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Government MPs back ACTU critique of union-busting bill

A parliamentary committee has backed ACTU concerns about the government's union-busting bill.

A parliamentary committee has backed ACTU concerns about the government’s union-busting bill. Credit:James Brickwood

Mr Goodenough said the committee assessed the legislation solely from a legal perspective not on its merits.

“While there have been a number of changes … including relating to matters the committee previously commented on, these do not fully address the committee’s initial concerns,” the report said of the amended bill, which is being debated in the House of Representatives this week.

In an earlier report, the committee said the bill- which will make it easier to deregister unions and disqualify officials – was “likely to be incompatible with the right to freedom of association”.

The concerns reflect those raised by the Australian Council of Trade Unions, which says the bill would impede workers’ rights to collectively organise in pursuit of better pay and conditions.

The government is facing the prospect that key Senate crossbenchers may block the bill if the government does not comply with their demand for a national anti-corruption body.

Tasmanian senator Jacqui Lambie, who last week threatened to vote for the bill if controversial CFMMEU Victorian secretary John Setka does not resign, declined to confirm her position as she fired up on Wednesday over “morally corrupt” politicians.

“The Australian people know they’re not doing the right thing,” she said, citing political donations to MPs who “can be bought as cheap as chips”.

Asked if the crossbench threat to block government legislation extended to the Ensuring Integrity Bill, Senator Lambie said she was still getting advice on the legislation but that politicians must “lead by example”.

Centre Alliance senators Rex Patrick and Stirling Griff, who will only support the bill if persuaded that it holds union officials to the same standard as company directors, are among the group of independents threatening a Senate revolt.

The government has the numbers to pass the bill in the lower house, where it dragged into a third day of debate on Wednesday, but needs Senator Lambie’s support or that of Centre Alliance to get it through the upper house.

Labor’s industrial relations spokesman Tony Burke said workers’ representatives “should be chosen by workers – not by Scott Morrison”.

Mr Porter said the bill would “actually … demonstrably help workers” by ensuring “lawfulness on worksites”.

He rejected the criticism of the bill, saying it did not “impinge any of Australia’s international obligations” and that “international obligations require organisations and officials to respect the law of the land”.

ACTU president Michele O’Neil said the union bill was “an extreme, anti-democratic law” that would take Australia “a long way from the full freedom'” that the International Labour Organization convention, to which it is a signatory, was “supposed to protect”.

The nurses’ union is appealing to Senator Lambie and her fellow crossbenchers to reflect on the bill’s potential impact on their “respectful” campaigns for patient safety.

Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation secretary Annie Butler said the bill would put her union at risk of being deregistered if nurses took industrial action demanding staffing quotas to ensure patient safety, a claim the government disputes.

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