The public office, public trust principle
The demand for a national anti-corruption commission has increased over the last decade with strong public support now for the creation of such a body. The need for it is urgent; Australia’s international reputation has already been seriously damaged.
Current lack of protection for whistle-blowers in the public and private sectors means wrong-doing and corruption go unreported and whistle-blowers are vulnerable to retribution.
It is high time the Commonwealth had a comprehensive independent integrity system, incorporating a general purpose anti-corruption agency with educative, research and policy functions and all necessary powers and subject to an inspector and parliamentary oversight.
The Commonwealth signed the UN Convention Against Corruption, and in 2013, the Open Government Partnership. Its obligations under UNCAC Article 36 and the OGP require it to establish a National Anti-Corruption Commission. Each State now has an anti-corruption body. But risk of corruption is higher when and where money, power and influence are found, and the largest quantities of each are found at the level of the Commonwealth Government.
Notwithstanding repeated demands by many bodies such as Transparency International and the Accountability Round Table and Australia’s UNCAC and OGP obligations, no Australian anti-corruption body has been established. Instead the government created a limited specialised anti-corruption body, the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity (ACLEI), which merely establishes a framework under which the few agencies covered by it must set up corruption controls and inform the Integrity Commissioner of any information that raises a corruption issue in that agency.
ACLEI’s jurisdiction and functions are completely inadequate and inappropriate for a national anti-corruption commission. ACLEI’s levels of funding are less than half of those of the NSW ICAC alone. A principal defect of the ACLEI model is that with no single body responsible, the multi-body approach and shared responsibility results in no single body having ultimate responsibility, and vast areas of Commonwealth power are completely outside ACLEI’s remit. The consequence is a succession of scandals in the Commonwealth arena, while ACLEI was the only body supposedly in charge of investigating corruption in that area.
The risks of corruption have increased in recent years for a variety of reasons, including the:
- increase in governmental control of information
- ever-increasing costs of political campaigns, and the failure to provide adequate controls and transparency,
- commercialisation of government services and projects
- development of lobbying, the inadequacies of any attempt to control that and make it transparent in a timely manner
- failure to stop or control the flow of Ministers and their staff to the lobbying industry on retirement from their positions.
Combined with those factors there is an increased risk of corruption resulting from the impact on major commercial interests of the significant changes that will be needed to address the problems posed by climate change, and the exhaustion of natural resources. Recent events show that corporates are willing to bribe foreign governments. Why would such bodies not be prepared to act in similar fashion in Australia?
All these matters suggest that the level of commercial morality in Australia is falling at a time when authorities such as ASIC and the Australian Federal Police are failing to cope. Australia’s international reputation must be seriously damaged in these circumstances; indeed Australia’s rating has since dropped from 7th to 13th since 2012 in the International Corruption Index maintained by Transparency International. Recent developments make a further fall likely.