Australia dragging its heels on public sector corruption in our own backyard

Corruption costs the global economy $2.6 trillion a year and has the potential to damage the principles of democracy, justice and the economy. Australia is a relatively clean country, especially when compared to countries such as China, India, Indonesia and Russia, however a recent number of high profile domestic allegations highlight the need to be more cautious and aware of corrupt conduct that is occurring within our own borders.

From a local perspective, and according to Transparency International, Australia’s Corruption Perception Index (‘CPI’) rank has remained outside of the Top 10 for the third year in a row. The CPI ranks 176 countries from 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean) and measures the perceived level of public sector corruption within that specific country. Australia has been criticised domestically and abroad for its apparent inaction in regards to its commitment to implementing anti-corruption measures.

Recent local events have highlighted just how deep this risk runs in government, in particular state and local governments in Australia where published statistics show the increase in investigations and arrests for corruption related matters.  Australia is still yet to properly address this issue at a federal government level despite all the indicators suggesting that corruption in Australian government agencies is on the increase.

The Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) in Queensland received 3041 complaints alleging corruption in their 2016-2017 report, an increase of almost 14% on the prior year. Meanwhile, the 2016-2017 Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) report recorded 2489 matters relating to corruption being received, 40% of which related to local government agencies.

Part of the criticism of Australia’s inaction on corruption stems from there being no federal anti-corruption agency, despite the relative success of state based anti-corruption agencies, such as the ICAC and CCC. There is growing public support for a well-designed federal anti-corruption agency as part of a broader strategy to counter corruption risks within Australia, which must possess a wide range of coercive and investigative powers similar to its state based counterparts.

Encouragingly the Senate Select Committee, in considering the implementation of a National Integrity Committee, recommended recently that the Commonwealth’s first Anti-Corruption and Integrity Commission will include Canberra police and should be ready to start operating by the end of 2018.  The report made 79 recommendations, including that it cover all public officials and third parties with government contracts, as well as ACT Policing.

These are encouraging signs, but long overdue.  Ultimately, the culture and tone within any public sector department or agency has a key influencing factor on how employees act within the organisation. It is expected that elected officials, executives and senior government employees express an observable commitment to controlling corruption and have a zero tolerance towards anyone engaging in corrupt conduct.  As more cases are revealed it’s critical we have a commitment from government to address the corruption risk which has become all too real and threatens our nation’s reputation on the international stage.