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CANBERRA, Nov 26 AAP

November 26 2012, 09:41AM

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott denies a coalition push to increase penalties for union leaders who rip off members is actually about increasing pressure on Prime Minister Julia Gillard over the union slush fund saga.

The coalition plans to introduce a private bill to parliament which it says would ensure a level playing field for union leaders and company directors.

Mr Abbott on Monday denied the move was linked to his pursuit of Ms Gillard over her actions as a lawyer setting up an Australian Workers' Union (AWU) slush fund in the early 1990s.

"We have been pressing the point here for the best part of a year," he told reporters in Canberra.

"This is a perfectly appropriate time to introduce this legislation."

Mr Abbott said there was a "vast disparity" between penalties for company directors and officials, and the relative "taps on the wrist" union leaders received.

"Is it (the government) in favour of ensuring union officials who rip off their members are appropriately punished, or does it want to continue to make excuses for dodgy behaviour inside the union movement?

"It's very important that people who commit essentially the same offence should pay essentially the same price," he said.

But government backbencher Andrew Leigh said it wasn't the case that union leaders could commit fraud and not be punished.

"Labor has strengthened these laws and the penalty for fraud is 10 years (jail)," he told reporters.

"Mr Abbott will today introduce a bill that has a penalty of five years."

Dr Leigh said he wouldn't be voting for the coalition's legislation.

Australian Greens deputy leader Adam Bandt agrees Mr Abbott is simply playing politics, saying there wasn't parity between unions and corporations when it came to financial disclosure.

"At the moment unions and employer associations are required to publicly disclose their accounts and comply with stringent reporting requirements.

"When every small business and company in this country is also required to publicly disclose all its accounts, then maybe we can look at that."

Mr Bandt said the bigger issue was the fact one in four Australian employees didn't get paid sick leave because they were in temporary positions.

He will introduce a bill on Monday "to allow workers more easily to move from insecure to secure working arrangements".