Corruption in Australia

By March 10, 2018Australian Politics, Society

The organisation known as Transparency International is a non-profit international organisation founded in 1993 and based in Berlin. Its aim is to combat global corruption and to prevent criminal activities arising from corruption. It publishes the Global Corruption Barometer and the Corruption Perceptions Index. The German organisation operates as an umbrella organisation and membership has grown from a few individuals to over 100 national chapters. It is considered to be one of the top global think tanks1.

The Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) annually ranks countries by their perceived levels of corruption as determined by expert assessments and opinion surveys. The CPI generally defines corruption as “the misuse of public power for private benefit”. The CPI ranks 176 countries on a scale from 100 (very clean) to 0 (highly corrupt)2

In 2010, Australia was ranked eighth, with a score of 87. Australia is now ranked 13 with a score of 772,3.

Year     Rank    Score2,3

2010    8          87

2011    8          88

2012    7          85

2013    9          81

2014    10        80

2015    13        79

2016    13        79

2017    13        77

So, Australia has become more corrupt, and other countries who similarly significantly declined were Syria and Yemen4. Good company, isn’t it?

Transparency International recommends as an effective strategy to decrease corruption, the following actions:

  • Putting in place laws and institutions that will prevent corruption from happening in the first place. Legal frameworks and access to information are essential components of a healthy political system where citizens can play a role in demanding accountability and preventing corruption. Whistleblower protection mechanisms and autonomous, well resourced anti-corruption agencies are also a must in the Asia Pacific region.
  • Reducing impunity for the corrupt. Professional and independent justice systems are necessary where police and prosecutors can respond to technical criteria and not political power plays.
  • Improving space for civil society to speak out. Governments should ensure that activists can speak freely throughout the region without fear of retaliation.
  • Improving integrity and values. Schools and universities should educate youth about ethics and values. Corporations should promote business integrity in the private sector and make these ideals more mainstream.4

In Australia, whistleblower protections are inadequate. Currently, in Australia, dobbing in a superior can lead to loss of friends, colleagues and careers, and sometimes families, because of financial and other stresses and the increased likelihood of alcoholism and drug abuse. An example of this is the case of Jeff Morris, who exposed the Commonwealth Bank’s financial planning misconduct. His anonymity was not protected and he was subjected to death threats, lost his job and in the end, he lost his family5. Late last year the government released draft legislation to protect whistleblowers in the corporate, financial, credit and tax sectors6.

It is clear that in Australia, the corrupt often have impunity. In part, this is caused by the fact that corruption is sometimes difficult to prove. The current investigation by the Queensland Crime and Corruption Commission into corruption is a case in point is about conflicts of interests and gifts from Chinese developers when the Gold Coast Council was making decisions about particular developments. The conflicts of interest include not making known to the council that a stake of 50% was held by the mayor, Tom Tate, in a company applying for a development decision. This happened five years ago7. The reluctance of the Federal Government to institute a similar anti-corruption body to stamp on corruption in the federal political landscape is perhaps an acknowledgement that it might uncover a bit too much that is uncomfortable. After the Barnaby Joyce affair was made public, much more was uncovered about his land holdings8, free accommodation afforded to him and his paramour9, as well as his suspect behaviour with other women10.

The Federal Government is attempting to pass legislation which will prevent organisations who accept foreign donations to engage in political discourse. Charities have warned that under this new legislation, international philanthropy (e.g. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation) will not be able to be used for advocacy, and they will face an increased burden of red tape11. Charities epitomise the ‘civil’ part of our society, and to attempt to shut them up is antithetical to a democratic system, no matter how much discomfort it causes whoever is in government. However, the main target of this legislation is the activist group GetUp (to which I donate). Anyone who wishes to donate over $250 per annum will have to provide a statutory declaration that they are an ‘allowable donor’. Failure to comply with this law could result in up to 10 years’ imprisonment or a fine of $210,000. This is the Liberal and National parties trying to obliterate those who disagree with them. Prior to the 2016 Federal Election, the conservatives tolerated GetUp, but at that election it helped get rid of the some of the nastiest right-wing members of the Liberal Party from the Parliament13. At the next election it will be targeting one of the worst human rights abusers in the Parliament, Peter Dutton. So, now the government is attempting to cripple or destroy GetUp.

The last suggested action to decrease corruption is the education about ethics. While this is obviously worth doing, some religious organisations have fought tooth and nail to prevent it from happening14,15.

While corruption is generally defined as the ‘misuse of public power for private benefit’ (see above), it should also include the ‘misuse of public power for the benefit of a political party’. While the former is the province of the greedy individual and corrupts the commercial system, the latter is the province of the greedy party, and it corrupts our democratic system.




  • Jim says:

    Although it is slightly different, there is also a corruption in political thinking in terms of ministerial responsibility. When was the last time a minister resigned because of a stuff up in his/her department? These days when there is a stuff up, the minister, premier or prime minister will always blame someone else, the department or claim that they did not know. A classic case is the recent debacle about the Oakden Nursing home in SA. The minister Leesa Vlahos, supported by the premier Jay Weatherill, claimed that she had instituted an enquiry and was trying to straighten things out. The recent ICAC report indicated that this was complete rubbish, the minister was an unreliable witness and basically had no idea what she was doing. The Premier of course denied any responsibility and basically threw Vlahos under the proverbial bus, despite the fact that several years earlier he had been the responsible minister. Before this, when things started to get sticky, the ALP had removed Vlahos as a Lower House candidate for next weeks election and put her as number 1 on the upper house ticket, with a guaranteed 8 more years in parliament. She has since “voluntarily” quit this position and some other ALP machine person has been parachuted in. This is symptomatic of the ever decreasing standards on both sides of politics.

    • admin says:

      Yeah, it is symptomatic of modern politics. I think that not only is it the partisan nature of current politics but the type of people attracted to the ‘profession’. Indeed, the phrase ‘professional politician’ should be an oxymoron. We need to get people in positions of power who understand what they are doing, not simply apparatchiks.

  • Maurice says:

    One of the galling excuses that governments give for failing to disclose dodgy deals when contracts for major works are decided is: “commercial confidentiality prevents us from revealing the terms of the contract or its alternatives.”
    Not even parliament is allowed to know how allocator of vast sums of public money is decided.
    This conspiracy of silence is what enables corruption to thrive. If a government minister won’t reveal how decisions are made, it’s a hint that something immoral is going on.

    The recent allocation of funds to a group with dubious association to Great Barrier Reef management is another matter.
    In this case, it seems the Libs wanted to be seen to be doing something the public would like, (read: buying votes) but gave the money to a group who they know are bogus, being stacked with organisations that have no interest in saving the reef.

  • JON says:

    Agree Maurice, “commercial in confidence” is a cover used by governments who don’t like transparency or criticism – including Barr’s in the ACT. It’s right up there with the other furphy “national security” as far as excuses for shonky decisions go.

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