‘Regain respect’: Liberals break ranks on corruption commission

Outgoing Liberal MP John Alexander signalled his support for anti-corruption commission, breaking ranks with the government.

Outgoing Liberal MP John Alexander signalled his support for anti-corruption commission, breaking ranks with the government. Photo: AAP

Two Liberal MPs have signalled support for a federal anti-corruption commission just days after the Coalition government announced it would dump an election promise to establish one.

The outgoing MP for the seat of Bennelong, John Alexander, and Tasmanian Bridget Archer spoke in support of independent Helen Haines’ draft alternative law for establishing an anti-corruption body.

“Parliament requires trust, honesty and integrity,” Mr Alexander said on Thursday.

“Our standing in the public has taken a bashing because these key attributes are in question.

“We [should] take the first step to regain the respect of Australians who need to have confidence that we are all acting with integrity and honesty.”

Mr Alexander, who will leave parliament at the election, said he would be open to working with like-minded MPs to legislate in favour of a Commonwealth corruption watchdog, if its passage could be secured by parliament’s end.

“Let’s form a team,” he said.

Ms Archer, the member for Bass, similarly urged “co-operation and collaboration from all parties on all sides”.

The Liberal MP crossed the floor on debate over the integrity commission last year, in an attempt to force the House of Representatives to debate the plan, a move that failed amid chaotic scenes in parliament.

In a show of unity on the transparency measure, Mr Alexander, Ms Archer and Ms Haines were joined later on Thursday by Greens MP Adam Bandt and cross-benchers Andrew Wilkie, Rebekha Sharkie, Bob Katter and Zali Steggall.

But it is uncertain that the MPs will have time to progress the proposal.

Thursday was parliament’s last sitting day before next month’s federal budget, leaving only a handful of days before the election.

On Tuesday, Attorney-General Michaelia Cash told an upper house committee that the government would not introduce its plans for a long-promised integrity commission into parliament because its proposal was not supported by Labor or the Greens.

A Commonwealth integrity commission was a 2019 election promise from Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

It was reported last week that he suggested to his cabinet that the government should introduce its plans for the bill as a means of exchanging the chance to debate for votes for its religious discrimination bill.

But the cabinet reportedly rejected those plans, overruling Mr Morrison.

Five Liberals, including Ms Archer, crossed the floor on the religious discrimination bill to support amendments ensuring transgender children would be free from discrimination.

The government’s draft model for establishing the integrity commission has been criticised by experts, including Sydney silk Geoffrey Watson who suggested it would do more to conceal than identify corrupt behaviour.

These criticisms and a lack of movement on the Coalition’s legislation led to Ms Haines’ alternative proposal.

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