The crossbench senators Rex Patrick and Jacqui Lambie have threatened to refer the controversial unionist John Setka to the police, accusing him of seeking to intimidate them in relation to a Senate vote.
On Monday the pair said they were weighing a number of options to respond to Setka’s comments, reported on Saturday, that if “fucking crossbenchers” voted with the government on a bill to increase penalties for legal breaches by unions then they would “wear the consequences”.
Patrick told the Senate that Setka had made “threats in relation to an impending vote on the ensuring integrity bill”, which was currently before committee and likely to be voted on in October.
“No senator should ever be intimidated or threatened in relation to a vote,” he said. “Lobbied, challenged on the merits, presented with contrary views – yes – but threatened? No.”
Patrick said they were likely to take a “combination” of actions including referring the matter to the privileges committee, referring Setka to the police, or inviting him to explain his comments to the Senate education and employment committee.
“There should be zero tolerance of anyone who seeks to influence a senator’s vote by way of threats, we can’t possibly leave this unattended.”
Lambie told the Senate that “to seek to influence a vote in this chamber by threat or intimidation is completely inappropriate”.
“I dish it out a fair bit so I can’t complain when it comes back in my direction but these comments are entirely beyond the pale,” she said. “Politics can be brutal but it should never become violent.”
Lambie said she would not be swayed by threats and “allowing [the comments] to go unanswered is no longer an option”.
“To John: I can only appeal to whatever is left of your sense of decency and honour, and ask you to do what is plainly in the interests of your members and I will urge you once again to stand down and resign.”
A Construction Forestry Mining Maritime and Energy Union (CFMMEU) source rejected the claim Setka had sought to intimidate the senators, arguing there was “talk of running political campaigns (like happens at every election) but no physical threats or anything of that nature were ever made”.
Centre Alliance and Lambie are the casting votes on the Coalition’s ensuring integrity bill, ostensibly targeted at the CFMMEU and Setka but likely to have wide-ranging impacts on all unions.
Lambie has suggested she will support the bill unless Setka quits while Centre Alliance is still pursuing further changes to lessen its potential to punish minor breaches of industrial law and prevent its misuse by employers seeking to improve their bargaining position.
The Labor leader, Anthony Albanese, has vowed to expel Setka from Labor for his convictions for breaching a family violence intervention order and harassment, and allegations that he made comments denigrating the work of the anti-violence campaigner Rosie Batty. Setka denies making the comments about Batty.
Setka has been suspended from Labor – but has not been expelled because the party is awaiting a further legal appeal – and still holds his union position despite pressure from the Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary, Sally McManus, and others to resign.
On Sunday Albanese said: “It’s time for John Setka to realise that he is doing damage to the movement. And if he has any loyalty to the movement, he will act appropriately.
“This is yet another occasion in which John Setka has used language and behaviour that is unacceptable for anyone participating in civil society.
“John Setka’s actions undermine the hard work [of] shop stewards, union delegates, organisers and union officials who work very hard, most of them as volunteers … to advance the interests of the trade union movement as an important component of a democratic society.”