Laws to establish National Anti-Corruption Commission pass lower house

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Australia’s first federal integrity watchdog has cleared another hurdle after laws to establish it were passed by the House of Representatives.

Legislation establishing the National Anti-Corruption Commission, which will investigate serious or systemic acts of corruption in the public sector, was passed by the lower house on Thursday.

The vote came two weeks after a cross-party parliamentary committee issued a unanimous report in favor of the government’s bill to create the NACC while recommending some tweaks.

The Labor caucus this week approved amendments that include broader protections for journalists and their sources, as well as requiring search warrants to be approved by eligible judges rather than an appointed member of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

MPs voted on the NACC bill in the House of Representatives on Thursday after spending much of the previous two days debating details.

QUESTION TIME
Camera iconPrime Minister Anthony Albanese pledged the NACC ahead of this year’s federal election. NCA NewsWire/Martin Ollman Credit: News Corp Australia

The government resisted pressure from the Greens and Crossbench to lower the threshold for public hearings.

Speaking in the lower house on Wednesday, Anthony Albanese defended the NACC’s ability to hold public hearings only in “exceptional circumstances” and when it was in the public interest to do so.

The Prime Minister said the threshold “strikes the right balance to ensure that the benefits of holding public hearings are outweighed by the potential negative impacts”.

“Another key element of the independence of the commission must be to ensure that the decision of whether a hearing is held in public is a decision that rests entirely in the hands of the commissioner, that is the point,” said declared Mr. Albanese.

“That’s how best practices should work.”

DAVID POCOCK PRESSER
Camera iconIndependent David Pocock is expected to be among independent senators backing the bill in the upper house. NCA NewsWire/Gary Ramage Credit: News Corp Australia

Mr Albanese urged the 151 MPs and 76 senators to back the NACC, which Labor promises will be given the powers of a royal commission to investigate corruption.

The NACC legislation will head to the Senate, where a final vote is expected next week, as Labor moves forward with passing the bill ahead of the year-end deadline it imposed itself.

Further amendments are expected to be made to the bill in the upper house.

The Coalition continued to be concerned about an exclusion which clarifies that trade union officials do not automatically fall within the scope of the NACC for the exercise of powers under Commonwealth law, such as the right to entry to construction sites.

Despite these concerns, the Coalition will likely support the bill in the Senate, meaning a cross-fight to have the exceptional circumstances threshold for public hearings removed or relaxed will likely be defeated.

Independent senators David Pocock and Jacqui Lambie are expected to be among the members of the upper house who also vote for the bill.

The government expects the NACC to be operational by mid-2023.

More soon.

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