬†July 2.

Mr Taylor called on Mr Albanese to cut ties with the powerful Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union, after the Labor leader on Tuesday vowed to push for Mr Setka’s expulsion from the Labor Party over his comments about anti-violence campaigner Rosie Batty.

“John Setka leaving the CFMEU is a no-brainer. The question is whether Labor will leave the CFMEU,” he said.

“Anthony Albanese has some hard questions to answer about whether he is prepared to sever ties.”

Labor education spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek – formerly the party’s deputy leader and shadow minister for women – said on Wednesday that Mr Setka’s comments “don’t represent the values of our party and I don’t think they represent the values of mainstream Australia”.

Mr Albanese declined to comment.

Mr Taylor repeated the catchcry of former Industrial Relations Minister Kelly O’Dwyer – echoed by Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Tuesday – that the union “has been described by the Federal Court as the most recidivist corporate offender in Australian history”.

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“Right now, CFMEU representatives are facing 79 charges in the courts. They’ve accumulated already $16 million of fines, and counting … It is time for the Labor Party to sever ties with the CFMEU and that includes donations and affiliates.”

The CFMMEU has donated millions of dollars to the Labor Party in recent years and incurred $16 million worth of fines this financial year for workplace law breaches.

Mr Setka’s lawyer has told the Melbourne Magistrates Court he will plead guilty later this month to harassing a woman.

On Wednesday, Mr Setka refused to step down from his position as secretary of the CFMMEU’s Victorian construction branch, claiming his comment that Rosie Batty’s advocacy had left men with fewer rights had been misinterpreted as part of a political vendetta against him.

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Coalition backbencher and former industrial relations minister Eric Abetz slammed the Labor Party for a “complete failure of moral leadership” in continuing to “support and maintain relationships with the John Setkas of the world”.

Senator Abetz said the Ensuring Integrity Bill, which failed to secure enough support in the Senate last year, was “unfinished business” and must be enacted to clean up the unions.

Australian Conservatives senator Cory Bernardi and One Nation leader Pauline Hanson, who controls two Senate votes, are expected to support the bill.

Centre Alliance senators Rex Patrick and Stirling Griff are open to legislating to address misconduct by union officials, but would seek to ensure that similar provisions apply to corporate leaders, posing complications for the government.

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It means newly re-elected Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie, who has warned the Morrison government it would need to treat her “a hell of a lot better” if it wanted her support on legislation, could hold the deciding vote.

Ms Lambie could not be reached for comment before deadline.

The Ensuring Integrity Bill seeks to implement recommendations of the Trade Union Royal Commission to enable the Federal Court to ban union leaders from holding office if they break the law, repeatedly fail to stop their organisation from doing so or are “not a fit and proper person”.

It would empower the court to deregister a union if it, or members, repeatedly breached industrial or other laws, took “obstructive unprotected industrial action” in large numbers or if its officials were found to have engaged in corrupt conduct.

The bill would also make it an offence for a person to continue to act as an official, or in a way that influences the affairs of an organisation, once disqualified.

Dana is health and industrial relations reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

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