New claims of bribery and kickbacks in the construction sector underline the need for the return of a tough industry watchdog, the Abbott government says.

Employment Minister Eric Abetz has seized on reports of Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) corruption, saying the Australian people want the industry cleaned up.

A joint ABC-Fairfax Media investigation claims union officials are making corrupt deals to help companies linked to organised crime secure construction contracts.

Eric Abetz

Eric Abetz

Victoria’s desalination plant and the Barangaroo development in Sydney are among a number of projects that companies connected to major crime figures are reportedly involved in.

“The construction industry has had an unfortunate history of corruption, illegality, thuggery and standover tactics,” Senator Abetz told AAP on Tuesday.

The reports show corruption is still ingrained and there is a pressing need for the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) to be re-established, he said.

The commission was replaced with a Fair Work inspectorate by the former Labor government, and Labor and the Greens are now blocking legislation for the new ABCC in the Senate.

“The ALP simply simply no longer has any feathers to fly with in opposing the re-establishment of the ABCC,” Senator Abetz said.

CFMEU national secretary Dave Noonan wants a full police investigation of any allegations.

“If the leadership of the CFMEU is made aware of improper, illegal, corrupt or criminal activity by any official of the union, we act immediately,” he said in a statement.

The union has terminated the employment of officials who have engaged in such activity in the past and would not hesitate to do so again, he said.

Mr Noonan said the CFMEU had recently adopted new governance rules for its officials.

Labor frontbencher Jason Clare said anyone breaking the law “should have the book thrown at them” and called for the allegations to be referred to police and the Fair Work Commission.

Melbourne identity Mick Gatto has denied being involved in corrupt building industry dealings.

The ABC-Fairfax report alleges a Comanchero bikie pays Mr Gatto to get his firm an agreement with the Victorian building union so it can work on building sites.

Mr Gatto says the report is wrong.

Queensland Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie says similar complaints have been made in his state and investigations are ongoing.

“This is about cleaning up the industry,” he told ABC radio.

“I think that any union would be kidding themselves to think that if it’s happening to an extent in New South Wales and Victoria and not happening in Queensland.

“They’d be living under a rock.”