ACTU leader Sally McManus will on Thursday confront the CFMMEU’s John Setka over his “words and actions” and plead with him to resign as the union faces a fresh deregistration threat.
As the embattled construction union leader digs in against calls for him to resign, the Morrison government flagged new laws to make it easier to deregister unions and a “fit and proper” person test for union leaders.
Unions are bracing for an all-out assault on the labour movement after this week’s drama.
The CFMMEU’s Victorian secretary, Mr Setka faces expulsion from the ALP over his alleged comments about domestic violence campaigner Rosie Batty reducing the legal rights of men, and also expulsion from the CFMMEU for criminal charges that he used a carriage service to harass a woman whose name is suppressed.
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One option is to charge Mr Setka with bringing the union into disrepute, but this is legally risky because the Federal Court has traditionally been cautious about removing elected officials.
In a statement, Ms McManus said she had “consulted with union leaders who are concerned by Mr Setka’s words and actions, which are not compatible with our values, and have impacted on our movement”.
“The ACTU condemns all acts of family and domestic violence. Australian unions have made ending family and domestic violence a priority,” Ms McManus said.
“I have heard what Mr Setka had to say today. I have sought a meeting with him tomorrow to discuss these matters. I will have more to say following this meeting.”
Earlier Ms McManus said if criminal allegations that he used a carriage service to harass a woman are true: “John Setka must resign. There is no place for perpetrators of domestic violence in leadership positions in our movement.”
But a defiant Mr Setka told a press conference on Wednesday he had no intention of resigning.
“There’s no reason for me to resign,” he said.
“I’m elected by CFMMEU construction division members, right, every four years.
“They’re the people that I’m beholden to and they’re the ones that pay my wages and I answer to them”.
Mr Setka was supported by Maritime Union national president Christy Cain, who told the ABC it was Labor leader Anthony Albanese who should resign.
“No, Mr Albanese has run off false allegations. He has misconstrued what has gone in that room and he should apologise,” he said.
“Maybe Mr Albanese should resign, I don’t know. He should take a good look at himself.” Liberal frontbencher Angus Taylor flagged that the Morrison government will immediately test Mr Albanese’s resolve with dealing with the union by introducing new laws for a ‘fit and proper’ person test for union leaders.
“We are absolutely committed to the Ensuring Integrity Bill,” Mr Taylor said.
“The right answer on the CFMMEU is that Labor severs ties with them today, and they can do it.
“Anthony Albanese can sever ties with the CFMMEU today. Now, we did bring the Ensuring Integrity Bill to the Parliament before the election. 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.”
The Ensuring Integrity Bill was introduced in August 2017 to ensure unions and registered employer organisations are run by ‘fit and proper’ people, and can be deregistered or placed under administration when, for example, there is widespread lawlessness.
The late Bob Hawke had urged Bill Shorten to cut his ties with the CFMMEU, which has accrued $15.9 million in penalties in the past decade.
But the powerful union remains a huge donor to the ACTU and the Labor Party.
The union’s ACTU affiliation is a matter for the federal branch.
But the CFMMEU’s Labor Party affiliation is a matter for state branches, so one option Mr Setka could pursue is cutting ties with the ALP.
The idea of the CFMMEU charging Mr Setka with “bringing the union into disrepute” is risky legally.
“The Federal Court has been extremely reluctant to allow someone who is elected to get sacked. There would be question of whether a sanction of expulsion would be proportionate,” a union source said.
“There might be another penalty, like suspension without pay.
Complicating the situation is that national officers are not directly elected.
“John Setka might try to blow the show up,” the source said.
“Which is why [CFMMEU national secretary] Michael O’Connor and [CFMMEU general president] Tony Maher would be moving slowly and carefully.”