The Albanese government’s national anti-corruption commission is on track to pass the federal parliament by Christmas, fulfilling a Labor election promise.
- A committee from several parties has given unanimous support for the bill
- The Greens, crossbenchers and the Coalition will still try to make amendments
- But the agreement suggests the government should be able to pass the bill later this month
A committee made up of politicians from several parties and both houses of parliament have been examining the proposal and on Thursday afternoon gave unanimous support for the bill.
The Greens, crossbenchers and the Coalition will still try to amend it.
But there is now cross-party support for the proposal, which is deemed necessary to ensure the anti-corruption commission withstands changes of government and swings in public opinion.
The committee’s consensus report also suggests the government will have no trouble pushing it through parliament in the final two sitting weeks of the year later this month.
“This has been a long time coming,” Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said.
Before adding that he wants to “get on with the very important job of setting up the commission with a view to it commencing its operations around the middle of next year”.
Public hearings only in ‘exceptional circumstances’
The committee made six recommendations to the government to help strengthen the bill, including a tweak to better protect journalists and news organisations who accept information from an informant.
But the committee did not alter the contentious proposal to only hold public hearings when there are “exceptional circumstances” for doing so.
The caveat had worried campaigners, who argue public hearings for witnesses are vital to maintaining public confidence in politicians and anti-corruption investigations.
The Centre for Public Integrity said the committee had ignored the experience of state anti-corruption commissions.
“Our research and submissions … show that public hearings are crucial to investigating corruption,” chairman Anthony Whealy said.
“In fact, none of the commissions that we spoke to supported the use of exceptional circumstances in deciding whether to hold a public hearing.
“The government and the NACC committee should heed this state experience and remove the exceptional circumstances test from the NACC bill.”
Crossbenchers concede the bill could be better
Crossbenchers and the Greens plan to try to amend the proposal when the bill is voted on in the parliament.
However, given the broad support in the parliament, the government is likely to vote down their amendments with the help of the opposition.
“The committee did not hear compelling evidence from the government in favour of retaining the exceptional circumstances test for holding public hearings and many experts questioned why it was necessary,” Helen Haines, an independent MP and deputy chair of the committee, said.
However, she declared it was still “a good bill”.
“The establishment of a national anti-corruption commission is a watershed moment in our nation’s history,” Ms Haines said.
The government said it will consider the six recommendations made by the committee.
But the attorney-general denied that the “exceptional circumstances” section was included as part of a deal to get the support of Opposition Leader Peter Dutton.
“I can say very directly, there have been no deals done,” Mr Dreyfus said.
“The bill that I brought to the parliament on the 29th of September is the bill that our Government thinks is the best possible model for establishing — at long last – a national anti-corruption commission for Australia.”
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