The Morrison government won the 2019 election with a promise to establish a national anti-corruption commission, a body already long-established across state and territory governments, in its next term. We are still waiting.
A federal anti-corruption watchdog will help get politics “off the front pages” but requires politicians to put aside their differences or it is doomed to become a perpetual political football, Liberal MP John Alexander said.
It was claimed in various media articles earlier this year that Alexander would “cross the floor” to vote against his own party should legislation on the anti-corruption body come into parliament before the next federal election.
Alexander gun shy after media misquotes
The retiring member for Bennelong refuted the claims, with Alexander's office stating he was “gun shy” about the issue after the ensuing media storm sparked by his alleged comments.
After agreeing to speak with Yahoo News Australia, Alexander stated his support for a federal anti-corruption body but was disheartened by political grandstanding on the issue across both sides of politics, saying that like climate change, politicisation had thwarted any progress.
“Things become a political debate when one side is not looking for a solution. They’re just denigrating the other side and therefore no progress is being made. So my position is: what needs to happen is that the players need to get together and work through this line by line,” Alexander said.
“You might have the attorney general, you might have [independent MP] Helen Haines involved, [Liberal MP] Bridget Archer or any number of people. Get the drafters of the legal agreement to start off with what the government has put forward, consider what the response of the Labor party has been and see what the common ground is.
“We [the Liberal party] have put forward quite a sizeable document, but I see that there is not enough goodwill, trust, good faith between our leaders to really genuinely engage. You’ve got to break that somehow, rather than work in their stock and trade, which is to denigrate each other.”
Will the integrity commission happen before the election?
Speculation has been rife about whether the federal integrity commission will be confirmed before the next election as promised, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison recently indicating there was still time to do so if it was supported by Labor.
Alexander, a former champion tennis player who often hits the court with Labor leader Anthony Albanese, urges caution in rushing it in just to stick to a promise made three years ago before Covid-19 was a factor.
“Tennis players are on top of the linesman saying 'make your calls quick'. But I’m saying no, no make them right, take your time and don’t make a bad call. And the same applies here,” he said.
“I think it’s far more important that the government gets this right rather than deliver on the promise of doing it in this term. The last two years he’s [Scott Morrison] had his hands full and overflowing with the pandemic and then the playing of politics.
“Both [Morrison and Albanese] are good people... you see a man’s real character when it’s 30-40,” Alexander added, referring to a moment in a tennis match when the server faces losing a point.
A political football
So how do you take a highly political issue that directly affects politicians and make it apolitical?
Alexander believes the answer is keeping it out of the media, which often inflames political brinkmanship, alongside securing a commitment from each leader to sit down and resolve the issue behind closed doors.
"The media loves a biff. Too often they say 'you're ready to cross the floor'," Mr Alexander said of comments that were recently attributed to him.
"The fact that you consider everything and you have the right to, that doesn't translate to 'oh he's going to cross the floor.' But if that's convenient to someone's argument then that's how they choose to report that.
“With Gladys [Berejikilan], there was no finding against her, yet she was humiliated and hounded from office... the media played a role as they are so often invested in wanting to create a story.
“Malcolm Fraser said when he became Prime Minister after the dismissal of the Whitlam government ‘it’s time to get politics off the front pages’. You shouldn’t communicate with people through the press, and when someone responds through the press you’ve totally lost control of any progress.
“They should have a demarcation and say, well there are any number of things that we need to put above politics to work together to make progress.
“You’ve got to have a free press but with freedom comes responsibilities.”
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