Tensions rising between unions, government

Matt Coughlan
Workplace Minister Craig Laundy says he is ready to take on the union movement at the next election

Australia's workplace minister has a message for an emboldened union movement: bring it on.

The CFMEU scored a major victory on Wednesday when blackmail charges against Victorian boss John Setka and his deputy Shaun Reardon, that stemmed from a coalition government-initiated union corruption royal commission, were dropped.

But Workplace Minister Craig Laundy says suggestions the federal government has been outsmarted by the construction union are rubbish.

"Any inkling or any assertion by anyone including Mr Setka that this is a Liberal Party witch-hunt is an absolute farce," Mr Laundy told Sky News.

Mr Setka wants Opposition Leader Bill Shorten to make it easier for workers to go on strike and relax union right-of-entry laws if Labor wins government at the next federal election.

"We've now got a new shadow minister for industrial relations and that's John Setka," Mr Laundy said.

"I think that's a great thing for us to argue against between now and the next election."

Mr Laundy linked Mr Setka, who has admitted fighting for workers' rights outside the law, to 59 criminal charges and his union to $15 million in fines.

He accused unions of trying to take workplace laws back to the 1970s when strike action was more common.

"It's going to be gung-ho battle for the next 12 months, but one I'm up for."

Mr Setka and Mr Reardon were accused of trying to blackmailed Boral managers Paul Dalton and Peter Head at a coffee shop in Melbourne in April 2013.

ACTU secretary Sally McManus wants an investigation into whether former prime minister Tony Abbott and his then employment minister, Eric Abetz were involved in the events that led to the court action.

Mr Abetz said he was happy to release any alleged correspondence with Boral executives under freedom of information laws.

But he railed against suggestions of a conspiracy, saying that would rely on the independent Victorian Director of Public Prosecutions playing along.

"It is just fantasy land at its worst," Senator Abetz told ABC radio.