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Eric Abetz puts pressure on new senators to restore full powers to building industry watchdog

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James Massola, Nick McKenzie, Richard Baker

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Friends, brothers and threats - inside union corruption

More allegations of heavy-handed union tactics are revealed in this exclusive Fairfax Media investigation.

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Employment Minister Eric Abetz says the new Senate must urgently pass laws to restore the full powers of the building industry watchdog, seizing on new revelations of construction union stand over tactics and links to the underworld.

Senator Abetz has also questioned the close links between Victorian Labor leader Daniel Andrews and the CFMEU, as well as the decision by former Labor prime minister Julia Gillard and opposition leader Bill Shorten to strip the watchdog of evidence-gathering powers.

Employment Minister Eric Abetz wants incoming senators to support restoring the full powers of the building industry watchdog.

Employment Minister Eric Abetz wants incoming senators to support restoring the full powers of the building industry watchdog. Photo: Peter Mathew

Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Thursday said while he did not want to comment on matters that may be coming before the royal commission and had not seen the Fairfax Media report, he said the government had ''deep concerns about the illegality, about rorts, rackets and rip-offs inside a number of unions''.

''The point I keep making is if you're a decent, honest worker, if you're a decent, honest union member, you want your union to be run honestly and efficiently,'' he told Fairfax Radio 3AW.

''That's why I think Bill Shorten is really letting his party down by being as critical of the royal commission as he's being.''

Signaling industrial relations reform will be front and centre of the government's political agenda in the new Senate, Senator Abetz told Fairfax Media the restoration of the ABCC [Australian Building and Construction Commission]  was a "very high priority for the government" and that he had already discussed the ABCC laws, which were passed by the House late last year, with cross-bench senators who will take their seats next week.

Mr Abbott raised the ABCC bill with Motoring Enthusiast senator Ricky Muir when the pair met on Wednesday.

"The Government has a clear mandate to re-introduce the ABCC, having taken the policy to the last two elections,'' he said.

Fairfax Media revealed on Thursday a string of accusations from Melbourne developer, Peter Chiavaroli, who says the CFMEU demanded he employ union boss John Setka's brother-in-law and best friend in exchange for industrial peace.

The laws to restore the full powers of the ABCC, which will bolster the watchdog's powers, could be put to a vote as soon as next week.

Those powers, stripped away by Labor, will give the building watchdog additional scope to gather evidence.

The move to pass the legislation comes as the Royal Commission into trade unions shines the spotlight on the CMFEU in hearings scheduled to be held in Melbourne next week.

Questioned on Thursday as to whether the government would launch an investigation into this apparent leak from the royal commission, Mr Abbott said that he would ''have a look at the report in question and if any further action is required, well, we'll have a look at it''.

Senator Abetz said Mr Chiavaroli's allegations about the CFMEU's were gravely concerning and that they had "no place in any Australia  workplace".

"They once again confirm the urgent need for the return of the ABCC and the absolute irresponsibility of Labor and the Greens in opposing it,'' he said.

"Incidents like this dramatically illustrate the need for the ABCC to have additional evidence-gathering powers, which are common amongst other law enforcement bodies, but were removed by Julia Gillard and Bill Shorten.

"If the ABCC has the power to compel witnesses to provide evidence then it will avoid situations like this in which individuals are threatened with retribution if they voluntarily go to the ABCC."

Senator Abetz said it had been clear for some time that Mr Setka was not an appropriate person to lead the CMFEU in Victoria.

"This was made perfectly clear in the Myer Emporium dispute in 2012 and even more clear when his union received a record fine for criminal contempt of court earlier this year,'' he said.

"It is extremely concerning that the Victorian Labor Leader Daniel Andrews continues to so closely associate with such rogue union bosses."

Mr Setka's links to Victorian Labor's Left faction have long been a political sore point for Mr Andrews, who has been under pressure to distance himself from the militant CFMEU, which is a large donor to the ALP in Victoria.

In a statement, CFMEU national secretary Dave Noonan said the rehashed allegations had been examined by the building watchdog several years ago, which had taken no further action.

"The allegations were made by a Liberal Party donor, Peter Chiavaroli, director of West Homes,'' he said.

"The union will be writing to the Royal Commission regarding leaks to the media of proposed witnesses and issues that will be heard at the Royal Commission."

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