Coali­tion to strike amid Setka strife


The Coali­tion is poised to ex­ploit the con­tro­versy over de­fi­ant CFMEU boss John Setka and re­ac­ti­vate at­tempts to pass leg­is­la­tion to dereg­is­ter law-break­ing union of­fi­cials and make it eas­ier to dereg­is­ter unions.

Coali­tion front­bencher An­gus Tay­lor said yes­ter­day the gov­ern­ment would bring back the En­sur­ing In­tegrity Bill, prompt­ing union con­cerns last night that the Coali­tion would suc­cess­fully cap­i­talise on the strife around Mr Setka, who is un­der grow­ing pres­sure to quit.

Em­ploy­ers have pre­vi­ously crit­i­cised the gov­ern­ment for not pass­ing the bill ahead of the merger of the con­struc­tion and mar­itime unions. The bill low­ers the thresh­old for courts to dereg­is­ter a union, per­mits courts to dis­qual­ify union of­fi­cials if they com­mit two civil-law breaches, and sub­jects union merg­ers to a pub­lic-in­ter­est test.

Call­ing on La­bor to sever all ties with the Con­struc­tion Forestry Mar­itime Min­ing and En­ergy Union, Mr Tay­lor said the gov­ern­ment was “ab­so­lutely com­mit­ted to the En­sur­ing In­tegrity Bill”.

“We did bring the En­sur­ing In­tegrity Bill to the par­lia­ment be­fore the elec­tion,’’ he said. “La­bor has op­posed it. We will bring it for­ward again. And the right an­swer here is for La­bor, for An­thony Al­banese, to work with us to put this leg­is­la­tion through the par­lia­ment.”

Mr Al­banese fanned the con­tro­versy swirling around Mr Sketa this week by mov­ing to ex­pel him from the La­bor Party over com­ments he al­legedly made about do­mes­tic vi­o­lence cam­paigner Rosie Batty.

ACTU sec­re­tary Sally McManus will hold ex­tra­or­di­nary talks with Mr Setka in Mel­bourne to­day af­ter the CFMEU’s Vic­to­rian sec­re­tary de­clared he would not quit the union, de­spite con­firm­ing he in­tended to plead guilty in court to us­ing a car­riage ser­vice to ha­rass a woman.

The furore has caused pub­lic di­vi­sions in the union move­ment, with some unions back­ing ac­tion against Mr Setka and left-wing of­fi­cials slam­ming the fed­eral Op­po­si­tion Leader for mov­ing to ex­pel him from the ALP.

Two left-wing union of­fi­cials yes­ter­day crit­i­cised Mr Al­banese over his re­ported com­ments to the CFMEU na­tional ex­ec­u­tive crit­i­cis­ing Ms Batty.

It was re­ported that Mr Setka said Ms Batty’s ad­vo­cacy had led to men hav­ing fewer rights. He strongly de­nied that yes­ter­day.

Mar­itime Union of Aus­tralia of­fi­cial Chris Cain, who at­tended the ex­ec­u­tive meet­ing, said he was “sit­ting five feet away” from Mr Setka and he did not make com­ments crit­i­cal of Ms Batty.

“I was in the room,’’ Mr Cain said. “It’s just a beat-up. It’s a big stitch-up, a to­tal miscarriag­e of jus­tice and Al­banese should be ashamed of him­self. Maybe he should re­sign.”

Mr Cain’s com­ments came af­ter Elec­tri­cal Trades Union Vic­to­rian sec­re­tary Troy Gray called on Mr Al­banese to with­draw his crit­i­cism of Mr Setka and aban­don his at­tempt to ex­pel him.

“Mr Al­banese should know bet­ter than to be led down the gar­den path by the en­e­mies of John Setka seek­ing to spread ru­mours and lies about him for their own po­lit­i­cal gain,” Mr Gray said.

Mr Setka’s Vic­to­rian branch of the CFMEU has handed nearly $1 mil­lion to the ALP since he took over as leader in 2012 and has sig­nif­i­cant in­flu­ence over La­bor MPs and the party’s na­tional con­fer­ence. La­bor’s deputy Se­nate leader Kristina Ke­neally said yes­ter­day Mr Setka “should have a long, hard look at him­self in the mir­ror, and con­sider his po­si­tion within the union move­ment”.

She said she based her judg­ment on Mr Al­banese’s in­quiries

to as­sess whether Mr Setka’s com­ments had been ac­cu­rately re­ported. United Voice said yes­ter­day Mr Setka should re­sign if any of the re­ported al­le­ga­tions against him were cor­rect.

“United Voice sends a clear mes­sage to our mem­bers that we stand in sol­i­dar­ity with women who have been vic­tims of vi­o­lence and abuse, and we com­mit to ad­vanc­ing the val­ues of re­spect to­wards women within our union and our move­ment,’’ it said.

Sev­eral union lead­ers said they also sup­ported Mr Setka quit­ting, but re­fused to state their po­si­tion pub­licly.

Ms McManus said she had spo­ken with union lead­ers who were “con­cerned by Mr Setka’s words and ac­tions, which are not com­pat­i­ble with our val­ues and have im­pacted on our move­ment”.

Aus­tralian Ser­vices Union na­tional sec­re­tary David Smith said Mr Setka should re­sign if any of the al­le­ga­tions against him were true, but his cen­tral crit­i­cism re­lated to al­leged com­ments by Mr Setka about Ms Batty.

Mr Setka has ex­plained his com­ments by say­ing: “It was just go­ing into what lawyers had told me in re­gards to some of the laws and had noth­ing to do with Rosie Batty chang­ing the laws or any­thing, there was noth­ing den­i­grat­ing and noth­ing ter­ri­ble said about Rosie Batty at all,”

Mr Setka said he in­tended to plead guilty to the charge of us­ing a car­riage ser­vice to ha­rass a woman, but when “it’s put in its con­text, things aren’t as bad as they seem”. The union leader said he was “ashamed” of some things he had said. “Yes, I have said some ter­ri­ble things and prob­a­bly sent some not-too-pleas­ant mes­sages, and re­ceived some not-too-pleas­ant mes­sages, it doesn’t make it right,’’ Mr Setka said.

He left open the pos­si­bil­ity of the union’s Vic­to­rian branch no longer do­nat­ing to the ALP, say­ing he be­lieved unions should be at arm’s length from the La­bor Party.

Asked ear­lier by The Aus­tralian whether his po­si­tion would be in ques­tion if he pleaded guilty, Mr Setka said: “No, look, I am elected by CFMEU con­struc­tion di­vi­sion mem­bers, right? Every four years. They’re the peo­ple that I am be­holden to. They’re the ones who pay my wages and I an­swer to them.

Asked if he would re­con­sider his fu­ture if he pleaded guilty to a crim­i­nal charge, Mr Setka replied: “No.”

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