With Centre Alliance backing the bill, the government needs the support of either One Nation, which has two Senate votes, or Tasmanian senator Jacqui Lambie. All three parties supported the motion, opposed by Labor and the Greens, to extend sitting hours to debate the bill on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings.
The Australian Council of Trade Unions implored senators Lambie and Hanson to reject the bill, saying even the amended legislation would put volunteer union officials – including nurses, flight attendants and police – at risk of being disqualified over paperwork errors.
Senator Lambie attacked the Electrical Trades Union and the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union on Tuesday, during a Senate debate on the government’s free-trade agreement bills.
“They’re not standing up for their workers, they’re out there standing up for their thugs,” Senator Lambie said. “Quite frankly, I think Australia has had a gutful of it.”
She also blasted Labor for supporting the passage of the government’s Indonesian, Hong Kong and Peru free-trade agreements.
“I’m calling Labor out for walking away from the workers they’re supposed to represent because obviously the CFMMEU and the ETU won’t do the job,” Senator Lambie said.
Labor senator Penny Wong said the Ensuring Integrity Bill was “an attack on workers”.
“It is about taking down the union movement so you can go after their pay and conditions,” she said. “It’s just like WorkChoices [the Howard government’s employment law].”
Foreign Minister Marise Payne responded in the Senate that the amended bill was a piece of “sensible, balanced legislation” to tackle unions with “a pattern” of unlawful behaviour and said Labor “want to protect their protectors”.
Speaking in Parliament, Prime Minister Scott Morrison accused Labor leader Anthony Albanese of running a “protection racket for union thugs”.
Labor’s industrial relations spokesman, Tony Burke, seized on a Federal Court ruling on Tuesday quashing the Registered Organisations Commission’s (ROC) decision to investigate the Australian Workers Union in October 2017.
“We should be shutting down the ROC over its role in this scandal – not giving it vastly expanded powers,” Mr Burke said.