News National Turnbull tightlipped on corruption watchdog as leaders battle over the economy

Turnbull tightlipped on corruption watchdog as leaders battle over the economy

malcolm turnbull
Malcolm Turnbull went on the attack on Monday, accusing Bill Shorten of declaring war on business. Photo: AAP
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Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has given no indication the government will establish a national corruption watchdog as he did battle with Bill Shorten for the first time this year.

Mr Turnbull went on the attack over the economy, which dominated Monday’s Question Time, accusing Labor of a “race to the left to hold the seat of Batman” and touting last year’s record jobs growth figures. 

But asked by Mr Shorten about the National Integrity Commission proposal, the PM refused to say if the government would support a federal ICAC-style body, as proposed by Labor last week.

“The summer break is a time for reflection and renewal, no doubt, but I don’t think the Leader of the Opposition has turned into an anti-corruption warrior,” he said.  

“This is Sam Dastyari’s great defender.”

The response was in contrast to Mr Turnbull’s comments last week, in which he said the government had “certainly not ruled out” a National Integrity Commission.

In Question Time, Mr Shorten had asked: “All Australians deserve to have confidence in their government, their parliament and of course the Commonwealth public service.

“The PM has indicated that he’s open to considering Labor’s proposal to establish a national integrity commission. Will the PM join to work on a national integrity commission straight away?”

But in the midst of Labor’s announcement last week, Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce gave a series of interviews arguing that such a body was not needed, saying “we found out Sam Dastyari without ICAC”.

Parliamentarians returned to Canberra on Monday with the major parties expected to duke it out over the economy, particularly wage growth, tax cuts and health insurance costs, throughout the political year.

Labor began Question Time by arguing the government had failed ordinary workers by offering a tax cut to all large companies while lifting income taxes through an increase in the Medicare levy.

“Last year company profits increased by 20 per cent. Average wages for Australians increased by just 2 per cent. So why is the PM giving the top end of town a $65 billion tax cut while increasing taxes on ordinary workers up to $300 every year?” Mr Shorten asked. 

Mr Turnbull replied by accusing the Opposition Leader of “declaring war on business”, and by heralding the 403,000 new jobs created last year as “the largest annual jobs growth since records began”.

“Business confidence, consumer confidence, all at highs,” he said.

“And, yet, we have a Labor Leader who is the most anti-business Labor leader we’ve seen in … generations.”

The shadow of an upcoming byelection in the inner north seat of Batman also hung over Parliament, with Labor pressuring the government to say whether it would investigate claims of misconduct by the Indian mining giant Adani.

The Opposition also pressed Labor over health insurance costs after announcing on Sunday it would cap premiums by two per cent for two years if elected.

Why won’t the Australian PM use his power to help Australian families instead of protecting big private health insurance companies?” Mr Shorten asked. 

Mr Turnbull noted the private health insurance industry, saying a cap on premium rises would “put at risk a number of small employee-based and regional mutual health funds”. 

Labor has said private insurance premiums have risen 5.5 per cent over the past decade.

Before Question Time, both leaders paid tribute to former Hawke government minister Barry Cohen, who died late last year, and former Fairfax Media political editor Michael Gordon, who died at the weekend.

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