Integrity is “missing in action” in Australian government on World Anti-Corruption Day

Sports rorts, water rorts, land rorts, travel rorts. Raids on journalists, whistleblowers and their legal representatives. Over the past few years, it seems that barely a week passes without another scandal in state or federal government, or the business community, being reported in the news.

December 9 is World Anti-Corruption Day, and this year there are many issues that need to be highlighted, according to Transparency International Australia (TIA).

Transparency International is the world’s largest non-government organisation working to combat bribery, corruption and money laundering. They have offices in more than 100 countries including Australia. The Australian bureau has been in existence for almost 20 years.

“The big-ticket items this year in Australia have been the need to establish an anti-corruption commission and the need to address issues of undue influence, conflicts of interest and lobbying,” said Serena Lillywhite, CEO of TIA.

“What happens when ministers are caught up in issues such as sports rorts? It appears that there are very few consequences for them. The Prime Minister’s ministerial standards are not being adequately implemented and enforced, and there is no existing code of conduct for other senior parliamentarians and their senior staff.”

While TIA has welcomed the government’s recent release of its draft legislation for the establishment of a Commonwealth integrity commission, they say that what has been proposed is not fit-for-purpose and will not address the concerns that they have.

“In our view, you can’t have an integrity commission that leaves the bulk of the public service and indeed ministers, parliamentarians and their senior staff not covered,” said Lillywhite.

TIA has also pointed out that the proposed model will not allow members of the public to raise matters of concern, and provision for public hearings will be extremely limited. Only criminal matters will be investigated, which would exclude issues like the recent sports rorts and the Leppington triangle scandal.

Recent research has shown that that vast majority of Australians want to see a national integrity commission put in place.

“There is a widely held view by the community that integrity has absolutely slipped and is missing in action amongst our elected officials,” said Lillywhite.

“This is backed up by the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index. Australia’s position on the index has slipped 8 points over the last 8 years. We used to be in the top 10 countries.”

Serena Lillywhite, CEO of Transparency International Australia

Australia is lagging in its performance when compared with similar countries like Canada, and New Zealand, which held the number 2 spot in the most recent report.

TIA will launch its 2020 Corruption Perception Index report on 29 January 2021.

Another report, released last month, found that government corruption continues to be a major concern for the general public.

The Global Corruption Barometer showed that 66% of Australians now believe that corruption in their government is a big problem, compared with 61% two years ago.

Lillywhite said that all Australians can play a role in holding governments and businesses to account.

“They can express their concerns at the ballot box – that is the best way, to vote with your feet,” she said.

“We need the media to be reporting on these matters, we need the public to demand protection and support for whistleblowers and we need to ensure that our press remains free. We need a broader range of groups to all work together to shine a spotlight on corruption and misconduct and call out where we see wrongdoing occurring.”

Images: Transparency International Australia

Sarah Jacob

Sarah Jacob is a journalist and editor and is currently The Advocate's Deputy Editor. She has written for a range of print and online publications across Australia and internationally with a focus on the environment and human rights. Previously she worked in conservation science and protected area management, and has completed postgraduate degrees in journalism and marine science.

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