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Royal Commission: government faces tough negotiations

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten declared he would fight an election on industrial relations. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen Senator Michaelia Cash, right, will introduce a tougher version of the Registered Organisations bill, which has been rejected by the Senate three times in narrow votes. Photo: Janie Barrett

Shorten’s twitter taunt: ‘Bring it on’

The Turnbull government faces tough negotiations to pass new laws aimed at tackling union corruption, despite a royal commission finding the labour movement is riddled with “deep-seated” misconduct.

Labor hardened its stance against the royal commission on Thursday, with Bill Shorten declaring he is prepared to fight an election on industrial relations and the party’s workplace relations spokesman Brendan O’Connor comparing Commissioner Dyson Heydon’s report to that of “a B-grade sub-editor of a sleazy tabloid”.

Labor also dodged questions about whether it will continue to accept donations from the militant Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), which Commissioner Heydon found behaves with a culture of “wilful defiance of the law”. The CFMEU has poured millions of dollars into Labor over recent years and has also donated substantial sums to the Greens. Both parties have voted against tougher restrictions on unions.

Employment Minister Michaelia Cash will reintroduce legislation to restore the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) in the first week of Parliament followed by separate laws introducing a new regulator for trade unions and large fines for misbehaving union officials.

The law will be a tougher version of the Registered Organisations Bill, which has been rejected by the Senate three times in narrow votes. In August, the Senate rejected the government’s ABCC bill by 34 votes to 33, with crossbenchers Jacqui Lambie, Ricky Muir and Glenn Lazarus voting against.

Senator Lambie voted against the restoration of the building watchdog despite calling for the CFMEU to be deregistered.

“Before I make any decisions regarding government legislation resubmitted to, or brought before the Senate for a first time, I will seek a meeting with Prime Minister Turnbull,” she said.

“On behalf of Tasmanians, I want him to explain why he won’t simply put before the Parliament, legislation that deregisters the CFMEU?”

Senator Lambie also demanded the confidential sixth volume of the royal commission to be made available to senators so they can make fully informed decisions.

Independent Senator John Madigan called for the government to go after the banks and financial planners – not just union officials.

“If the government sets up a body that deals with all corruption, I would support it wholeheartedly,” he said.

“Why aren’t they pursuing all corruption with such fervour?”

Independent Senator Nick Xenophon, who voted with the government on both bills, said the royal commission had uncovered serious problems in the union movement and it would be “reckless” to ignore its recommendations. Like Senator Madigan, he urged the government to also go after white collar crime and cautioned it not to overreach in its new legislation.

Liberal Democrat Senator David Leyonhjelm said he would support the restoration of the ABCC, as long as it was introduced with a “sunset clause” requiring Parliament to approve it again in eight years.

He was concerned about the ABCC’s “illiberal” coercive powers and the reversal of the onus of proof, but said thuggery in the construction sector required a new regulator.

Labor spokesman Brendan O’Connor said the party supported giving the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) the power to regulate unions, rather than establishing a new regulator. Labor would support reforms as long as they are “proportionate” and “reasonable”, he said.

Senator Muir and Senator Lazarus could not be contacted.

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