November 28, 2020

Australian politics live: Labor questions Coalition decision to cut jobseeker during ‘worst recession in almost a century’

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Simon Birmingham says the government is “not afraid of anything” as it works on its plans for a national integrity commission.

Before Senate question time ended, the Labor senator Carol Brown contended that the government had been “dragged kicking and screaming” to release draft legislation to set up a corruption watchdog and she pointed to expert commentary that it was the weakest such body in the country.

Brown asked: “What is the Morrison government so afraid of?”

Birmingham, the leader of the government in the Senate, replied: “We’re not afraid of anything – we’re determined to get things right.”

Birmingham said it was important to strike “the right balance between indeed what are sometimes criticised as star chambers … or indeed others that are criticised in different ways”.

He said the attorney general, Christian Porter, was “carefully stepping through” those issues.

Brown then asked whether the Coalition would guarantee the body would be established before the next election. Birmingham was unable to do so, saying it would depend on the passage of the legislation. He added it would be “a brave person” who would predict how parliament would handle legislative proposals, particularly the Senate.

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Jacqui Lambie isn’t impressed with the Morrison government’s proposed model for a commonwealth integrity commission, including the lack of public hearings into allegations of corruption involving the public sector, and the inability to act on anonymous tip-offs from the community at large.

In Senate question time, the Tasmanian independent senator asked Marise Payne – who represents Christian Porter’s portfolio in the Senate – about the cases of former state MPs Eddie Obeid and Daryl Maguire in New South Wales and Adem Somyurek in Victoria.

Lambie’s general line of argument is that those cases may never have been investigated or become public knowledge if those states had the model of integrity commission that Porter has proposed for the federal sphere.

Payne argued the government was committed to a period of extensive public consultation after the recent release of the draft legislation. The government had carried out “very detailed planning” to ensure the body had the resources and powers needed to investigate criminal, corrupt conduct across the public sector.

“We believe that our commission … will do the task that it is required to do at the commonwealth level. It will have greater investigatory powers than a royal commission.”

Payne added that the courts would be the sole arbiter of a person’s guilt or innocence.

For more on the concerns of crossbenchers, see this story from last week:

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