Independent MPs are urging Prime Minister Anthony Albanese to honour his election pledge to pass laws this year to create a national integrity commission rather than allowing the deadline to slip after Parliament was suspended to mark the death of the Queen.
In a sign of frustration over the sudden suspension, crossbench MPs including Tasmanian independent Andrew Wilkie and Victorian independent Zoe Daniel said they expected Labor to meet the original deadline because Australians wanted rapid action to prevent corruption.
The calls came after Albanese told journalists on Monday that the bill to create the integrity commission to investigate corruption at federal level would be introduced before the end of the year and that this had been his commitment, although others noted he had originally promised to get the bill through Parliament this year.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, at his press conference, said his commitment was to introduce integrity legislation this year.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen
“I feel very strongly that the legislation should be through the Parliament this year, not just tabled and sent off to a committee,” Wilkie said on Monday.
“That was the original ALP promise and I see no reason why that can’t be achieved.”
Albanese was asked on Monday why he had suspended Parliament for two weeks when the House of Commons was continuing to meet in Westminster and he replied by saying he was following the protocols and conventions put in place for the death of the monarch.
Labor promised to have a national integrity commission legislated this year when it outlined its policy on April 15, about one month before election day.
“It’s urgent and that’s why we will legislate it this year,” Albanese told Cairns radio station 4CA on April 16.
Asked if that meant it would be legislated in 2022, he replied: “In 2022, we will get this done. Because we’ve waited long enough.”
On Monday, however, Albanese said: “The commitment we had is it would be introduced this year.”
A debate is also underway over the scope of the Labor proposal when many of the crossbenchers want protection for whistleblowers who go public about wrongdoing, an issue the government regards as a separate matter for a different bill.
Daniel, the member for Goldstein in Melbourne, said her community expected action on an integrity commission in line with the message from Labor at the election.
“Labor committed to legislate this year. The government should keep its promise,” she said.
“The PM has made much of keeping his promises. It would be a very bad precedent indeed if failing to meet this crucial ‘integrity test’ turned out to be his first ‘non-core’ commitment.”
Independent MP Zoe Daniel says the government could speed along the creation of a national integrity commission by providing details now ahead of parliament’s return. Credit:Sydney Morning Herald
Daniel said Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus could help meet the original timetable by releasing the draft legislation before Parliament resumed, speeding up the consultation.
Parliament was due to meet for four days this week but the death of the Queen started a sequence of events set out in plans prepared over recent years, including the suspension of Parliament.
The government revealed on Monday that Parliament would meet on Friday, September 23, to mark the passing of the Queen, one day after the national memorial service to be held in the Great Hall of Parliament House on Thursday, September 22, a public holiday.
Parliament will meet from September 26 to 28 to resume its usual business, setting up the first opportunity for Dreyfus to introduce the national integrity commission bill and take the first steps towards a debate and a vote.
Former prime minister Scott Morrison promised a federal integrity commission at the 2019 election but failed to deliver on the pledge before the 2022 election because he released a draft bill but never introduced it to Parliament.
Victorian independent MP Helen Haines welcomed the decision to bring Parliament back as soon as possible but said she was keen to get started on the legislation for the national anti-corruption commission.
“As it stands we will miss about two weeks of time when the select committee that will examine the bill would have been holding hearings and taking submissions,” she said.
“For this commission to truly be the best it can be and have the trust of Australian people, we need time to debate these issues in the public sphere, through the committee process.
“This is about setting the commission up for success, not compromising and getting it wrong.”
The member for North Sydney, Kylea Tink, said she expected to see draft legislation introduced to Parliament when it meets on September 26 and hoped it would be approved quickly.
“The results of the last election made it really clear that Australians would like to see a federal integrity commission. All the indications are they would like to see that sooner rather than later,” she said.
“With that said, it’s important that the legislation is right and therefore, it shouldn’t be rushed simply to meet a deadline of the end of the year.
“At the end of the day, what’s most important here is that a healthy and robust independent integrity commission is introduced which will stand the test of time, regardless of what major party is in power.”
The member for Wentworth in eastern Sydney, Allegra Spender, said the government had promised the reform would happen this year and Australians had already waited too long but the commission had to be “done right” to succeed.
“The bill was meant to be tabled this Wednesday so I would like to see the government release the proposed bill this week,” she said.
“The sooner we can consider the details the sooner we can ensure that the new integrity commission will be fit for purpose.”
Independent Senator David Pocock said voters wanted parliamentarians to work more, not less.
“The government committed to legislating an integrity commission this year and there is an expectation from the community that this will be done,” he said.
“The development, design and passage of the integrity commission should not be delayed or short-changed.”
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