The national anti-corruption commission bill has passed the Senate after Labor successfully stared down a Greens threat to support a Coalition amendment on the appointment of the Nacc commissioner.
On Monday, Guardian Australia revealed the Greens’ threat to combine with the Coalition to require a super majority of three-quarters of the Nacc oversight committee to appoint a commissioner, in a move that could have derailed the bill.
But on Tuesday, the Greens resolved not to support the Coalition but instead push a crossbench amendment requiring the government to get the support of one non-government MP or senator to make an appointment.
The “naccflip”paved the way for the passage of the bill in the final sitting week of parliament this year, fulfilling Labor’s election pledge to legislate the anti-corruption body by the end of 2023.
On Tuesday evening, Labor and the Coalition combined to defeat crossbench amendments, including a bid to remove the “exceptional circumstances” test for public hearings and to explicitly include pork barrelling in the Nacc’s scope.
In the Senate debate, the Greens justice spokesperson, David Shoebridge, argued Labor and the Liberals were prepared to cop “one bad headline” for teaming up to limit public hearings to avoid tens of negative stories about alleged corruption.
Independent senator David Pocock accused Labor of doing a “deal” with the opposition on “exceptional circumstances” which experts have warned would make it “nearly impossible” to hold public hearings.
The only successful crossbench amendment was a Greens proposal to expand the powers of the inspector that oversees the Nacc, which the Coalition supported.
The bill will now return to the House of Representatives for it to approve the Senate version. Labor is not expected to oppose the minor change.
Earlier, Shoebridge and the independent MP Helen Haines made a last-ditch appeal to the government to relinquish total control over appointments, although Shoebridge conceded that Labor is “not minded” to support it, and the Greens will not obstruct the Nacc bill.
Under Labor’s bill, the government’s proposed Nacc commissioner and inspector must be endorsed by the Nacc oversight committee, made up of six government, four opposition and two crossbench MPs and senators.
But with a government member in the chair holding the casting vote, the executive retains control of the committee and appointments.
The Coalition proposed to raise the threshold to a three-quarters majority, which the attorney general, Mark Dreyfus, warned would give the opposition an effective veto of appointments and could prevent the Nacc from being established.
Dreyfus said the amendment amounted to the Liberals “trying to frustrate the will of the Australian people” after Labor was elected with a mandate to implement its model.
“It’s completely unacceptable wrecking behaviour from a party of blockers and wreckers and we’re gonna call them out,” he told Radio National. “The bill will pass this week and I’m calling on the opposition to drop their ridiculous amendment.
“It is a ridiculous amendment that they never included in their own proposed model when they brought a model forward as a draft in 2021.”
Dreyfus warned the Coalition’s “new allies, the Greens party” that if the amendment were successful, Labor would “reject it when it comes back to the House and send it back [to the Senate] again”.
The fighting words had the intended effect – as the Greens resolved at their party room later on Tuesday morning not to support the Coalition amendment and recommitted to passing the Nacc bill this year.
Instead, the Greens and senator David Pocock proposed an amendment requiring a simple majority on the oversight committee to appoint the Nacc commissioner and inspector, meaning the government will need one non-government MP or senator to approve its pick.
Shoebridge told reporters in Canberra transparency experts agreed the government should not have “complete power” to make appointments “because obviously one of the critical jobs for the national anti-corruption commission is to hold the government of the day to account”.
He said the government would have “three alternatives” to find the votes for their appointments, with the opposition members, crossbench MP or senator on the oversight committee able to give the green light.
“[The amendment] removes the absolute power from the government of the day for this critical appointment,” he said. “But it also removes a veto from the opposition. No, opposition of themselves can simply [withhold agreement]. And we think that gets the balance right.”
Haines said the crossbench amendment was “modest” and would be “good for the nation, [and] good for the longevity of the national anti-corruption commission”.
“Whoever is in government … we need to make sure that this anti-corruption commission is fully independent, that no government nor no opposition can stymy its operation.
“So I stand here today, calling on the attorney general, calling on the prime minister, Please listen to this. You will regret this if you can’t back it.
“This is a good faith amendment. It will make the Nacc stronger and it will embed your legacy, immemorial, I would say, if you listen to this and get this right.”
The Greens-Pocock amendment was defeated by Labor and the Coalition.