Australia's peak trade union body has attacked the trade union royal commission for releasing a discussion paper to the media before making it public.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions labelled the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption “a political operation” after it gave an embargoed copy of the discussion paper to media.

This allowed media to prepare stories about the discussion paper before its release.

Releasing the document, counsel assisting the commission, Jeremy Stoljar SC, said many issues were raised at the commission because laws were being ignored or not enforced, rather than any defect in the laws themselves.

However, the paper raises the possibility of new laws around bribery and “corrupting benefits” which would make companies liable for fines of up to $17 million if they pay unions to buy industrial peace.

It also raises for discussion potential new powers for police to enforce court rulings ending pickets or protests at construction sites – with union officials at risk of being banned from holding office if they refuse to leave the scene within 15 minutes.

Other issues up for consideration are tighter controls on funding of union elections and the scrapping of laws that allow unions to decide where members’ superannuation funds are invested.

But unions involved in the royal commission are fuming media were given the paper before they were.

“The trade union royal commission has again proved it is a political operation designed to push the government’s agenda by releasing a discussion paper to the media before its public release,” the ACTU said in a statement.

ACTU secretary Dave Oliver said the inquiry was “a fundamentally political exercise”.

“Our consistent view is that this royal commission is about attacking the ability of unions to deliver outcomes for working people – jobs, wages, conditions and safety,” Mr Oliver said.

An ACTU spokesperson said the council would not make further comment on the 122-page paper until it was properly evaluated.

CFMEU national secretary Dave Noonan was also critical of the release, saying it was not appropriate action for an independent, quasi-judicial body.

Mr Noonan said the construction union would not make a formal response to the commission, describing it as “an inquiry that’s there for the Liberal Party to float policy options”.

He said there were historical inaccuracies in the paper’s history of industrial relations.

But peak industry body Australian Industry Group called the paper an important contribution to public debate “about how best to address the unlawful and unacceptable conduct of some trade unions and officials”.

“Any view that the existing laws are working effectively is simply unsustainable,” Ai Group chief executive Innes Willox said in a statement.