Helen Haines introduces bill for a federal integrity commission, after delays from government

Helen Haines introduces bill for a federal integrity commission, after delays from government

Helen Haines

Independent MP Helen Haines introduced a private members’ bill for a federal integrity commission on Monday morning and is pushing the government to allow debate on it in parliament.

Haines’ anti-corruption bill would establish a body called the Australian Federal Integrity Commission, that would be able to hold public hearings, and allow any member of the public to make referrals. It would include full retrospectivity, meaning it could look to past cases, and establish a new code of conduct for parliamentarians.

Haines, who is the MP for Indi, says the bill is a “consensus way forward”, and has all the appropriate checks and safeguards in place to protect the integrity of its work, and the reputation of innocent people.

Asked in question time last week about the government’s delay in establishing its own anti-corruption watchdog, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said major consultation was needed, and he did not want to divert efforts away from dealing with the pandemic.

The Coalition began work on its own proposal for an integrity commission in 2018, and the attorney-general Christian Porter received a draft bill for the body in December 2019, prior to the pandemic. The government’s proposal also lacks “teeth”, with no public hearings for politicians and their staff, no public referrals, and no retrospectivity.

“We’ve been waiting since December 2018 for this government to introduce a bill in parliament to establish a federal integrity commission,” Helen Haines said.

“This year, the parliament has shown it can pass legislation quickly when it wants to. And yet on this issue, the government has dragged its heels. Australians have spent long enough waiting – it’s now time for the parliament to act.”

“That’s just not good enough. We know over 80 per cent of Australians want a robust federal integrity commission.”

With the Coalition holding a majority in the House of Representatives, private members’ bills, like Haines’, do not often get voted on, or debated. However Haines is calling on the government to allow a debate on her bill on 3 December and is gathering support on social media using the hashtag #BringOnDebate and encouraging people to contact their MP on the issue.

“Too often, this government shuts down debate on bills it doesn’t like. In fact, almost half of votes in parliament are when the government tries to silence elected representatives,” she said.

As pressure mounts on the government to make progress on an integrity commission, post office owners are backing Australia Post CEO Christine Holgate, after she was forced to stand aside last week.

Holgate gave evidence to Senate Estimates, where it was found she had gifted four luxury watches to senior employees. Morrison said he was appalled and shocked at the abuse of tax payers’ money, and that “she should go”. Holgate said she hadn’t used tax payers’ money, because Australia Post is operated as a government business enterprise, and is required to make profits.

Licensed Post Offices Group, which represents at least a third of post office owners, has backed Holgate’s leadership, with executive director Angela Cramp saying she was the “best CEO hat Australia Post has ever had”. Cramp says Holgate “saved” regional and rural post offices from going under.

“She saved us, and those people who worked on that team – how hard do you think it was to make the CEOs of the banks pay for a service that they had had for years for free?” Cramp told the Sydney Morning Herald.

“We are absolutely 100, 200, 1000 per cent behind her leadership and she is desperately needed for us to survive.

“Whatever this is about, it has got nothing to do with bloody watches.”

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