FORMER workplace relations minister Peter Reith has called for a Coalition government to set up a broad inquiry into behaviour and governance in the trade union movement and not just into the Australian Workers Union slush fund affair.
He said one issue it should look at was the practice of unions setting up other entities.
"The Electrical Trades Union has 26 corporate entities. Members have no capacity to follow the trail and insist on accountability," he said.
On Friday, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said that in government he would have a judicial inquiry on the AWU affair, in which two union officials, one of them Julia Gillard's then boyfriend, set up an association and stole funds. Mr Reith said it would be preferable to roll this into a wider inquiry.
Shadow workplace affairs minister Eric Abetz said a general inquiry was not on the Coalition's "to do" list. But he said issues like money going astray from the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union's fund to help people with drug and alcohol problems, and the ETU buying a $1.1 million property to lease to one of its officials "start swinging the pendulum in favour of such an inquiry".
Mr Reith said the inquiry should also cover the Health Services Union, as well as the issue of the governance used by superannuation funds. "Appointments to these funds should be based on expertise in business and investing," he said.
There were allegations that in some cases the boards of these funds did not devolve decisions to those expert in investment. "That's a very bad process if it happens," he said.
When the Howard government came to power and he was workplace minister, Mr Reith said, the issue of an inquiry on the AWU affair had not been raised, although a leader of the union at the time, Ian Cambridge, wanted a royal commission on the AWU fraud affair.
Mr Abbott on Sunday declined to specifically endorse shadow attorney-general George Brandis' interjection in the Senate last week saying there was "a criminal in The Lodge".
"I'll leave the serious lawyers to argue about that," Mr Abbott said.
"The point I make is that the Prime Minister obviously misled the West Australian Corporate Affairs Commission, and the next point I make is that it is unlawful to do that," he told the Ten Network.
Asked what laws he thought Ms Gillard had broken, Mr Abbott said: "That's something George Brandis has gone into in great detail."
Ms Gillard said the opposition would keep carrying on about the AWU matter because it did not have any positive policies.
"Mr Abbott is now going to ask the Australian people in 2013 to vote for him on the basis that the centre of his prime ministership would be continuing this personal campaign of sleaze and smear ... The driving purpose of his prime ministership would be to continue a fight against me, rather than a fight for the Australian people."
A Galaxy poll in News Ltd papers found 31 per cent believed Ms Gillard had lied over the AWU affair, while another 31 per cent thought she was economical with the truth. Only 21 per cent thought she had been open and honest. Despite this, 56 per cent said it would not influence their vote, while 26 per cent said they were less likely to vote Labor.
The poll had the Coalition ahead of Labor 54-46 per cent on a two-party basis.