Some crossbenchers worried about availability of public hearings

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Some crossbenchers worried about availability of public hearings

Some key crossbenchers are concerned that the federal government's new integrity commission might be too limited in its ability to hold hearings in public.

Legislation to create the National Anti-Corruption Commission was introduced to Parliament yesterday, and provides the capacity for public hearings in exceptional circumstances where doing so is in the public interest.

Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said the 'default position' will be to hold hearings in private.

The 'exceptional circumstances' test is being brought into question by cross-benchers in both the lower house and Senate, where their votes could be critical to passing the bill.

The integrity body might not hold hearings in public due to concerns of national security or the risk of prejudicing future court proceedings.

Senator David Pocock said he does not want the new body to be overly limited in its capacity to conduct public hearings. He said that if you're going to have an independent commission, they should be able to decide for themselves ''is this in the public interest' to have a public hearing.

I don't think we need to put in there that it is only under exceptional circumstances. Some crossbenchers are concerned that the bill does not define 'exceptional circumstances', and are worried that someone brought before the Anti-Corruption might be able to test the definition in the High Court.

The bill would be better off without them if the words were a genuine issue, according to independent MP Helen Haines.

The opposition has voiced cautious support for the model put forward by the government, with Opposition Leader Peter Dutton suggesting that it struck the right balance on the issue of public hearings.

Independent MP Zoe Daniel said that it would be disappointing if the exceptional circumstances' test was added to attract the Coalition's support.

She said that it would not be nice to think that the two major parties have come together to protect themselves under a commission that is for the Australian people, to restore integrity in politics and leadership, and to restore trust among the population.

No crossbencher has yet to suggest that they would oppose the bill over the issue of public hearings, instead pointing out a committee inquiry process that will be held over coming weeks.

The Exceptional circumstances' test is one for the future commission to decide, according to the attorney-general Mark Dreyfus.

He said it was a phrase that's there because we want this independent and powerful anti-corruption commission to strike the balance.

It's an independent decision that this commission is going to make. He argues that other integrity commissions already operating around the country only hold a fraction of their hearings in public.

It's a fairly exceptional thing for an anti-corruption commission like this to hold a public hearing. The bill has received a lot of support across the parliament, aside from the issue of public hearings.

The government doesn't need to have support from the lower house or the crossbench, as with all bills.

It would need either the Greens or the Opposition, and at least some crossbenchers to pass the bill through the Senate.

Mr Dreyfus said he is conscious of trying to draw support from across the parliament, even if it is not absolutely necessary to have the body legislated.

He said that broad support will help build public confidence in the body.

He said that he wanted to see support for this bill from the whole of the Australian Parliament, from everyone in both houses, because that's going to strengthen public reception and public acceptance of this anti-corruption commission.