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Labor has criticised the Coalition for proposing a parliamentary sitting calendar for next year that includes just 10 sitting days before August if an election is called immediately after the budget.
The release of the sparse sitting calendar comes as the government runs out of time to fulfil an election promise to establish a federal integrity commission, amid ongoing divisions within the party about the best model for a new anti-corruption body.
The prime minister, Scott Morrison, has been walking back the commitment, and told parliament on Monday the government’s “well drafted legislation” was already in the public domain.
When asked in parliament if the prime minister was delaying legislation “to ensure that a national anti-corruption commission won’t be established this term”, Morrison for a second consecutive day attempted to blame Labor for the delay.
“There is a 349-page legislation that the government has prepared in relation to the design of our proposal for a commonwealth integrity commission, and we have committed $150 million in the budget to support it,” Morrison said.
“The government has a proposal for such a commission, the Member for Indi has a proposal, the Greens has a proposal, the Labor party have no proposal on this matter.
“The government has set out legislation, which has been made available and has been carefully designed and consulted upon and the Labor party refuse to support it.”
Progress on the government’s integrity commission has again stalled after the attorney general, Michaelia Cash, previously pledged to introduce a bill to parliament this year.
After widespread consultations and pressure from within the Coalition to toughen up the government’s proposed model – released as an exposure draft in February – Cash made changes to the bill that are yet to be signed off by cabinet.
She told Senate estimates last month the government was in the process of “finalising the legislation” based on the feedback received during consultation.
“I have been considering the feedback through the consultation to further inform refinement of the exposure draft legislation before it is introduced to the parliament,” Cash said.
“I am taking into account the feedback that has been received but ultimately it will be the decision for cabinet.”
But despite Cash’s intention to introduce the bill this year, the communications minister, Paul Fletcher, said the government would only introduce the legislation if Labor was prepared to “work seriously” with it on the proposal.
“[We] stand ready to proceed with the legislation should the Labor party indicate it wants to engage seriously on this matter, rather than engaging in the kinds of cheap political stunts that we have heard from the shadow attorney general and now the shadow minister,” Fletcher said.
“We are getting on with engaging seriously with an important question of public policy and we stand ready to introduce this legislation as soon as the Labor party shows us that they are ready to work seriously on this, and work with us.”
The Coalition’s failure to introduce a bill has led to simmering frustrations among MPs about the unfulfilled election pledge, culminating in Tasmanian Liberal MP Bridget Archer crossing the floor last week to back a federal integrity commission proposed by independent MP Helen Haines.
Amid concern there is now inadequate time to legislate the anti-corruption commission before the election, the governments sitting calendar for 2022 released on Monday included just 10 sitting days before a likely May vote.
The proposed sitting calendar release schedules seven sitting days in February, which includes four days of Senate estimates, and a three-day joint sitting in March, which proposes a budget on 29 March.
If an election is called immediately after the budget – the approach that Scott Morrison has flagged is his preference – then sittings are unlikely to resume until August after a likely May election.
Labor frontbencher Ed Husic said the proposed calendar was “more of a slouch than a sitting calendar” and criticised the government’s thin legislative agenda.
“It’s all talk, no action and I’ve never seen, I have to say, a Liberal party so focused on winning and gaining power and then doing nothing with it when they get in,” Husic told the ABC.
“And this sitting calendar is testament to that. They get back from the Christmas and January break, they have a bit of a yawn and a stretch and 10 days are over and we’re into an election campaign. I think most Australians would expect their parliament to sit longer and do more.”