In December, 2018, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the creation of a new anti-corruption commission mostly because of sustained pressure from crossbench MPs with the balance of power. The Labor Party, the Greens and some minor parties have long campaigned for a corruption watchdog, and have argued that current systems are “woefully inadequate”. Morrison had long regarded a national anti-corruption commission as a “fringe issue” being pursued solely by the Labor opposition, but had been forced to announce something (anything!) in response to a shift in public sentiment, and after having gone into minority government with the resignation from Parliament of Malcolm Turnbull1.
Of course, with the announcement, Morrison has deflected the attention of the media by stating that it was crucial the public had confidence in Commonwealth employees and agencies. This is Morrison’s usual style of deflection because it is not within the public service and law enforcement agencies where the worst cases of corruption are; it is among those we elect2-6. Australia is becoming a more corrupt country, as its corruption perception index score has declined from 85 in 2012, when we were the seventh least corrupt country in the world to now having a score of 77 so that we are now the twelfth least corrupt country7,8.
Morrison’s proposed commission is to have two divisions: a law enforcement integrity division and a public sector integrity division. The law enforcement division is an expansion of a current body that has jurisdiction over the Federal Police, Austrac, the Department of Home Affairs and parts of the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources. It is to be expanded to include the whole of the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and the Australian Tax Office. The public sector division will cover the remainder of the public sector, including all parliamentarians, departments, agencies, their staff and federal judicial officers1.
Morrison denied that the Coalition had been forced into making the announcement because it was a minority government1, but the fact that since the Coalition was installed as a majority government after the 2019 federal election, nothing has happened with the proposed integrity commission, clearly shows that Morrison’s denial was a lie. Morrison also said that replicating the New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) would create a “kangaroo court” and “be little more than a forum for self-serving mud–slinging and the pursuit of personal, corporate and political vendettas”1. Perhaps it was a little too successful in taking down corrupt politicians. Attorney General Christian Porter has said that the proposed commission “would not have retrospective powers”9. It is almost like he knows what would happen if it did.
To show how genuine Morrison’s government is with regard to integrity you only need to look at the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO). The ANAO picked up the dodgy grant of $15 million to Wesfarmers (a big political donor), to alleviate Indigenous poverty. Wesfarmers profit for that year was $4.5 billion6. The ANAO provided a damning report into the Badgery’s Creek land scandal, in which the federal government paid $29 million to the Leppington Pastoral Company (big political donors) for a plot of land valued at $3 million6. The ANAO gave evidence that contradicted Morrison’s claim he had little to do with the final decision-making in the Sports Rorts pork barrelling affair2,10. The ANAO demonstrated the Water buyback scheme in which the federal government paid $80 million (twice the valuation) to a Cayman Islands company owned by a mate of Energy Minister Angus Taylor, was not value for money2. The ANAO found the decisions as to disbursement of grants from the $220 million Regional Jobs and Investment Program made by the ministerial panel were not always consistent with advice received from the Department of Infrastructure5. So, what happened to the ANAO? In Tuesday’s budget the government cut $14 million from the ANAO’s operating budget, which was $112 million in 2019-2020. This will force it to cut its audits from 48 per year to 38 per year. That is payback for doing your job well and exposing corruption.