Australia’s new integrity watchdog has been promised to come with “chops bigger than Jaws’” but it remains to be seen what if any past political scandals it will investigate.
The National Anti Corruption Commission will have the power to investigate past corrupt conduct as long as it meets the threshold of being serious or systemic.
Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus has flagged the NACC will be able to scrutinise the allocation of federal government funds in instances which raise concerns about serious or systemic corruption in order to expose the worst cases of “pork barrelling”.
But Mr Dreyfus on Wednesday said he wouldn’t name particular programs or instances of conduct which “must” be investigated by the commission once it is up and running.
“Because to do so would be to fall into the error made by the former government,” Mr Dreyfus told the National Press Club.
“It reserved to itself in its draft legislation – that it never brought to the parliament – the right to tell the commission what it was going to investigate.
“This, I stress, will be an independent commission.”
Anthony Albanese before the federal election frequently cited the so-called sports rorts affair as a reason for why an independent integrity body was needed.
It involved the former Coalition government diverting most of a sum of $100m in sports grants to marginal or targeted electorates.
A subsequent inquiry into the program found “overwhelming” evidence it was used to gain political advantage.
Mr Dreyfus earlier this month told the ABC’s Insiders program he thought the Morrison government’s sports grants program was “a rort on any view” and “looked pretty corrupt to me”.
“But it’s not going to be my decision; it’s going to be a matter for this independent commissioner to decide, if someone refers a matter to her or him,” he said.
The Prime Minister during his time in opposition promised to establish a NACC “with teeth”.
Mr Albanese said Labor’s NACC would be more powerful and independent than the integrity commission proposed by the former Coalition government.
Independent senator Jacqui Lambie said last month she’d only support the Albanese government’s legislation in the upper house if it had “chops bigger than Jaws”.
Mr Dreyfus said on Wednesday he had met this particular request and that the NACC would have the independence, powers and resources equivalent to a standing royal commission
“To use the parlance of Senator Lambie, it’s got chops bigger than Jaws,” he said.
“She’s much more colourful than me.”
The NACC legislation has been introduced to the House of Representatives and referred to a newly created parliamentary committee, which is due to report by November 10.
Labor hopes the Bill will pass both houses of parliament with support from the Coalition and the crossbench by the end of the year.