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Bill Shorten takes break from leave to tweet ‘bring it on’ as union battle looms

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten says he is happy to take on the government over workplace relations. Photo: Alex EllinghausenTurnbull government faces tough negotiations

Labor leader Bill Shorten has responded to Malcolm Turnbull’s vow to fight an election on trade union reform, taking to Twitter to declare, “Bring it on”.

After the release of the trade union royal commission’s final report on Wednesday, Mr Turnbull flagged major reforms to union governance and said he would make it an election issue if the Senate blocked new laws.

On Thursday Mr Shorten, who is on leave and did not front the media on Wednesday, tweeted: “If Mr Turnbull and his Liberals want to fight an election on industrial relations, bring it on. We won on WorkChoices & we’ll win again.”

He followed by adding: “Labor will always fight for workers, decent pay & conditions. Mr Turnbull & his Liberals will fight for big business & to cut penalty rates.”

In a separate statement sent to Fairfax Media, Mr Shorten said he would “welcome any day of the week” Australian voters stacking up his record against Mr Turnbull’s on workplace relations.

Mr Shorten said the government was using the royal commission’s report as “a smokescreen for its full-scale attack on penalty rates”.

He was referring to a Productivity Commission paper released before Christmas that found penalty rates for Sunday work should be dropped to the same rate as Saturday penalties.

Mr Shorten accused the government of having “a desire to destroy the ability of unions to effectively represent workers, making it easier to rip away pay and conditions like penalty rates”.

Mr Turnbull repeatedly called on Mr Shorten to back the government’s reforms to union governance, which will be based heavily on 79 recommendations by royal commissioner Dyson Heydon.

Mr Heydon’s report concluded that the union movement was riddled with “widespread” and “deep-seated” misconduct.

“It would be utterly naive to think that what has been uncovered is anything other than the small tip of an enormous iceberg,” his report states.

Mr Turnbull said Mr Heydon’s report was a “watershed” moment for Labor and for unions, stressing that union members would be the biggest beneficiaries of reform.

The government will also reintroduce legislation to create an independent union watchdog similar to corporate regulator the Australian Securities and Investments Commission and try to re-establish a workplace relations regulator for the building and construction industry.

Labor has its own proposals for union reform, including giving ASIC the power to deal with the most serious transgressions by unions, but the government has rejected these.

On Wednesday Mr Turnbull, when asked how hard he was willing to fight for reforms, said: “We are willing to fight an election on this … If we cannot get the passage of this legislation through the Senate, then in one form or another it will be a major issue at the next election.”

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