Federal anti-corruption commission ruled out ahead of election as government refuses to introduce bill

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A national anti-corruption commission will not be set up before the next federal elections.

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 the publication of a draft bill, the Coalition refuses to present the bill to Parliament.

The government has tried to present it as a test for Labour, arguing that it must back the proposed model of anti-corruption oversight before it is even debated in parliament.

This is despite the fact that the Coalition introduced numerous bills in the last legislature that did not receive all-party support.

A spokeswoman for Attorney General Michaelia Cash, who inherited the model from Mr Porter, said there were only a few sitting days left before Australians head to the polls.

“We are prioritizing religious discrimination and online trolling legislation because they have a better chance of passing in the remaining period,” he said.

“If Labor wants to vote with us on our CIC legislation, we could pass it before the election.”

The Coalition’s model has been widely criticized by the legal community and transparency experts, who have argued that it is too secretive and lacks teeth.

The Center for Public Integrity’s analysis called CIC’s model “the weakest integrity commission in the nation” after comparing it to state and territory oversight bodies.

The decision not to introduce the bill exposes the government to attacks on its credibility and allegations that it broke an election commitment by delaying.

Last year, Liberal MP Bridget Archer took the stage to join members of the central bank and Labor in launching a debate on a national integrity commission.

This parliamentary maneuver was rejected only because of a technicality.

Senior members of the Coalition have repeatedly argued that the COVID-19 pandemic has forced a shift in priorities for 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.

Liberal MP Bridget Archer spoke last year to kick off a debate for a federal anti-corruption commission.(ABC News: Tamara Penniket)

Labor cited numerous Auditor General investigations into Commonwealth grant schemes, leading to pork barrel allegations, as evidence of why a national anti-corruption watchdog is so desperately needed.

“We knew a government that saw no difference between taxpayers’ money and National Liberal Party money wouldn’t value integrity, but now they’ve proven it,” said Dr Helen Haines, l one of the architects of the interbank anti-corruption commission model, in a statement.

Rejecting calls for the CIC model to be more transparent, the Prime Minister likened NSW’s Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) to a “kangaroo court”.

The government had allowed a public consultation on its initial proposal, suggesting it was ready to change the model and allay some concerns about its powers and secrecy.

Last year, the Prime Minister confirmed Porter’s original model would remain Coalition policy, raising questions about the value of further public feedback and discussion.

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