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Anti-corruption watchdog enters final leg

The Senate will debate the government’s anti-corruption commission model with the legislation set to pass parliament this week.

November 29, 2022
By Dominic Giannini
29 November 2022

The final form of the national anti-corruption commission will take shape as senators nut out the body’s finer details. 

The government’s signature integrity watchdog will be debated in the Senate, where the opposition will try to insert further penalties and give people being investigated greater legal protections.

Amendments include new offences for vexatious referrals that intend to harm another person and for a referral to be publicly disclosed without permission. 

Both would carry a one-year jail term.

Liberal senator Michaelia Cash said the opposition supports the anti-corruption commission but wanted to ensure there were enough safeguards in place given the royal commission-style powers the body will have.

“The public should know those who break the law should face the consequences and the standards of public office should be high,” she said.

“With extraordinary powers should come greater accountability.”

The opposition is also pushing for commissioner appointments to require a three-quarters majority of the parliamentary committee to go ahead.

Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus called the move “an effective veto” given the makeup of the 12-person committee. 

His shadow Julian Leeser dismissed the criticism, saying it would ensure the body doesn’t become political. 

The Greens want a non-government member to chair the committee but indicated they would support the coalition’s super-majority requirement.

The minor party will also try to lower the threshold for the commissioner to hold public hearings, but this is also likely to fail without government or opposition support. 

The laws only allow for public hearings in “exceptional circumstances”, but the Greens, crossbenchers and integrity advocates are pushing for greater transparency.

Mr Dreyfus said the proposed model would create a strong watchdog with teeth, balanced with appropriate safeguards.

“The national anti-corruption commission will have the necessary powers to root out corruption when it occurs,” he said.

“It will have a strong deterrent effect on those who may engage in corrupt activity.”

The laws will be debated in the Senate on Tuesday.

The lower house will then need to rubber stamp any amendments passed in the upper house, before the commission starts operating in mid-2023. 

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