The government will abandon an election promise to establish a commonwealth integrity commission, with the attorney general, Michaelia Cash indicating there is not enough time to legislate before voters return to the polls.
But moderate Liberal MP Jason Falinski is calling for the government to push ahead with the introduction of its proposed federal integrity commission to “start the debate”, warning independents hoping to claw seats off government ministers would campaign strongly on the issue.
“I am really disappointed that we are not going to put legislation to the parliament. I understand we are squeezed and have got a crowded parliamentary agenda, but I still think we should have brought it to the fore for debate,” Falinski told Guardian Australia.
“I doubt there is enough time to pass it – although there could be – but there is certainly enough time to start the debate on it.”
Falinski also said that independents running against incumbent government MPs – including Sophie Scamps in his north shore seat – were already campaigning against the coalition on the integrity issue, and this would bolster their issue.
“They already are, and this will give grist to their mill,” he said.
Establishing a federal anti corruption commission in this term of government was a key pledge made by the prime minister Scott Morrison before the last election, with a draft of the bill first released in November 2020.
But after the CIC consultation draft bill drew criticism for the softness of its approach, some MPs were pushing for the government to toughen the proposed model to include public hearings and broaden the commission’s powers.
Despite Cash insisting that the government remained on track to introduce the bill last year, revised legislation was not signed off by cabinet, leaving the government to defend its existing bill as the preferred model, despite not yet introducing it.
The issue came to a head when the MP for the seat of Bass, Bridget Archer, crossed the floor to support an independent bill being backed by Helen Haines.
Archer criticised the government for its failure to bring the bill to parliament, saying it was her strong view that “this is the most important thing we need to do” in this term.
In an interview with the Australian Financial Review published on Monday, Cash indicated the government would not have enough time to fulfil the election pledge, given its focus on the religious discrimination act and anti-trolling legislation.
Parliament sits for just seven days before budget week, with the Senate only sitting for three days before a week of senate estimates next week.
Haines said the concession from Cash confirmed that “integrity is not a priority for the Liberal National Government”.
“For three years they have delayed, distracted and dragged their feet after promising to implement a federal integrity commission, and now that promise is broken,” Haines said.
“What the Government does prioritise is the ability to spend taxpayer money for political purposes, without proper scrutiny. That is what we will see again in the upcoming budget and election campaign.”
Haines said that the only way for a federal integrity commission to be established in this term of parliament was with the support of the cross bench and with government MPs crossing the floor.
“I know the majority of MPs who do value integrity are ready to vote on my Bill.
“Liberal and National MPs who value integrity will get no chance in this parliament to vote in favour of an integrity commission bill drafted by their Government. There will be consequences at the ballot box for MPs who talk a big game on integrity but take no action in parliament.”