The Morrison government insists coronavirus is behind delays in establishing an anti-corruption commission, despite receiving a draft bill in December 2019.
Senior officials from Attorney-General Christian Porter’s department presented him with an exposure draft of the legislation about 10 months ago.
Deputy secretary Sarah Chidgey detailed the timeline at a Senate estimates hearing in Canberra on Wednesday.
“Part of the consideration with COVID is making sure that it’s an appropriate time to conduct a comprehensive consultation process,” she told the committee.
“That has been part of the reason for delaying release of that exposure draft.”
Labor senator Murray Watt was flabbergasted by the delay.
“Wow. So he’s been sitting on it since last year?” he said.
The Coalition committed to establishing a federal anti-corruption commission almost two years ago.
Government minister Zed Seselja said Mr Porter would release the exposure draft soon.
“We have been dealing with the COVID crisis and the Attorney-General in a range of capacities of course has been dealing with that response,” he said.
He said getting the detail right was important.
Senator Watt questioned if the Coalition had decided fighting corruption could wait.
“The government’s argument as to why it has not been able to deliver a Commonwealth integrity commission that it promised nearly two years ago is that there’s just too much going on,” he said.
Department secretary Chris Moraitis said some resources had been diverted to industrial relations reform, which the government considered more pressing.
He said the department had progressed work relating to the commission as far as it could and was now waiting for the exposure draft’s release.
“We respond to the minister’s priorities and we have other areas of priority we’ve been dealing with as well,” Mr Moraitis said.