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Turnbull seeks strong finish to year

AAP logoAAP 22/11/2016 Paul Osborne, AAP Senior Political Writer

Malcolm Turnbull has given his coalition troops riding orders to deliver a "strong finish" to the year, as the government hailed the passing of one of its two double dissolution trigger bills.

As the prime minister returned to Canberra on Tuesday from the APEC summit in Peru, he received news of the early morning passing of the bill to set up the Registered Organisations Commission - a body designed to hold unions and employer groups to account over misconduct.

Employment Minister Michaelia Cash told the coalition joint party room the commission was needed because the Fair Work Commission had been "hopeless".

The prime minister said the ACTU and Labor should be condemned for not supporting the reform, as it was in the interests of all union members for officials to properly manage billions of dollars in membership fees and assets.

"Bill Shorten stands up for the class of union bosses," he told reporters.

"It is the coalition that is standing up for millions of members of trade unions and employer organisations right across our nation."

Labor argued the Australian Securities and Investments Commission should investigate serious matters, penalties should be toughened, auditing improved and whistleblowers better protected.

Whistleblower protections and higher auditing standards were added to the bill, which received the support of the four One Nation senators, three Nick Xenophon Team members and fellow cross benchers Derryn Hinch and David Leyonhjelm.

The Law Council said protecting public and private sector employees and managers who blow the whistle on improper conduct was a "positive development".

Senator Xenophon said he and Senator Hinch would hold the government to account if it reneged on the deal.

"Hell hath no fury like a crossbencher's scorn," Senator Xenophon said.

ACTU secretary Dave Oliver said it was an attempt to hobble the union movement with red tape and did nothing to improve pay and conditions or workplace safety.

The government on Tuesday brought on debate for its second double dissolution trigger - the bill to restore the Australian Building and Construction Commission.

Senator Cash declined to say whether she thought the bill would pass by the end of this sitting fortnight, which is the final parliamentary session of the year.

The Nick Xenophon Team and Senator Hinch are seeking greater protections for building subcontractors, better dispute resolution and more Australian building materials being used.

One Nation is likely to back the bill, but West Australian senator Rod Culleton has voiced concerns about the erosion of legal rights.

Senator Leyonhjelm has sought government assurances on a range of bills which erode freedoms and liberties.

Tasmanian crossbencher Jacqui Lambie is set to side with Labor and the Greens, having described the draft laws as having "more holes in it than the target at the shooting range".

The government also appears set to gain Senate support for superannuation changes and an overhaul of the vocational education and training system.

Meanwhile, Labor took heart from the latest Newspoll which maintained its 53-47 per cent two-party lead over the coalition.

Mr Shorten said gaffe-prone ministers such as Attorney-General George Brandis and Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce were "gifts that keep on giving".

"Malcolm Turnbull must have been thinking about turning his plane around last night," Mr Shorten told the Labor caucus.

Crossbench senator Derryn Hinch said the government had indicated it was open to amending the Australian Building and Construction Commission bill.

Senator Hinch said the biggest issue for him was security of payment for subcontractors, which could be solved by setting up a trust to enable the fast-tracking of payments.

"If they honour the amendments, most of the amendments ... I think they will probably get it through," he told Sky News on Tuesday.

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