The Attorney-General was responding to a question from Labor’s industrial relations spokesman, Tony Burke, who used Westpac Banking Corp’s admission that it failed to adequately vet thousands of payments potentially linked to child exploitation to attack the government.
“How can 23 million breaches of the law be a matter for the board if you’re a bank, but legislation before the Parliament right now does say that three breaches of paperwork can get you deregistered … if you’re a union?” Mr Burke said.
The amended legislation includes a demerit point system under which union officials can be subject to an application for disqualification if they incur 180 penalty units in workplace law breaches, or their union racks up 900 penalty units and the official fails to take “reasonable steps” to prevent at least two contraventions, over a decade.
One Nation leader Pauline Hanson on Monday accused the Morrison government of a “double standard” in its treatment of unions and white-collar criminals.
The government appeared to be wielding “a sledgehammer against the unions”, Senator Hanson told Sky News, saying it should “start dealing with white-collar crime”.
She blasted Mr Porter for releasing the government’s amendments, which unions say do not fix its problems, late on Friday, saying she would not be “bullied” into voting for the bill.
Senator Hanson and Tasmanian senator Jacqui Lambie, one of whose votes the government needs to pass the bill, met with union leaders in Canberra on Monday to discuss their concerns.
“I’ve had really hard meetings with the unions. I’ve said to them: ‘You’re not angels’,” Senator Hanson said. “They admitted it, they don’t always get it right … But I’m not going out there to union bash.”
Senator Lambie, who previously vowed to vote for the bill if CFMMEU Victorian secretary John Setka did not resign, declined to comment on Monday after saying last week: “You don’t end the career of a union official or cancel the registration of a union on a lark.”
Australian Council of Trade Unions president Michele O’Neil called on both senators to block the amended bill, saying it would still put the nurses’ union at risk of being deregistered over industrial action taken in pursuit of better patient care.
“This is a government that is desperate to talk about unions and trying to shut down unions,” Ms O’Neil said.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the government had brought in tough new penalties to address banking misconduct.
“I think banks should take account of their manifest failures and I think union thugs should also,” Mr Morrison said.
Dana is health and industrial relations reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.