Australia to create national anti-corruption watchdog

FILE PHOTO: Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese at the Sydney Energy Forum

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia's government said on Tuesday it will introduce legislation to create a National Anti-Corruption Commission, after years of debate over the need for an independent watchdog for politicians.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Attorney General Mark Dreyfus said in a statement the move would "restore trust and integrity in politics", and funding of A$262 million ($169.8 million) over four years will be provided. A bill is expected to be introduced to parliament on Wednesday.

The commission will investigate serious or systemic corruption by federal government ministers, parliamentarians, political staff and employees of, or contractors to, government entities.

It will have retrospective powers, and be able to make findings of corruption, or refer criminal matters to federal police or public prosecutors, the statement said.

A New South Wales state corruption watchdog has conducted a slew of investigations into politicians and political donations in Australia's biggest state economy, resulting in two Liberal state premiers resigning in the past decade.

The federal Liberal government of Scott Morrison, which lost office in a national election in May, had resisted calls for a federal watchdog, amid criticism over the public nature of the NSW corruption hearings and the damage caused to careers, even when a corruption finding was ultimately not made.

The national commission will be able to hold public hearings "in exceptional circumstances", and where it is in the public interest, the government statement said.

The commission's findings will be subject to judicial review, it added.

($1 = 1.5434 Australian dollars)

(Reporting by Kirsty Needham; Editing by Stephen Coates)