The prime minister, Scott Morrison, says there is still a chance to legislate a commonwealth integrity commission before the election, after the attorney general suggested the government would run out of time to do so.
Establishing a federal anti-corruption commission in this term of government was a key pledge made by the prime minister before the last election, with a draft of the bill released in November 2020.
But with just seven parliamentary sitting days before the budget, the attorney general Michaelia Cash indicated in an interview with the Australian Financial Review, that the government would not have enough time to fulfil the election pledge.
Speaking at a press conference on Monday, Morrison suggested Cash was referring to the current sitting fortnight, and dismissed suggestions the government had broken an election promise.
“The term is not completed yet,” Morrison said.
When asked if that meant he believed the bill could be passed before the election, Morrison said: “we’ll see”.
The moderate Liberal MP Jason Falinski is calling for the government to push ahead with the introduction of its proposed federal integrity commission to “start the debate”, warning that independents hoping to claw seats off government MPs would campaign strongly on the issue.
“I am really disappointed that we are not going to put legislation to the parliament,” the Sydney MP told Guardian Australia. “I understand we are squeezed and have got a crowded parliamentary agenda, but I still think we should have brought it to the fore for debate.
“I doubt there is enough time to pass it – although there could be – but there is certainly enough time to start the debate on it.”
Falinski said independents running against incumbent government MPs – including Sophie Scamps in his north shore seat – were campaigning against the Coalition on the integrity issue, and this would bolster their cause.
“They already are, and this will give grist to their mill,” he said.
But after the CIC consultation draft bill drew criticism for the softness of its approach, some MPs were pushing for the government to toughen the proposed model to include public hearings and broaden the commission’s powers.
Despite Cash insisting that the government remained on track to introduce the bill last year, revised legislation was not signed off by cabinet, leaving the government to defend its existing bill as the preferred model despite not yet introducing it.
The issue came to a head when the MP for Bass, Bridget Archer, crossed the floor to support an independent bill being introduced by Helen Haines.
Archer criticised the government for its failure to bring the bill to parliament, saying it was her strong view that “this is the most important thing we need to do” in this term.
Parliament sits for just seven days before budget week, with the Senate only sitting for three days before a week of Senate estimates next week.
Haines said the concession from Cash confirmed that “integrity is not a priority for the Liberal National Government”.
“For three years they have delayed, distracted and dragged their feet after promising to implement a federal integrity commission, and now that promise is broken,” Haines said.
“What the Government does prioritise is the ability to spend taxpayer money for political purposes, without proper scrutiny. That is what we will see again in the upcoming budget and election campaign.”
Haines said the only way for a federal integrity commission to be established in this term of parliament was with the support of the crossbench and with government MPs crossing the floor.
“I know the majority of MPs who do value integrity are ready to vote on my Bill.
“Liberal and National MPs who value integrity will get no chance in this parliament to vote in favour of an integrity commission bill drafted by their Government. There will be consequences at the ballot box for MPs who talk a big game on integrity but take no action in parliament.”