Michaelia Cash confirms no action on national integrity commission before election

Attorney general also tells hearing no changes have been made to the Coalition’s proposed model, despite two years of consultation

The attorney general, Michaelia Cash, has confirmed the commonwealth integrity commission is off the agenda until at least after the election, as the government can’t pass it without Labor support.

The government is “not progressing with it at this stage”, the attorney general told Senate estimates on Tuesday, also confirming that despite two years of consultation no changes had been made to the Coalition model.

Earlier in February the prime minister, Scott Morrison, suggested there may still be a chance to legislate the anti-corruption body before the May election, a possible reference to a final attempt to get cabinet to agree to a beefed-up version of the integrity commission to boost the chances of passing the religious discrimination bill.

Labor and the crossbench have all called for a tougher national integrity commission, with a Greens bill already having passed the Senate, and a crossbench bill supported by MP Helen Haines and Senator Rex Patrick also a viable model to pass parliament.

But despite Liberal MP Bridget Archer crossing the floor to progress the national integrity commission, the government refuses to introduce its own bill to parliament to set the body up.

Under questioning from Labor senators on Tuesday, Cash said: “In the terms of the model of the integrity commission in the legislation that is drafted, you don’t support our bill, you have not put forward an alternative to that bill.

“And on that basis, at this point in time, we won’t be proceeding with it, because you do not support it. And we’ve always said we would require bipartisan support.”

The shadow attorney general, Mark Dreyfus, described the admission as “another broken promise” from the Morrison government.

BREAKING: Attorney-General Michaelia Cash confirms there will be NO Anti-Corruption Commission under the Liberals. Yet another Morrison broken promise. #Estimates pic.twitter.com/8BsXCm8I5A

— Mark Dreyfus (@markdreyfusQCMP) February 15, 2022

“To this day, Mr Morrison has still not even brought a bill before the Parliament,” he said in a statement.

“Instead, all we’ve seen is scandal after scandal go unchecked, endless excuses and a weak, pathetic, desultory ‘exposure draft’ which was so bad, the Centre for Public Integrity denounced it is ‘a sham designed to cover up corruption’.”

The Morrison government promised a national integrity commission in December 2018, ahead of the 2019 election, after months of dismissing it as a “fringe issue”.

After missing its self-imposed 2019 deadline for draft legislation, the Coalition unveiled its proposed body in November 2020 for a commission that will not conduct public hearings or release reports into alleged corruption by public servants and politicians.

The model was also panned by experts for the narrow definition of corruption and high bar to start investigations.

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Officials from the attorney general’s department at the hearing confirmed no changes were made to the draft legislation after consultation.

Cash said: “The government believes that the model it has is the appropriate model.”

Greens senator Larissa Waters, said the model was unchanged despite “experts [saying] it is a protection racket for MPs”.

My bill for a strong corruption watchdog passed the Senate over 2 yrs ago. The Gov won’t bring it on for a vote. Their own model which experts say is a protection racket for MPs, is unchanged despite rounds of consultation. THEY. JUST. DONT. WANT. TO. BE. ACCOUNTABLE. #auspol

— Larissa Waters (@larissawaters) February 15, 2022

Cash said the government could “work cooperatively with you to pass that as quickly as we can” if Labor or the Greens reversed their opposition, although there are just two Senate sitting days left in late March before the 2022 election.


Paul Karp

The GuardianTramp

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