Voters don’t care about integrity commission: seven Liberal MPs
Federal Coalition MPs have hit back at criticism of Scott Morrison’s broken promise to deliver a federal ICAC, declaring voters aren’t raising the corruption commission.
Former judges and legal experts in recent days have criticised the Coalition for breaking its pledge, saying its proposed model would have insufficient powers and would be the “weakest watchdog” in the country.
But seven Liberal MPs – Victorians Jason Wood and Russell Broadbent, NSW MP Fiona Martin and Queensland MPs Bert Van Manen, Ted O’Brien, Luke Howarth and Phillip Thompson – told The Sun-Herald and The Sunday Age that jobs, the economy and roads infrastructure were front of mind, while expressing scepticism that a watchdog was a top-order issue for voters.
The government is blaming the opposition for the failure to set up a national integrity commission.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen, Rhett Wyman
While the seven MPs said they did not oppose a national integrity watchdog, voters were more concerned with bread-and-butter issues that affected their daily lives.
Last week, Morrison appeared to abandon his plans to set up the watchdog and blamed Labor for not supporting the government’s proposal, unamended, in the previous parliament.
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese pledged on Saturday to establish a federal integrity commission by the end of 2022, if Labor forms government.
“It will be a national anti-corruption commission with teeth, one that has independent, investigative powers. It is one that will be real as opposed to their model that has been rejected by everyone,” Albanese said.
While campaigning yesterday, Morrison labelled Labor’s plan for an integrity commission a “two-page fluff sheet” and insisted the Coalition had a “detailed plan, it is detailed in legislation over 300 pages in length”.
After days of public criticism from Labor, legal groups and retired judges about the failure to legislate a federal integrity body – and his labelling of the NSW ICAC as a “kangaroo court” – Morrison will be encouraged that his backbenchers believe the issue is not cutting through with voters.
However there will be concern in Liberal ranks that the issue could have an impact in seats such as North Sydney, Wentworth and Goldstein where the incumbent is facing a challenge from a high-profile “teal” independent candidate.
Jason Wood, who holds the marginal seat of La Trobe, said a federal integrity commission was not being raised by voters in his electorate.
“I’m getting no heat on it out my way,” he said.
Wood said he was not against a federal integrity commission and that integrity in politics was important, but it shouldn’t hold public hearings like many of the state-based watchdogs.
He pointed to the suicide of former Casey mayor Amanda Stapledon earlier this year, who was subject to a probe by the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission in Victoria.
The former police officer said those calling for a commission with public hearings “should have a look at the case of Amanda and ask would any of them like to go through that”.
“Councillor Amanda Stapledon was dragged through IBAC,” he said.
“Obviously, you want justice to take place. I’ve been in the police force for 17 years – we would never have media in there, cameras and have it broadcast live, there’s so much extra stress and anxiety.
“Anyone who is pushing this just has to look at this public exercise of an IBAC.”
A Resolve poll in February found 70 per cent of voters back the need for the new agency.
But Coalition sources insist it is not coming up as a top-order issue in focus group interviews with swinging voters.
NSW MP for the seat of Reid Fiona Martin nominated cost-of-living pressures, jobs and lower taxes as voter priorities. She would not say whether voters had raised a federal ICAC with her.
Queensland MP Ted O’Brien, who holds the safe Sunshine Coast-based seat of Fairfax, said the key issues people were raising related to the economy. “For small businesses, the No.1 issue is finding enough workers; for individuals, it’s cost-of-living pressures and then there’s some uncertainty about the global environment.
“People don’t use the word infrastructure, they talk about roads and rail.
“[A federal] ICAC is not being raised. There is some email traffic on the issue, but it wouldn’t be in the top 10 issues. It is raised very rarely with me directly and I’m on the street every day, at the shops, or doorknocking.”
Victorian MP Russell Broadbent, who holds the Gippsland-based seat of Monash, said that in his electorate, “it’s always roads, and in the last week or so they are raising Albo”.
“What’s important to you or I is not important to 90 per cent of the public. This election will be won and lost on how people feel about the economy and who will look after them,” he said.
Asked if voters in his seat had raised an integrity body, Broadbent said: “No, it has not been raised with me.”
Bert Van Manen, who holds the outer-suburban Brisbane-based seat of Forde, said voters raised three key issues with him: “Housing and rental affordability for people in my area because it is growing so quickly, infrastructure and then public services.”
On the proposed federal integrity body, Van Manen said “no, these are the issues people are mainly talking to me about”.
Queensland MP for the seat of Petrie Luke Howarth said national security, the shift to a 30 per cent tax rate “and obviously unemployment is topical, because of Albanese not knowing the rate”.
“Maybe a couple in three years. Nothing now unless they are locked on Labor voters parroting the talking points because it always comes with three other Labor points,” he said.
Herbert MP Phillip Thompson, whose seat is based around the northern city of Townsville, said the number one issue in his city was youth crime. After that, voters raised skill shortages, roads, the need for more manufacturing jobs and, in a “garrison city” where Australia had its largest defence base, national security.
“I don’t think it’s ‘no one cares’, people want to see integrity from their politicians,” he said, but the proposed federal ICAC was not a top-order issue.
Late last year, Tasmanian Liberal MP Bridget Archer crossed the floor to vote for independent MP Helen Haines’ proposed federal integrity commission, which had much greater powers such as the ability to hold public hearings and launch its own investigations, which the Liberal model could not do in most circumstances.
Asked whether his proposed commission would hold public hearings, Albanese said on Saturday “there would be scope for public hearings, if the anti-corruption commission itself felt that was necessary”.
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Jacqueline Maley cuts through the noise of the federal election campaign with news, views and expert analysis. Sign up to our Australia Votes 2022 newsletter here.
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