Crossbench warning on corruption watchdog

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has been warned by independent parliamentarians to ensure his government's anti-corruption watchdog is as strong as it can be or risk facing consequences from voters.

Mr Albanese took aim at the former coalition government's failure to establish a federal anti-corruption body and pledged to restore trust in Australian democracy.

But independent MPs warn this is a once-in-a-generation chance for the federal government as they continue to push for the commission to hold public hearings as a default.

The government is aiming to establish its model for an integrity commission by the end of the year.

Mr Albanese said his predecessor's decision to take on ministerial portfolios in secret - which is the subject of a report due on Friday - had undermined the Australian public's faith in democracy.

Between March 2020 and May 2021, former prime minister Scott Morrison was secretly appointed to the health, finance, home affairs, treasury and industry portfolios.

Most of his own cabinet ministers were not aware of these appointments until it was sensationally revealed in August this year.

"It's that sort of hidden process that undermines faith in our system," Mr Albanese told parliament on Wednesday.

He said his government's model would improve Australia's standing, particularly at a time where there was global competition between authoritarianism and democracy.

"We need to do all within our power to ensure that our great democracy is trusted," he said.

A vote in the House of Representatives is expected to be held this week, before it moves to the Senate.

The government has extended the sitting calendar for the upper house in order for the commission to pass before parliament rises for the year.

Independent MP Zoe Daniel, elected on a platform of returning integrity to parliament, warned the government the force and execution of the anti-corruption commission would be its legacy.

"Get it right and the electorate will applaud. Get it wrong and the major parties, and indeed this parliament, will pay the price," she said.

"The commission should foster transparency and allow the sunlight in, not operate shrouded in darkness thereby further fracturing public trust."

While Labor has outlined several changes to the bill, concerns have been raised by the crossbench about the high thresholds for the commission to hold public hearings.

Under the proposed model, the commission would only hold public hearings in "exceptional circumstances".

Independent MP Helen Haines, who has spearheaded efforts to set up an integrity body, said the threshold was alarming and unnecessary.

"This is not just a fine legal point. It's a threshold question for public trust and the principle of transparency."

The government has put forward several changes to the bill, including greater protections for journalists and their sources and surveillance warrants needing to be approved by eligible judges.

The coalition has welcomed the amendments but raised concerns with elements of the bill.

Opposition spokesman Julian Leeser said further safeguards were needed to protect the rights of individuals.

"The commission will have extraordinary powers - with those extraordinary powers should be greater accountability," he said.

Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said the federal anti-corruption body had drawn on the best elements of its state counterparts.

Mr Dreyfus also flagged stronger protections for whistleblowers would be in place ahead of the commission coming into force.

He said the government's whistleblower proposal to be introduced to parliament next week would ensure Australia has best practice protections for the public sector.

"The Albanese government is delivering on its promise to restore trust and integrity to public institutions," he said.

"I take this seriously."