Federal Icac should be monitored by non-government MPs to ensure funding, crossbench says

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A parliamentary committee to be set up to oversee Labour’s proposed federal anti-corruption commission should be controlled by non-government members and have the power to guarantee the body’s financial independence, MPs say.

The Attorney-General, Mark Dreyfus, continued consultations for the Integrity Commission this week, and confirmed that the Government will bring forward a bill in the September meeting before an inquiry and vote this year.

Independent MP Helen Haines, who was the architect of the Cross Bench Integrity Commission Bill in the last Parliament, told Guardian Australia that it “seems that [Labor government] the bill would include a statutory joint committee” that she was “very hopeful” of joining.

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“I am encouraged that there will be a joint committee, but we expect more details to emerge about its role in funding.

“We want the national anti-corruption commission to be permanent and have good resources.”

Crossbenchers have called for the committee to include and even be chaired by non-government members, and have the power to set the commission’s budget, which will then be approved by the government.

Greens senator David Shoebridge said “there are some issues that remain unresolved”, including “genuine financial independence for the new commission”.

“One of the main features of that is that a non-government controlled committee is a core part of this new commission’s budget process.

“We cannot have the commission’s funding choked off by the next government through a black box budget process.”

Independent MP Zali Steggall said the crossbench “raised the committee’s need to be reflective of Parliament”.

“There would be more strength in a body that is multipartisan, not bipartisan.”

A non-governmental leader would create “the strongest perception of independent scrutiny and an arm’s length process”, she said.

Dreyfus has agreed that private entities with government contracts would be within the commission’s remit, but Shoebridge said “efforts to corrupt government policy, not just contracts” should be covered.

There has also been “progress on the threshold” for investigation, with “serious or systemic” corruption now a trigger, not just “serious and systemic” corruption, he said.

In June, Dreyfus committed to improving the Whistleblower Act, including adopting changes to the Public Disclosure Act recommended by the Moss review in 2016.

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Shoebridge said the Greens’ “strong preference” is to legislate these alongside the anti-corruption commission. “Whatever the outcome, we need to ensure that world-class whistleblowers are in place before this commission opens its doors.”

Haines said she accepted that not all the “pro-integrity measures” in her own bill will be in Labour’s, but she is “encouraged” by the review of the Whistleblower Act.

She said she wants to see the details of how whistleblowers will bring complaints to the anti-corruption commission.

“I want all the protections that are built into my bill to be there in the same way,” she said.

“I remain vigilant, I want to see a strong, well-funded anti-corruption commission with whistleblower protection.”

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