A federal anti-corruption watchdog with teeth is long awaited

Despite all the chaos and political insults exchanged in Canberra this week, it was the tale of two election promises that spoke louder than most about Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s priorities.

They were both commitments from the last election, and have met with criticism from many sides. But while one received the red carpet treatment when the prime minister was personally introduced to parliament this week, the other was left to shout where the coalition did everything in its power – despite a rebel MP crossing the floor – to shut it down.

Liberal MP Bridget Archer (left) and crossbencher Helen Haines after a split to allow debate on a bill on the Integrity Commission.

Liberal MP Bridget Archer (left) and crossbencher Helen Haines after a split to allow debate on a bill on the Integrity Commission.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

The first, of course, is the bill on religious discrimination, which, after being revised for the third time by Justice Minister Michaelia Cash, received full support from Mr Morrison. A man of strong faith, he spoke passionately of the high ideals of the bill: “The protection of what we choose to believe in in a free society is crucial to our freedom. In a liberal democracy, it is like oxygen. “

While the bill was eventually shunted to a joint committee of lawmakers and senators after growing criticism over whether it provides adequate protection to gay students and teachers in religious schools, its potential to attract conservative votes to the coalition is too great for it to sick for a long time. .

Meanwhile, Mr Morrison’s treatment of his election promise to implement a federal anti-corruption body could not be more different. Despite months of expectation that Ms. Cash would also deliver a revised version of the much-criticized bill outlining its powers, the prime minister now says the original model is a take-it-or-let-it proposal.

Mr. Morrison knows full well that it’s never going to fly. A draft work released a year ago by then-Justice Minister Christian Porter was considered by Labor, legal experts and former judges to be too weak and secretive. It only allows members of the government to refer to the body; there would be different control thresholds between police and government members and senior civil servants; and hearings against politicians would not be public.

Sir. Morrison made his intentions clear as he labeled any effort to strengthen the powers of the proposed integrity commission as an attempt to create a “kangaroo court” like the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption, which has been attacked by some for its public hearings in former NSW prime ministers. Gladys Berejiklian’s relationship with former state Liberal MP Daryl Maguire.

But the Prime Minister would not be able to bury the issue so easily. On Thursday, Bridget Archer, a liberal moderate whose Tasmanian seat for Bass is the party’s most marginal, supported a move in the House of Representatives by crossbencher Helen Haines to debate the Victorian independent’s much stronger private member’s law on an anti-corruption body.

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