Australia Fresh push for federal integrity body
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Integrity campaigners have renewed calls for a federal anti-corruption commission, as the government stalls on introducing legislation for the body's creation.
Speaking at the National Press Club, Transparency Australia chief executive Serena Lillywhite said while a federal integrity commission was not a silver bullet to stamp out corruption, its need was urgent.
"It is a unique, potentially once-in-a-generation time to actually actually design a cohesive integrity framework that has a robust integrity commission as its linchpin," she said.
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It is looking less and less likely that a bill to establish a federal anti-corruption commission will be introduced before Christmas. And, if an election is called for March, there will be no time to legislate it before people head to the polls.First floated in 2018 by then attorney-general Christian Porter, the Coalition has come under sustained criticism since for failing to establish its long-promised Commonwealth Integrity Commission.
"It is a no-brainer. We need one, and more than 80 per cent of Australians want one."
While the government at the 2019 election pledged to establish a federal integrity body, the coalition has attracted criticism for not introducing legislation to parliament during the current term.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the government would introduce the legislation if Labor supported the move.
Government MP Bridget Archer crossed the floor of parliament last week to back an independent push to bring debate on the issue.
Ms Lillywhite said she commended the stance taken by Ms Archer in parliament.
"Last week's extraordinary scenes in parliament laid bare for all to see the resistance to introducing or even debating a strong integrity commission."
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Prominent lawyer Geoffrey Watson from the Centre for Public Integrity said the commission needed to be powerful.
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"The predatory misuse of ministerial discretion in allocating money is not a rumour, it is an objective fact," he told the National Press Club.
"(The commission) needs to have its powers applied equally to all and it must be opened to scrutiny through a parliamentary oversight committee or through judicial review. "
The government's version of the commission, which has been released as an exposure draft, has been criticised as weak.
While some have urged the federal body to have the powers of NSW's Independent Commission Against Corruption, Mr Morrison described it as a kangaroo court.
Liberal senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells said in a speech to the upper house an analysis of the proposed federal commission found it would be the "weakest and least effective integrity agency in the country".
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Scott Morrison says former New South Wales premier Gladys Berejiklian was "done over" by the NSW corruption commission, while defending the government's decision to block debate on a federal anti-corruption body.The Coalition narrowly avoided embarrassment in parliament earlier today, managing to stop a crossbench attempt to bring on debate about a national anti-corruption commission.
"Those who resist the introduction of an effective federal integrity body raise people's curiosity," she told parliament.
The prime minister tabled the proposal in the House of Representatives when asked about the senator's comments, but declined a Labor invitation to immediately bring on the bill for debate.
"We have done the work to ensure an effective integrity commission can be implemented in this country," Mr Morrison said.
"There is only one obstacle to that being passed in this parliament: the Labor Party."
Pauline Wright from the NSW Council for Civil Liberties also said the commission needed stronger powers than were already proposed.
"Under the government's model, investigations can't even begin unless a high bar is reached of reasonable suspicion of one of the specifically defined crimes in their model," she said.
"Such a limited scope would be unconscionable. While criminal conduct should, of course, be a priority for any anti-corruption body, it should be able to investigate other forms of misconduct."
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Ms Archer, who represents the marginal Tasmanian seat of Bass, crossed the floor and supported independent MP Helen Haines who wants a debate on her integrity commission bill. 1/4 SLIDES © Provided by Daily Mail ( 2/4 SLIDES © Provided by Daily Mail ( 3/4 SLIDES © Provided by Daily Mail ( 4/4 SLIDES © Provided by Daily Mail ( Ms Archer said it was a 'difficult decision' to vote against Scott Morrison but said he has taken too long to introduce a corruption watchdog which he promised in