Written by ABC political reporter Matthew Doran and originally published on February 7 2022
A national anti-corruption commission will not be established before the next federal election.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison first announced a Commonwealth Integrity Commission (CIC) in December 2018, alongside then attorney-general Christian Porter.
Despite years of consultation and draft legislation being released, the Coalition is refusing to introduce the bill to Parliament.
The government has tried to paint it as a test for Labor, arguing it needs to support the proposed anti-corruption watchdog model before it is even debated in Parliament.
That is despite the Coalition having introduced numerous pieces of legislation over the last term of Parliament which did not have cross-party support.
A spokesman for Attorney-General Michaelia Cash, who inherited the model from Mr Porter, said there were only a number of sitting days left before Australians head to the polls.
“We’re prioritising religious discrimination and online trolling legislation because these have a better chance of passing in the remaining period,” he said.
“If Labor want to vote with us on our CIC legislation we could pass it before the election.”
The Coalition’s model has been widely criticised by the legal community and transparency experts, who have argued it is overly secretive and lacks teeth.
Analysis by the Centre for Public Integrity labelled the CIC model as “the weakest integrity commission in the country” after comparing it with state and territory watchdogs.
The decision not to introduce the legislation opens the government to attacks over its credibility, and allegations it has broken an election commitment by stalling.
Last year, Liberal MP Bridget Archer crossed the floor to join with members of the crossbench and Labor to bring on debate on a national integrity commission.
That parliamentary manoeuvre was only defeated because of a technicality.
Senior Coalition members have repeatedly argued the COVID-19 pandemic forced a change in priorities for the government – particularly within the Attorney-General’s portfolio.
“This is a government that lives in fear of accountability and what a powerful, independent, and transparent anti-corruption commission would reveal,” Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said in a statement.
Labor has cited numerous Auditor-General inquiries into Commonwealth grants programs, leading to allegations of pork-barrelling, as evidence for why a national anti-corruption watchdog is desperately needed.
“We knew a government that sees no difference between taxpayer money and Liberal National party money wouldn’t value integrity, but now they have proven it,” Dr Helen Haines, one of the architects of the crossbench anti-corruption commission model, said in a statement.
In rejecting calls for the CIC model to be more transparent, the Prime Minister likened the New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) as a “kangaroo court”.
The government had allowed for public consultation on its original proposal, suggesting it was open to amending the model and clearing up some of the concerns about its powers and its secrecy.
Last year, the Prime Minister confirmed the original Porter model would remain the Coalition’s policy, leading to questions on what the point of further public feedback and discussion was.