Centre Alliance senator Rex Patrick proposes ‘conduct threshold’ for union mergers


“The CFMMEU [Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union] would trigger it and most other unions would not,” Senator Patrick said.

The exact number of breaches or offences that would trigger the public interest test remains under negotiation.

The CFMMEU, which a Federal Court judge once described as “the most recidivist corporate offender in Australian history”, was fined more than $4 million in 2018-19 – mostly for entering work sites without showing the required entry permit – up from $2.7 million the previous year.

Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Sally McManus appealed to Senator Patrick to reject the bill, saying Centre Alliance’s separate proposal for a demerit points system – which Mr Porter broadly supports – could see unions deregistered for paperwork breaches. “Every single union, [even] if they’re the best, most well-resourced organisation, is going to make a mistake,” she said.

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Under the proposal, a union official who accumulated 180 demerit points for workplace law breaches could be banned from holding office while a union could be deregistered if it racked up 900 points.

Ms McManus said this level could be reached with just two or three accidental breaches of workplace laws, which she understood would be tallied over a decade.

The government needs four of six crossbench votes to pass the Ensuring Integrity Bill in the Senate.

Centre Alliance controls two votes and independent senator Cory Bernardi is expected to vote with the government. Senator Jacqui Lambie has not decided how she will vote but a spokeswoman said she stood by her publicly stated position that she would block the bill if controversial CFMMEU Victorian construction secretary John Setka resigned from his union role.

Mr Porter is scheduled to meet Senator Pauline Hanson, whose One Nation party also controls two votes, on Tuesday to discuss her position.

Mr Porter on Monday said the drafting of amendments was “advanced” and he looked forward to the bill being debated in the Senate as soon as possible.

“I am confident that a sensible compromise can be achieved that will ensure rogue registered organisations with a history of law-breaking and thuggery are confronted with appropriate disincentives in the form of court-determined disqualification or deregistration and are prevented from spreading that culture to other organisations through a fair public interest test in the merger process,” he said in a statement.

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