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.”