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Prime Minister Scott Morrison (Image: AAP/Lukas Coch)

From the moment of its announcement nearly two years ago, the purported Commonwealth Integrity Commission was rightly seen as an effort by the Morrison government to address pressure for a genuine federal integrity body without establishing anything that would seriously threaten the ability of ministers to rort grants and look after mates.

Just as with the banking royal commission, which the Turnbull government repeatedly tried to forestall with a series of accountability and taxation measures aimed at the banks, so Prime Minister Scott Morrison sought to prevent the introduction of a genuine integrity body by creating a powerless watchpoodle along the lines of the entirely useless Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity.

As Michael Bradley forensically shows today, that’s exactly what Morrison and his Attorney-General Christian Porter — the prosecutor and persecutor of Witness K and Bernard Collaery — have created: a body with laughably little capacity to investigate corruption and absurdly high thresholds for doing so.

It would have no power to consider blatant rorting of grants, the forgery of documents in a minister’s office, the lobbying of other ministers on behalf of family companies, or dodgy water deals — let alone using an intelligence agency to spy on another government to help a firm you later take a job with.

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But Morrison and Porter appear to have gone further and created a mechanism whereby a crooked minister can evade scrutiny.

If a minister has engaged in conduct that meets the extraordinarily high standard of conduct that would be referable — “abuse of office or perverting the course of justice … must also constitute a listed offence against a law of the Commonwealth” —  only they can refer themselves to the proposed body. Not even the attorney-general can refer a corrupt colleague to the body — that power solely rests with the criminal concerned.

This would enable a crooked minister to refer themselves to the CIC but control exactly what was referred and how it was done, potentially restricting any inquiry into their conduct to exactly what they want it confined to.

And because any inquiry into the conduct of an MP will be held in secret, because the proposed body can’t initiate inquiries into the conduct itself, and because no finding of corrupt conduct can be made about an MP in any event, no one will ever know that the minister nobbled the investigation.

It’s a foolproof way for a corrupt minister to declare they have referred themselves to the CIC and been found completely clean — when no proper investigation was carried out.

Even for a government as deeply mired in sleaze and corruption as this, this is impressive — enabling the cover-up of corruption under the pretence of a corruption commission. Well done, Scott and Christian.

One more thing to consider. Let’s accept the absurd arguments of Morrison and Porter that this is a legitimate effort to improve integrity in the Commonwealth government. Even by its own argument, the government is demanding a double standard: one for our federal police, and another for MPs, staffers and public servants.

For MPs, staffers and public servants, the CIC would be unable to initiate inquiries — it would have to wait for someone to refer a matter to it. But for the AFP and other law enforcement officials, it can initiate whatever inquiries it likes.

For MPs, staffers and public servants, the CIC has to hold secret hearings. For AFP officers, they can be public.

And for MPs, staffers and public servants, the CIC would be unable to make findings of corrupt conduct — but it can do so for AFP officers.

Why are AFP officers — on the front line of law enforcement, sometimes putting their safety and even lives on the line to protect the community — subject to a different, tough standard than politicians and their staff?

If it’s good enough for our police officers, it’s good enough for politicians and political apparatchiks surely?

Unless your goal is to cover up, not expose and punish, corruption.