Labor leader Bill Shorten says it is “entirely possible” construction companies paid union fees under deals struck during his tenure as a union leader.
Government MPs have questioned whether the deals may have benefited the union and Mr Shorten’s political career, at the expense of members.
Mr Shorten will next month front the trade unions royal commission to answer questions about agreements he negotiated as secretary of the Australian Workers Union (AWU).
The Opposition Leader has told the ABC’s Insiders program that some companies may have paid dues for employees.
“It’s entirely possible,” he said.
Mr Shorten said his lawyers were seeking access to the material the royal commission had collected, ahead of his appearance on July 8.
“I don’t have all of the detail of all of the claims being put to me,” Mr Shorten said.
The Labor leader again declared he has “never ever” put his interests ahead of workers.
“No, never. I’ve spent my whole working life standing up for workers,” he said.
“I am 100 per cent relaxed about my record.”
Mr Shorten’s office has said that it is not uncommon for both public and private sector employers to pay union dues or professional memberships on behalf of employees.
Shorten stands by Thiess John Holland deal
Mr Shorten also defended the specifics of a 2005 deal he negotiated with Thiess John Holland, the builder of Melbourne’s Eastlink toll road.
It is alleged the company paid the AWU $300,000 as part of an enterprise agreement it struck with the union.
“I sat down and negotiated the best pay rates that civil construction workers had ever earned in Australia,” he said, explaining he considered it appropriate to negotiate the timing of workers’ rostered days off in exchange for better pay.
“The job finished ahead of time which saved the taxpayer money… and it changed the model of construction, civil projects in Victoria.
“What we’ve been attacked for – Thiess John Holland paid for training of our delegates, paid for health and safety – this is not unusual in the construction industry.”
Senior Labor front bencher Anthony Albanese on Sunday morning maintained that Mr Shorten continues to have his colleagues’ support.
Mr Albanese told Channel 10 he saw nothing wrong with the agreements.
“From what I can see, it’s about enterprise bargaining where employers negotiate with employees, I believe there’s a common interest,” he said.
On Saturday, Prime Minister Tony Abbott used an address to the New South Wales Liberal conference in Sydney to claim the commission had revealed some union leaders are not working in the interests of their members.
“This is a crisis for the Labor Party more generally and what it shows is, as far as modern Labor is concerned, it isn’t any more about the workers and their rights, it’s about the unions bosses and their privileges,” he said.
Approach to ex-wife ‘disgusting, unethical’
Labor MPs on Saturday attacked the royal commission, describing it as an “expensive witch-hunt” after it emerged Mr Shorten’s ex-wife Deborah Beale had been approached by commission staff.
Mr Shorten on Sunday described the move as “disgusting”.
“They obviously were chasing down some smear. What I would say, it is disgusting, it is unethical,” he said.
“She is a decent person and she does not deserve to be dragged into this because of who she was once married to.”