Written by David Crowe and originally published in the Age on February 7, 2022
Labor leader Anthony Albanese will go to the election telling voters the only way to ensure integrity in politics is to elect a new government after Attorney-General Michaelia Cash shelved a promise made three years ago to create a federal anti-corruption commission.
Stepping up an attack on competence and integrity, Labor claimed the government decision meant Prime Minister Scott Morrison “cannot be trusted” because he vowed to set up a national anti-corruption agency in December 2018 and failed to deliver over a full term of Parliament.
The government released a draft bill last year to create a Commonwealth Integrity Commission but never put it to Parliament amid strong criticism from legal experts, anti-corruption campaigners, Labor, the Greens and independent MPs.
“This is a real proposal with real resources, real teeth,” Mr Morrison said in December 2018 when he announced the policy, which had been considered by federal cabinet under his predecessor Malcolm Turnbull.
Senator Cash told The Australian Financial Review that other bills, such as the proposed Religious Discrimination Act, would take priority and the integrity commission would not be decided by Parliament before the election because Labor would not agree to the government model.
“The Labor Party wants a political witch-hunt with show trials,” Senator Cash said.
The government proposed a commission with two divisions – one for public officials and one for politicians – with no public hearings for investigations into politicians and no ability for the commission to launch its own inquiries or act on anonymous tips from the public.
Labor is promising a National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) with the power to hold public hearings and the ability to issue findings of fact and findings of corrupt conduct in public reports. As with the government policy, the Labor model would not allow the new agency to determine criminal liability because this would be a matter to be referred to the Australian Federal Police or the Commonwealth Department of Public Prosecutions.
Shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus said the announcement from Senator Cash was a broken election promise.
“The Attorney-General has today confirmed Scott Morrison cannot be trusted by the Australian people to establish a national anti-corruption commission,” he said.
“This is a government that lives in fear of accountability and what a powerful, independent, and transparent anti-corruption commission would reveal.
“It’s now clear that to stop corruption, you have to change the government.”
The Centre for Public Integrity, an independent group led by former judges and anti-corruption experts, said last year the government proposal would set up the “weakest watchdog” compared to state anti-corruption agencies.
“It would hide corruption, not expose it,” said Stephen Charles QC, a former judge of the Victorian Court of Appeal and a director of the Centre for Public Integrity.