Australia PM vows to seek anti-corruption watchdog

Pool via Reuters/File photo
Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison gestures as he makes a statement at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland, Britain November 1, 2021.

SYDNEY, April 16 (Reuters) – Australia Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Saturday he would seek to establish an anti-corruption watchdog if re-elected next month, hitting out at the opposition Labor’s plan.

Ahead of the May 21 general election, Morrison has come under pressure from Labor to set up a federal integrity commission, which he first promised in 2018.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese said Morrison has failed to establish a commission because of integrity problems in his conservative coalition.

“The reason why Scott Morrison doesn’t have a national anti-corruption commission is sitting on his front bench,” Albanese said, campaigning in far north Queensland.

In the campaign’s first week, Morrison has been accused of abandoning his promise to establish an anti-corruption agency, and failing to commit to set one up if he wins another term in parliament.

Labor claims an anti-corruption watchdog, similar to the Independent Commission Against Corruption in New South Wales, is needed nationally to restore faith in Australia’s political system by probing misuse of federal funds in grants programs.

In a campaign that has focussed on wages and inflation, polls this week showed Albanese’s centre-left Labor ahead of Morrison’s conservative Liberal-National Party coalition, even as they showed the prime minister extending his lead as the country’s preferred leader.

Speaking in Melbourne, Morrison said that if re-elected he would “seek to implement” a watchdog but he would not be drawn on timing or whether it would be a priority.

He said the government’s had a “very serious policy” of over 300 pages, while labelling Labor’s proposal a “two-page fluff sheet”.

Albanese said a Labor government would have an anti-corruption body “with teeth” in place by the end of the year. It would be independent of government and be able to hold public hearings, he said.

“It is one that will be real as opposed to their model that has been rejected by everyone,” he told reporters in Cairns.