Australia

Morrison says national corruption watchdog will have 'real teeth'

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Scott Morrison says his new national anti-corruption body will have "real teeth" to catch criminal behaviour but Labor says it doesn't go far enough.

Australia's new anti-corruption watchdog will have "teeth" to investigate criminal behaviour by MPs and within law enforcement and government bodies.

But it will not look retrospectively at allegations, and public hearings may only be held in some cases.

Instead, the newly-announced Commonwealth Integrity Commission will investigate alleged corruption and prepare a brief of evidence for prosecutors.

"This is a real proposal, with real resources, real teeth," Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters in Sydney on Thursday.

"These are sensible changes we're outlining today. They learn the lessons, I think, from many of the failed experiments we've seen at a state jurisdiction level.

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Commonwealth Integrity Commission to be established
Commonwealth Integrity Commission to be established

"I have no interest in establishing kangaroo courts."

Labor leader Bill Shorten said the proposal was not "fair dinkum" because its powers did not go far enough.

"(Mr Morrison) said tackling anti-corruption was a fringe issue 17 days ago, and now he's come up with a fringe answer," Mr Shorten told reporters.

The new body will be split into two parts - one investigating corruption in law enforcement, and the other investigating the public sector.

The new body will be split into two parts - one investigating corruption in law enforcement, and the other investigating it in the public sector.

The current Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity will be wrapped up into the new body, and given more responsibility to investigate bodies like the tax office.

The public sector integrity division will investigate criminal corruption involving government departments, parliamentarians and their staff, the staff of federal judicial officers, and in some circumstances organisations that get federal money.

Attorney-General Christian Porter said new offences will be created, including "aggravated corruption by a public sector official".

He said the commission will not be a star chamber running show-trials where guilt is already presumed.

"It is not a body that will conduct public hearings and it will not write reports where it makes findings of corruption on a piece of paper against an individual," Mr Porter said.

"It is an investigative body, with serious investigative tools."

Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
SBS News

Work on changes to Australia's anti-corruption regime began under former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, but the coalition had previously stopped short of committing to create a new body.

Labor, the Greens and independents pressured the coalition into passing a motion in parliament in November calling for an integrity commission to be set up.

The coalition aims to avoid the problems the NSW and West Australian anti-corruption bodies have faced by splitting the investigation body into two section, with specific powers.

Higher-risk law enforcement bodies, with significant scope to hide corruption, will be investigated with different powers than the other public service bodies.

The government has asked for public feedback by 1 February on the proposed model, which is available online.

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