John Setka says crossbench senators who have threatened to report him to police over an expletive-ridden tirade against them should "toughen up a little bit", while cementing his refusal to step down.
The controversial CFMMEU Victorian construction secretary told the ABC on Wednesday morning his warning that "f---ing crossbenchers" would "wear the consequences" if they voted in favour of Prime Minister Scott Morrison's union-busting Ensuring Integrity bill had been taken out of context.
He denied threatening the senators, saying he was only "campaigning against draconian laws that people are considering passing".
"When you're a politician, you've got to get used to campaigning. It's a two-way street; they have their say, I have my say," he said.
"There's no threat been made."
Mr Setka denied being a "bully" and said he had "no reason to step down" while he had the support of his branch members.
He likened Senator Lambie's threat to vote for the government's industrial relations bill to "blackmail".
Mr Setka also defended his comments, recorded at a meeting of about 300 shop stewards last week, that downplayed his June conviction for harassing his wife and breaching court orders, dismissing his criminal behaviour as a "few bad text messages" between a husband and his wife and saying, "Big deal".
The union leader said his choice of words was in response to "untruths and fabrications" that he was a "wife basher" who hit his children, which upset him - and said people should stop "rehashing" his marital spat.
"It's none of the world's business what happens between me and my wife," he said.
"All couples have arguments, some of them go a bit further than others ... We were in a very dark place."
Mr Setka said he had "never had a problem with women" and was "only human", saying in the end "no one was hurt, no one was injured."
He repeated previous comments that the blackmail charges he was facing at the time of the offences, which were later dropped by police, had put pressure on his family.
"If we'd had counselling earlier, it wouldn't have got to that stage," he said.
Mr Setka said he was "a bit embarrassed" by his behaviour and "some of the language I've used" in the 45 text messages, which included calling his wife a "weak f---en piece of shit", a "treacherous Aussie f---en c---", and a "f---en dog".
But he refused to agree that swearing at a union meeting was inappropriate by the standards of a modern workplace, or that it would amount to "harassment."
"We're talking about a shop stewards' meeting where there's over 300 shop stewards. If we had a swear box there'd probably be $100,000 there - and not just me," he said.
"I do swear a lot ... I lead a construction union, I'm not in charge of the choir of a Sunday school."
He said there was "a lot of swearing that's used" on construction sites and that he tailored his language use to his audience.
Asked about a Federal Court's description of his union as "the most recidivist corporate offender" in Australia, Mr Setka defended the CFMMEU's record of more than 2000 breaches of the Fair Work Act, saying most were civil breaches such as failing to give the legislated 24 hours notice before entering a building site.
"When you sort of pass terrible laws, it makes it very hard for unions to operate," he said.
"We've got a job to do ... In the building industry, in 24 hours a lot can happen. When we get a call saying something's unsafe, someone's going to get killed or injured, what are we going to do?"
Mr Setka said Labor leader Anthony Albanese's push to expel him from the ALP had been prompted by what he said were inaccurate accusations that he had disparaged anti-violence campaigned Rosie Batty.
"This all started when I said I was not going to give any more money to the ALP," he said.
The union leader has become a thorn in Mr Albanese's side and has said he will appeal a Federal Court decision against his challenge to the expulsion.
The Morrison government has seized on the controversy to over Mr Setka push its union-busting Ensuring Integrity Bill.
Tasmanian senator Jacqui Lambie has said she will support the bill, which will make it easier to deregister law-breaking unions and disqualify officials, if Mr Setka does not resign.
Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Sally McManus has also appealed for him to resign for the good of the wider union movement.
- SMH/The Age