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Independent will lobby Coalition MPs to support proposed anti-corruption commission

·5-min read
<span>Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP</span>
Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP

The independent MP Helen Haines has warned Scott Morrison she will lobby “concerned” government MPs for support for her proposed anti-corruption bill to deliver a new federal integrity commission.

Haines, who will reintroduce her Australian Federal Integrity Commission (Afic) bill to the House of Representatives next week, met with the prime minister on Wednesday and sought the government’s support to allow the bill to be debated and voted upon.

The request was denied, meaning Haines will now forge ahead with trying to secure the numbers for an absolute majority on the floor of parliament. This would force a debate and a vote on the legislation against the government’s wishes.

She has booked meetings with Liberal MPs who are concerned about the Coalition’s draft bill to establish a Commonwealth Integrity Commission, saying her model addressed the “fundamental flaws” contained in the government’s proposal.

Related: ‘It needs more work’: Liberal MPs call for tougher federal integrity commission

The Liberal MPs Dave Sharma, Katie Allen, Celia Hammond and Bridget Archer have all expressed reservations about the bill, saying it needs more work.

Haines met with Sharma on Wednesday and is meeting with Allen on Thursday.

“All those backbench members want to see public hearings, they want to see retrospectivity, they want to see a broad definition of corruption and so on,” Haines said.

“So the prime minister’s got the problem if he wants to introduce an integrity commission based on his original model,” she said.

“I very politely asked the prime minister, just to save any of that embarrassment and time-wasting, if he would just instruct the leader of the House to go ahead, but he said no,” Haines told Guardian Australia.

She said while she was given a “terrific hearing” from Morrison, “we have very different views of what an integrity commission should be and why we need one”.

Haines said she was speaking to many MPs about her proposed Afic model, which has been endorsed by the Centre for Public Integrity as the best model in the country.

She said the model had “all of the robust features of an integrity commission with teeth, and safeguards that means we don’t see vexatious and frivolous referrals”.

The legislation also includes an exoneration clause, that would see anyone whose reputation was unfairly tarnished by an Afic hearing to be the subject of a report to parliament exonerating them.

Haines will need at least one government MP to cross the floor in support of her bill to allow the debate to take place, but it is unclear if all MPs will return to Canberra in the next sitting week of parliament.

Under parliamentary rules, if the leader of the House gives leave for the legislation to be debated, a simple majority of the present MPs in the House is needed. If leave is not granted, an absolute majority – more than half of all possible votes – is needed to suspend standing orders.

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The government has 75 MPs in parliament, excluding the Speaker, while Labor has 68. There are seven crossbench MPs, meaning Haines would need to secure all of the crossbench, and at least one government MP to be able to force the bill to a vote.

The independent senator Rex Patrick has also introduced the Haines bill into the Senate, saying Australians needed an integrity commission that would “restore the public’s trust, confidence and pride in the integrity of their members of parliament and their democracy.

“This is the right bill for the Senate to debate, and this is the right time for the Senate to have this debate,” Patrick said.

“It’s now been over 1,000 days since the prime minister promised this nation a robust federal integrity commission. Australians are still waiting, and they should not hold their breath waiting any longer for this government to deliver a robust model.”

Related: Commonwealth Integrity Commission: what is it and how is it different from Icac?

Labor and the Greens are backing the bill, and Patrick is confident of gaining the support of three other crossbenchers to successfully pass the legislation through the Senate. The South Australian senator Stirling Griff and Tasmanian senator Jacqui Lambie support the establishment of an integrity commission, while One Nation is yet to determine its position.

Haines described the introduction of the bill into the House and the Senate as a “pincer movement” aimed at finally legislating a commonwealth integrity commission, which was first promised by Morrison ahead of the 2019 election.

The Australia Institute’s national integrity committee, which is a group of retired judges, said a federal integrity commission was long overdue.

“The time has come for the government to take integrity in all the institutions of federal government, especially the parliament and its members, seriously,” the former supreme court judge David Harper said on behalf of the committee.

The attorney general, Michaelia Cash, has said she is refining the draft legislation that was released for consultation late last year, but the government still had plans to introduce it this year.

Patrick said that with both models likely to be before parliament by the end of the year, “we can do a side-by-side comparison”.

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