Opposition Leader Peter Dutton has signalled the Coalition will support the government’s plans for a national anti-corruption commission – a move that could prove decisive as a row with crossbench MPs looms.
On Wednesday morning, Mr Dutton declared his support for the model put forward in Labor’s legislation, subject to its endorsement by the Coalition party room and the findings of a Senate select inquiry into the details of the 300-page bill.
“We are working sensibly and constructively with the government to implement an integrity commission which will root out any corrupt behaviour,” Mr Dutton said, while noting that he would push for amendments.
Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus had introduced the bill to the Parliament earlier on Wednesday.
A sticking point is emerging for the crossbench on the question of when public hearings will be held under the commission; the text of the legislation allows for them only in “exceptional circumstances”.
Crossbench MPs advocate a lower threshold: Whether a public inquiry would serve the public interest.
“It’s why the fanatics within the Greens need to be treated with great caution in relation to this issue, and most issues, I might say,” Mr Dutton said.
Mr Dutton claimed some MPs wanted nothing more than to see a “melee” in the Parliament.
“I don’t want people committing suicide, as we have seen in South Australia and elsewhere, as a result of false allegations having been levelled against them,” he said.
“That’s why we need to get the balance right here, it’s why the fanatics within the Greens need to be treated with great caution, in relation to this issue.”
In 2019, high-ranking SA police officer Doug Barr died while under investigation by the state’s anti-corruption body. He was ultimately cleared of wrongdoing.
The independent Senator David Pocock is one of those advocating the application of a “public interest” test for public inquiries.
His support and that of the Greens has previously been key to securing the passage of legislation in the Senate.
But if the Coalition backs the government’s bill it will not be required to pass into law.
Corruption is defined in the bill as conduct encompassing “an abuse of office, breach of public trust, misuse of information” or any other sort of corruption.
“It is a very broad definition,” Mr Dreyfus told the Parliament.
The bill will proceed to a parliamentary inquiry.
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