Federal Icac: independents want safeguards to ensure body cannot be politicised

Crossbenchers push Labor to ensure parliament has a say on commissioner and funding

Independent MPs are pushing the government to ensure its new integrity commission cannot be politicised, with calls for parliament to have a say in who is appointed the commissioner and to determine the body’s funding needs.

The independent MP Helen Haines has written to the attorney general, Mark Dreyfus, asking for guarantees of independence, including an oversight committee with enough independent and crossbench representation that it “can’t be stacked” by government MPs.

The independent Zoe Daniel has meanwhile raised concerns about the potential for future governments to subject the integrity commission to budget cuts, saying there needed to be clarity about the commission’s funding which should be removed from the political cycle.

“I’d like to see, if not a legislated position, just some clarity from a policy position around the budget … so it can’t be nobbled by a future government that tries to kill it off by death of a thousand cuts,” Daniel told Guardian Australia.

Daniel is also calling for the government to address protections for whistleblowers in the current bill, rather than wait until a separate review into the public interest disclosure act next year, saying the protections are “key to the success” of a new integrity framework.

The independent MP Kylea Tink said she wanted to ensure that the proposed legislation was “sustainable” and did not result in the body being weaponised by either side of politics.

She also suggested the joint parliamentary oversight committee could be empowered to endorse candidates for the commissioner’s role based on the recommendation of the attorney general.

“I really think this initiative should be bigger than party politics,” Tink said.

Monique Ryan, the independent MP for the seat of Kooyong, said the oversight committee could work in the same way as the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security monitors and reports on the functions of Australia’s security agencies.

“It looks at spending, it looks at its functions and the extent to which it’s meeting its remit but then also gives Treasury advice on the appropriate allocation of funds,” Ryan said.

The calls from the crossbench for the proposed national anti-corruption commission (NACC) to include a powerful new oversight committee comes as the government prepares to introduce legislation in the second week of the coming sitting fortnight, commencing 12 September.

The bill will go to caucus on 13 September, and be introduced on Wednesday 14 September or Thursday 15 September.

The Greens have supported calls for the committee to have oversight of the NACC’s funding, but the government is sceptical that allowing it to recommend the budget amounts to budgetary independence.

Haines told Guardian Australia budgetary independence was a “longevity safety measure” in what she labelled a “once in a generation reform”.

Dreyfus has been consulting the crossbench and integrity stakeholders, who have been briefed on its content but not seen a final version of the bill. The bill will be sent to a joint select committee for an inquiry, with a possible vote in the November sittings of parliament.

Haines and the Greens have also backed the push for expanded whistleblower protections, along with the scope for the commission to investigate third parties trying to corrupt government decisions, even if the entities do not have contracts with the government.


Sarah Martin and Paul Karp

The GuardianTramp

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