Liberal John Alexander ‘would think about’ supporting independent’s federal anti-corruption bill

Outgoing MP says he reserves right to cross the floor if bill is raised again, but attorney general says it will not progress before election

The outgoing Liberal MP, John Alexander, says he would “seriously consider” supporting Helen Haines’s bill for a federal integrity commission if the independent member for Indi again attempts to have the draft legislation debated by parliament before the election.

On Tuesday, the attorney general, Michaelia Cash, confirmed the government was “not progressing” its proposed commonwealth integrity commission until at least after the election, saying the government could not pass it without Labor support.

This means the government will go to the election having broken its 2019 election commitment for an integrity commission, despite first releasing a bill for such a body in November 2020 and the prime minister, Scott Morrison, indicating last week there was still time to introduce it.

Alexander, who has called for a bipartisan approach to establishing a federal anti-corruption body, told Guardian Australia he had “missed his chance” when Haines moved to debate her bill last month and the Tasmanian MP Bridget Archer crossed the floor in support.

“I thought she was very, very brave. I think we’ve seen a lot of brave women lately, and maybe not enough brave men,” Alexander said.

“At that point [of the vote], in this strange world without our advisers here, I wasn’t actually aware when that happened … so I wasn’t prepared and I missed my chance. But I think what she did was very, very brave and it was a statement that we want to move this forward.”

Were it not for the Covid restrictions governing parliament, Haines would have secured the absolute majority required to suspend standing orders and debate her anti-corruption bill, which was also supported by the cross-bench, Labor and the Greens.

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While saying he thought it was a “moot point” and it was unlikely Haines would have another chance to debate her bill with only one sitting week of parliament left before the election, Alexander said he reserved his right to cross the floor.

“We on our side have the right to do that, but I think at this time, it’s unlikely to happen,” he said.

“I won’t tell you what I would do [if Haines tried again], that’s between me, myself and I.

“I certainly would think about it, but I really do dislike playing politics with things. It’s something to be seriously considered, but I’ve got to seriously consider also that we have put a bill forward and it’s been redrafted several times, and there’s been serious effort put in.”

Alexander said he was disappointed the government’s bill had not been introduced, saying he believed leaders of both parties needed to “put their heads together” and come up with a proposal that could be sustained “for generations”.

“Probably the most fundamental thing you expect of your elected leaders is honesty and integrity, and so it is absolutely fundamental,” he said.

“Get together, instead of having a war and then having a peace treaty afterwards – get together, work things out and at least get something we can start with.

“And then that can get added to as one party gets into power, they might add a little change, and it will evolve into something that is serviceable. The endless debate and then the just personal attacks that continue every day are not productive.”

Haines said on Wednesday the government’s failure to introduce a bill indicated its fear of transparency.

We have a Coalition government who are dead scared of having an integrity commission and they’re doing everything they can to make sure we don’t have one,” Haines told ABC radio.

“The bill has never been introduced … what they’ve put out is an exposure draft. People have come to this in good faith trying to improve what was a very flimsy proposition. The government didn’t engage.”

In question time, Labor’s shadow attorney general, Mark Dreyfus, asked about Morrison’s claim last week that a the national anticorruption commission could be legislated before the election.

“Now the attorney general has confirmed the government will not put legislation to parliament this term. Why won’t the prime minister do his job and deliver an anticorruption commission?” Dreyfus asked.

Morrison said: “We’ve tabled our legislation for that integrity commission. The Labor Party don’t support it, and that’s why it’s not proceeding.”


Sarah Martin Chief political correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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