Pocock urges Labor to back independent MP’s anti-corruption model

Federal election 2022

Independent MP Dr Helen Haines says the election has delivered a strong mandate for her federal integrity commission model as potential key Senate player David Pocock urged the new Labor government to adopt her bill rather than pursue its own.

In a discussion with Anthony Albanese on Monday, before he was sworn in as prime minister, Haines stressed her priority for a strong anti-corruption commission as he sought her assurance of supply and confidence in his government.

Independent MP Helen Haines says she wants to play a central role in the creation of a new federal integrity commission in the new parliament.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

“It is clear that Labor and I will be pursuing this when parliament sits,” Haines, the MP for the Victorian seat of Indi, said of her conversation with Albanese.

She said she would be pressing her case to the new government to play a central role in the creation of a national body by Christmas, pointing to the election of six teal candidates who campaigned heavily on the need for an integrity commission and explicitly backed her model.

“Integrity has been central to all of their campaigns. I would really be seeking to play a central part in the process of finalising the government’s bill, be that on a committee or Labor adopting and introducing my bill that I put forward,” she said.

“My role in this is one that would bring this issue together in a way that the parliament can adopt in a bipartisan way and lay it down and get on with it,” she said.

Former Wallabies star David Pocock, who is poised to claim a seat in the senate, has backed independent MP Helen Haines’ proposed model for a federal integrity commission.Credit:Jessica Hromas

Albanese has pledged to legislate a “powerful, transparent and independent” anti-corruption commission by the end of the year and used his first address as prime minister on Monday to state: “I have asked for that work to begin already.”

If Labor secures a majority of seats in the House of Representatives, which appears likely, it would be able to pass its own model through the lower house without crossbench support. But in the Senate, it will most likely need the support of 12 Greens plus one extra vote to get its agenda through.

Pocock, who is poised to pull off an historic upset and end the major-party duopoly in the ACT by ousting Liberal minister for the Pacific Zed Seselja, could be the decisive vote. He has endorsed Haines’ model.

“Everyone I spoke to about Helen Haines’ bill was glowing and should I become a senator I feel like that is the mandate I would have on integrity from people on the ACT,” Pocock, a former Wallabies star, said.

“It’s drafted, it is ready to go. Given how much the Labor government wants to get done [in the parliament], if there is something that’s going to be fit-for-purpose and widely endorsed, then why not back in?”

Haines put legislation before the last parliament to establish a federal integrity commission that would be able to investigate past conduct, take public referrals and hold public hearings, but the Morrison government blocked it from being debated. Her bill centres on a definition of corruption that allows investigations into serious breaches of codes of conduct for ministers and public officials as well as potential criminal offences. It has also been backed by re-elected independents Zali Steggall, Andrew Wilkie and Rebekha Sharkie, as well as some retired judges and integrity advocates.

Labor does not yet have a draft bill but instead has outlined seven “design principles” in its policy documents that would give the agency “broad jurisdiction” to investigate federal ministers, public servants, government agencies, politicians and their staff, and the ability to look into past conduct.

Both Haines and Labor frontbencher Mark Dreyfus, who is expected to be sworn in as attorney-general next week, agree their approaches are broadly aligned, although Haines said the “devil will be in the detail”. Dreyfus was approached for comment.

Greens leader Adam Bandt said his party’s proposed integrity bill, which passed through the Senate in the last parliament before stalling, had a lot in common with Haines’ model.

“We don’t mind whose name is on the bill, as long as it is a watchdog with teeth having the powers set out in the Greens legislation,” he said.

“We’ll work across parliament to get a federal watchdog established quickly, and ideally before the new government starts spending money in its first budget.”

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