Coalition MP breaks ranks to push for a stronger federal anti-corruption body | Australia news

The Coalition backbencher Llew O’Brien has called for the proposed federal anti-corruption body to be given “more strenuous, stronger” powers to investigate and publicly hear allegations against politicians, breaking with his government’s position.

O’Brien, a former Queensland police officer, has been a persistent LNP advocate for an anti-corruption commission, and threatened to cross the floor in support of a bill proposed by the former independent MP Cathy McGowan last year.

O’Brien was convinced to hold fire when the government promised it was acting urgently on the issue and that a proposed anti-corruption body was “imminent”.

But the Coalition’s proposed model – named the commonwealth integrity commission – has since faced significant criticism, chiefly for the preferential way it treats politicians and the public sector.

The body would not have the power to hold public hearings about government corruption or directly take public tip-offs, and would be unable to make findings of public sector corruption at large. That’s at odds with the powers available to its separate law enforcement arm, which can hold public hearings, take referrals from the public, and more easily begin investigation of alleged corruption.

Speaking at a public event at Griffith University last month, O’Brien said the proposed model suffered from “diminished” powers to investigate government corruption.

“My personal view – and I am not a government spokesman obviously – my personal view is that the powers are somewhat diminished for the public service and I would prefer to see parliamentarians and the commonwealth judiciary come under those more strenuous, those stronger investigative powers that are currently under … the Australian law enforcement commission,” O’Brien said.

O’Brien said politicians held a “great deal of power” and should be subject to the same scrutiny as law enforcement under the new anti-corruption commission.

“We should be held to that highest standard and I think there’s a very strong argument to have members of parliament – not necessarily staffers of members of parliament – but members of parliament and the commonwealth judiciary in there,” he said.

O’Brien was speaking at an event to mark 30 years since the Fitzgerald inquiry into corruption in Queensland. A recording of the event was aired by the ABC on Monday night.

Fellow panelist Prof AJ Brown, an integrity expert with Griffith University and Transparency International Australia, slammed aspects of the integrity commission as “brainless”.

He said the current model would make it impossible for public servants with evidence of corruption to refer issues directly to the anti-corruption body. Instead, they would need to first go to the Commonwealth Ombudsman or the federal police, bodies which would then refer the matter to the anti-corruption commission.

“That’s just a brainless idea, that’s not going to work,” Brown said.

Despite the flaws, Brown said he remained optimistic that parliament could work “constructively” on the proposed anti-corruption body to ensure it was effective.

“At the end of the day, the commonwealth parliament is in a good position to make sure it ends up passing something that is strategic and systemic, even though it hasn’t had the same complete baptism of fire that the Fitzgerald inquiry put onto Queensland,” he said.

Others have been less optimistic about the model, describing it as a “sham” set up to protect politicians.

Stephen Charles, a retired Victorian court of appeal judge, said the proposal to not allow public hearings for public-sector cases made no sense.

“We see this body, the [commonwealth integrity commission], insofar as public servants and parliamentarians are concerned, as a sham,” he told Guardian Australia earlier this year. “It’s not really an anti-corruption commission at all.”

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