Integrity bill not priority for parliament

Michaelia Cash says a bill for an integrity commission is unlikely to be introduced this year.
Michaelia Cash says a bill for an integrity commission is unlikely to be introduced this year.

The federal government has not finalised its proposal for a national integrity commission, kicking it into an election year.

Attorney-General Michaelia Cash has indicated the bill is unlikely to be introduced to parliament in the final four sitting days of 2021, starting on Monday.

She also claims the government cannot proceed with the draft, roundly criticised as weak, because Labor doesn't support it.

"Cabinet is continuing its consideration of the issue," she told a Senate inquiry on Friday when pressed about whether a final decision had been made on the bill.

"The government has a model, we have a bill that is ready to go in terms of the exposure draft that was put out to the public."

Senator Cash faced repeated questioning by Labor about whether the government would introduce the bill next week before parliament rose for the year.

"Our priority next week is the religious discrimination bill," she said.

"It is a decision for the government as to when it introduces the legislation.

"The point the Labor Party seems to conveniently forget is we return next year and the parliament continues."

The federal government has rejected calls for an integrity body with powers akin to those of the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption.

Senator Cash sought to characterise as a "witch hunt" the ICAC's methods.

ICAC is looking into whether former NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian breached public trust over her secret five-year relationship with former Liberal MP Daryl Maguire.

"The model that we have proposed will ensure that you are able to conduct hearings into law enforcement corruption issues, they would be public ones," the attorney-general said.

"You will also be able to look at corrupt conduct within the public sector."

Liberal backbencher Bridget Archer on Thursday crossed the floor of parliament to back an independent attempt to bring on debate about a federal integrity commission.

This prompted a meeting with Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Foreign Minister Marise Payne.

"It was a very warm and friendly and supportive meeting. Bridget is a close friend and colleague. I wanted to ensure that she was being supported," Mr Morrison told reporters in Adelaide.

He also took to the airwaves to attack ICAC again and insist the focus should be "on criminal conduct, not who your boyfriend is".

The prime minister insisted the government's model safeguarded against "vexatious, baseless, politically motivated and time wasting referrals".

Centre for Public Integrity chair and former NSW Court of Appeal judge Anthony Whealy previously warned the federal integrity body would be the weakest in the country if implemented as proposed.

The coalition had said it was committed to introducing its federal integrity bill to parliament this year.

Australian Associated Press