NOEL TURNBULL. A dangerous decline

It is symptomatic of much that is disturbing and dangerous about Australian political discourse that Australia’s continuing decline in international public sector corruption rankings is given so little attention.

The latest Transparency International’s (TI) annual The Corruptions Perceptions Index (CPI) Index report has put Australia in 13th place – with Australia scoring 77 points down eight points since 2012. This decline has been going on for some years as we have fallen from the top 10 in the list. While the Morrison Government is promising a national integrity commission it is a rather pale version of a genuine corruption fighting body and the persistence of political misbehaviour over donations, favours and judicial appointments – plus the revelations about the banking industry – leave a distinct smell which ought not be present in a healthy democracy.

It should be said that the TI survey is a perception based product but it is the leading indicator of corruption worldwide and assesses the level of public sector corruption in each of the world’s 180 countries according to data from expert independent institutions. Releasing the report TI Australia said: “This year’s index shows the majority of the world’s countries are making little or no progress in ending corruption. It reveals that the continued failure of most countries to significantly control corruption is contributing to a crisis in democracy around the world. The theme of this year’s CPI report focuses on democracy because of the strong correlation between corruption and autocracy. When our democratic institutions are transparent and accountable, our democracy is healthy and robust.”

“Australia used to rank among the top ten least-corrupt countries. We fell out of the league of world-leading nations back in 2014 and continuously fail to lift our game. This year, Transparency International Australia will continue to call for greater transparency and accountability across government and business. We will continue to push for a strong, independent and comprehensive national anti-corruption agency; and for better laws to protect whistle blowers, stop money laundering and control foreign bribery,” TI said.

The Index has been published since 1995. It draws on 13 surveys and expert assessment to measure public sector corruption in 180 countries and territories giving each a score from zero (hopelessly corrupt) to 100 (clean as a whistle).

Next month TI Australia will hold its biennial conference – this year on the theme of Tackling Corruption Together – in Melbourne and will cover a variety of topics. A keynote speaker will be Debra La Prevotte, senior investigator at Sentry, a team of analysts, experts and financial forensic investigators following the money in order to “create consequences for those funding and profiting from genocide and other mass atrocities in Africa” and stop the “flow of dirty money into the pockets of criminals and warlords.” Needless to say some of these are also heads of state and their ministers supported by western or other governments. Equally needless to say the campaign is more effective than the feel good social media campaigns which allow the young to believe they are bringing Joseph Kony (still at large by the way) to account.

The April 4 conference will also look at how industry leaders in the financial services, mining and real estate sectors are tackling corruption risks. There will also be a pre-conference day-long workshop (April 3) on a significant Australian initiative, the National Integrity Systems Assessment (NISA), which will involve the launch of the draft findings of an ongoing TI-Griffith University research project which assesses the strengths and weaknesses of Australia’s integrity and accountability systems.

This has been a collaborative project assessing the strengths and weaknesses of Australia’s integrity institutions and accountability systems. It has been led by Transparency International Australia and coordinated by Griffith University’s Centre for Governance and Public Policy, with funding from the Commonwealth and State governments through the Australian Research Council and the project’s integrity agency institutional partners: the New South Wales Ombudsman, the Queensland Integrity Commissioner, and the Crime & Corruption Commission Queensland. TI and its partners will embark on a major consultative project after the draft’s launch at the April 4 conference “building on the lessons from national integrity system assessments conducted by TI internationally it will provide a fresh blueprint for best practice in our accountability institutions. As recommended by the Senate Select Committee on a National Integrity Commission, it will be an important part of reaching the answers on current challenges including the best options for how to strengthen the federal integrity system.”

No doubt, however, our Prime Minister will dismiss these concerns as simply something within the ‘Canberra bubble’ – a term he has stolen from current UK political debate and the use of the term ‘Westminster bubble’ – despite ample evidence that trust in Australian politicians and our parliamentary systems are at an all-time low while belief in political corruption is at an all-time high.

Putting aside the fact that our PM is not even original in his media grabs, nor his Bluey and Curley anachronistic language, it is significant that TIA and the Grattan Institute have demonstrated that there is a real ‘bubble’ comprising lobbyists, businesses (eg Helloworld) and pollies who have influence well beyond that of the ‘fair dinkum’ Australians the PM claims he represents.

But in all of this, if it is any consolation to us Australians, the US fares even worse than us in the rankings coming in at 22nd. Meanwhile countries in which the US (sometimes with Australian assistance) have intervened to free the people, introduce democracy and/or end terrorism – Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, Sudan, Syria and Somalia – make up half the bottom dozen in the rankings.

Noel Turnbull is a blogger, retired PR consultant and a TIA member.

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