News National Shorten piles on integrity commission pressure as government feuds

Shorten piles on integrity commission pressure as government feuds

Bill Shorten wants a national integrity commission similar to IBAC or ICAC. Photo: AAP
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The stars are aligning for an end-of-year stoush in parliament over a national anti-corruption commission.

Bill Shorten has sounded the bell for Round 1, convinced it is a cause every bit as popular as the banking royal commission.

It was no accident at his news conference to announce Labor would work with the crossbench to establish a national integrity commission as the banking inquiry was winding down.

He neatly drew the comparison with the prime minister’s reluctance to heed calls to put the blowtorch to the banks by voting against such a move 26 times before finally capitulating.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten is working with crossbenchers on the proposal. Photo: Getty

He said: “I ask Mr Morrison to drop his trademark stubbornness and work with all sides of politics. The Australian people want us to do it.”

They sure do. According to polling done for the Australia Institute, support has grown from 65 per cent in March 2016 to 88 per cent support in December last year.

The votes are already in the senate for a federal ICAC-like body – an independent commission against corruption. And the numbers are tight in the House of Representatives without the government.

Independents Cathy McGowan and Rebekha Sharkie will move a bill to set up such a commission when parliament resumes next week.

Labor, in fact, believes it needs the full resources of government to plan and implement such a move. It is promising to do so within 12 months if it wins the election. That is one reason why it is calling on the Prime Minister to “co-operate now” to avoid delay.

Scott Morrison may well judge the numbers will fall short by one, with Queensland maverick Bob Katter saying he sees the need for such a commission but his experience in the Sunshine State is that the Crime and Corruption Commission has become something of “a star chamber ruining innocent lives”.

Probably encouraging Mr Katter’s reluctance to vote against the government is the $234 million Mr Morrison signed off on earlier this month for two of his favourite dam and irrigation projects.

In a covering letter the Prime Minster said he appreciated Mr Katter’s support for the “ongoing stability of the parliament”.

The ABC has reported that Malcolm Turnbull was working on an Integrity Commission before he was dumped. But the Leader of the House, Christopher Pyne on Monday poured cold water on the idea as an unnecessary and expensive distraction.

It certainly isn’t distracting from the open feuding in cabinet over Mr Morrison’s Wentworth by-election thought bubble about moving the Australian embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Minister for Defence Industry Steve Ciobo says the Australian embassy should stay where it is in Tel Aviv. Photo: AAP

Former Trade Minister Steve Ciobo, who finalised the Indonesian free trade deal before Mr Morrison torpedoed it, says the current location is the correct one.

Interestingly, both the Prime Minister and the new Trade Minister Simon Birmingham are sending smoke signals that they agree. Both cite UN Security Council resolutions as something Australia will always respect.

In August 1980 the Security Council deemed Israel’s unilateral declaration of Jerusalem as the “undivided capital” of the Jewish state “null and void”. It urged member states to adhere to this ruling.

That puts Mr Ciobo, Mr Morrison and Mr Birmingham at odds with treasurer and deputy Liberal leader Josh Frydenberg. He argues for the embassy’s move and dismisses Mr Pyne’s suggestion of also having an embassy in East Jerusalem for the Palestinians.

The Treasurer ridiculed Mr Pyne for being  “quite unique” and “we’ll leave him to be a legend in his own lifetime”.

The government sure needs something to distract us all from its disarray.

Paul Bongiorno AM is a veteran of the Canberra Press Gallery, with 40 years’ experience covering Australian politics.

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