Anti-corruption watchdog becomes hot topic in Australian election

The opposition Australian Labor Party criticizes Prime Minister Scott Morrison for failing to set up a federal integrity commission, saying the ruling Conservative coalition has “integrity issues”.

Australian Prime Minister Morrison said if re-elected he would “seek to put in place” a watchdog. (Reuters)

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison will seek to establish an anti-corruption watchdog if he is re-elected next month, attacking the opposition Labor plan.

Ahead of the May 21 general election, Morrison came under pressure from Labor to create a federal integrity commission, something he first promised in 2018.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese said Morrison failed to set up a commission due to integrity issues within his Conservative coalition.

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

In the first week of the campaign, Morrison was accused of reneging on his promise to set up an anti-corruption agency and failing to commit to one if he wins another term in parliament.

Labor says an anti-corruption watchdog, similar to the Independent Corruption Commission in New South Wales, is needed nationwide to restore trust in Australia’s political system by investigating the use misuse of federal funds in grant programs.

Labor seeks anti-graft body ‘with teeth’

In a campaign focused on wages and inflation, polls this week showed Albanese’s centre-left Labor ahead of Morrison’s Liberal-National Conservative coalition, even as they showed the Prime Minister was extending his lead as the country’s favorite leader.

Speaking in Melbourne, Morrison said if re-elected he would “seek to put in place” a watchdog, but he would not be attracted by the timing or whether it would be a priority.

He said the government had a ‘very serious policy’ of more than 300 pages, while calling the Labor Party 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 the government and could hold public hearings, he said.

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

READ MORE: Australian Prime Minister Morrison hints he will soon call an election

Source: Reuters

Jessica C. Bell