Government in no hurry for Federal ICAC as alleged ‘rorts’ mount

The federal government is in no hurry to establish a national integrity commission, with Attorney-General Christian Porter saying there would need to be a detailed and extensive consultation period before further steps were taken.

By Phillip Coorey and Ronald Mizen

Attorney General, Christian Porter. Photo; The New Daily.

Mr Porter was responding to pressure from federal Labor after Senate estimates hearings confirmed the government had received draft legislation in December last year on the structure of a proposed anti-corruption body.

But Prime Minister Scott Morrison told Parliament the government had been too busy with the bushfires and then the coronavirus crisis to advance the idea since then.

“It may escape the attention of the Leader of the Opposition that when serious crises confront this nation it is the entire government that comes together, the entire public service, that comes together, to act on a whole of government basis, to deal with that crisis. And that is what our government has done,” he said.

Mr Porter said the next stage would be a consultation on the draft “that will be detailed and extensive”.

One issue that would be examined as part of the process was whether the new body would be able to investigate previous cases of corruption even though, Mr Porter said, the government opposed retrospectivity.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese seized on the growing scandal involving the federal government’s $30 million payment for a block of land at the new Western Sydney Airport later valued at only $3 million.

It was revealed in Senate hearings on Tuesday that the Australian Federal Police is investigating possible “corruption of public officials” involved in the deal.

Mr Albanese said the government should stop dithering on the new integrity commission which it has been promising for years.

“We need a federal anti-corruption commission to shine a light on politics, and bring back public accountability. Everyone can see that. Why can’t the Prime Minister?” he said.

Minister for Finance Mathias Cormann during a Senate estimates meeting. Alex Ellinghausen

Labor’s dogged pursuit of the deal which it describes as “seriously dodgy/possibly corrupt” continued on Wednesday with extensive questioning of the Finance Department over its involvement.

Labor accused Finance Minister Mathias Cormann of signing off on the purchase of the Leppington Triangle under the relevant legislation.

Minister Cormann brushed off any connection, saying he had “no visibility” of the transaction and the first he heard of it was when the Auditor-General’s report that blasted the purchase was made public.

“Somebody inside Infrastructure did something wrong, so much has been established, the Secretary of Infrastructure has made very clear that he’s initiated relevant process to get to the bottom of what happened,” Senator Cormann said.

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Senator Cormann said he ordered a review of the legislation under which the land purchase was made, though this was unrelated to the scandal.

“To the extent the Land Acquisition Act needs to be improved, and that the processes in relation to land acquisition need to be improved and strengthened then, of course, that will be done,” he said.

A letter tabled in Parliament revealed an Infrastructure Department bureaucrat has been suspended pending the outcome of an investigation.

The letter said the officer was being investigated for alleged breaches of the Public Service Code of Conduct, including the inappropriate procurement of a valuer; the inappropriate issuing of instructions to the valuer, which resulted in an inflated valuation; and the failure of the officer to provide relevant information to the final decision maker.

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Phillip Coorey is the political editor of the AFR based in Canberra. He is a two-time winner of the Paul Lyneham award for press gallery excellence. Ronald Mizen is a reporter for the Australian Financial Review based in their Parliament House bureau in Canberra.

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First published at the Australian Financial Review (AFR), Wednesday 21 October 2020. See; https://www.afr.com/politics/federal/no-rush-for-federal-icac-as-labor-seizes-on-seriously-dodgy-deal-20201020-p566tv

One thought on “Government in no hurry for Federal ICAC as alleged ‘rorts’ mount

  1. Well now we know don’t we why the Hon. Christian Porter, the Nations top legal representative and all round ‘good’guy’ is not keen for any real scrutiny of parliamentarians and bureaucrats. A few too many skeletons in the cupboard?

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