Bird’s eye view: the markers of government-sanctioned corruption

I joined the Australian Public Service (APS) with a typical expectation of working to serve the public. The brochure looked inviting; people working happily together, and a chance to progress in an organisation that valued such common-sense ideals as working in a supportive, accountable, a-political organisation with high ethical standards. Evidently, I was wrong.

Serious offences committed yet covered up by management; just another day at the office.

I was in disbelief that management just did not seem to care. It took me a few years to understand why. Having been through the complaints and investigations “system” in several federal government agencies, I am unfortunately more than qualified to assess the system’s effectiveness.

When a federal employee wants to report a crime allegedly committed by another federal employee, the complaint must be reported to the commonwealth agency in the first instance. This is public knowledge. This is Australian Federal Police (AFP) policy.

The obvious issue is that the people to whom you report the offences could very well be the ones who have either committed the alleged crimes or want to cover up the allegations. If the agency finds that no offences have occurred, the AFP will not investigate.

This is where the real crime against every single Australian begins, because their hard-earned tax dollars are spent to support a system that covers up alleged crimes committed by high-level bureaucrats and politicians – to protect themselves and the reputation of the government.

The average Aussie would be gob-smacked and enraged by this, as I have been. The cover-up by government departments, organisations and the people who are supposed to ensure offences are properly investigated is indicative of a system engineered to appear to be working efficiently when, in fact, it allows bureaucrats and politicians alike to behave outside the confines of the law, without consequence. This is the real issue that all Australians must know about, because you’re paying for it.

Moreover, this system is a slap in the face to all the good and hard-working APS employees, who are no doubt in the majority. It is a slap in the face to all Australians who want to believe there is an efficient system that investigates unethical and criminal conduct committed by those in high office, including politicians.

We have been told for years that such an effective, efficient system exists, but the opposite is the case. The victims are not only taxpayers but, in particular, the people who do the right thing by reporting misbehaviour.

But the greatest victims of all are the brave men and women who fought for our freedoms in various theatres of war. They gave up everything for us and still do so, to fight for the ideal of democracy. There is no democracy when bureaucrats and politicians have engineered a system that allows them to evade the law.

There are several ways to gauge whether government corruption is sanctioned by the government itself.

First, the manner in which whistle-blowers are treated. Bullying and harassment within the APS is publicly acknowledged. However, whistle-blowers endure endless reprisals for speaking up for the good of all. This is obviously a cultural norm sanctioned by top management to discredit the allegations of the whistle-blower, to punish them for their pesky do-goodedness. The added benefit is that it warns off other likely “do-gooders”.

It is a testament to those in power the extent to which then can manipulate people into thinking and behaving in a degrading manner. It is also an abysmal attitude that harms the mental health of all APS workers and those who help people with mental health issues in Australia.

A second indicator of government sanctioning corruption is the laws enacted in relation to whistle-blowers. I cannot think of anything more important to national security than to ensure a thorough independent and professional investigation of any possible systemic corruption.

If corruption is allowed to flourish at top levels of government and politics, this is a matter of grave national security. So any country that enacts laws, or uses existing laws, to silence whistle-blowers is extremely telling in terms of their attitude about corruption and, no doubt, indicative of the level of systemic corruption that exists in that country. Otherwise, why create laws and use existing laws to silence whistle-blowers with the threat of imprisonment?

Australia is at a crossroads in terms of forging a moral pathway to ensure open, transparent and ethical governance, now and in the future. In terms of a robust, well-resourced national independent commission against corruption with actual teeth, we are all paying dearly for its absence and have been for quite some time. The return on investment, financially and otherwise, to all citizens of an independent federal commission against corruption with far-reaching powers would far outweigh the cost of corruption itself. The reports of political and commonwealth rorts over the past 12 months alone is sufficient evidence of the need for a commission.

This is an opportunity to lay the foundations of an open and accountable system of governance. We deserve it, our forefathers deserve it and our children deserve it.

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Ken Carroll was a Queensland Police Officer within the Queensland Police Service (QPS) from 1994 to 2012. He then started work as a provisionally registered psychologist within Queensland Corrections and then joined the Australian Public Service in 2013. He holds a psychology degree with honours and a Master of Business Administration degree and has worked in both the commonwealth Department of Human Services and the Department of Health.

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