In the recent Corruption Perception Index Australia ranked 13 out of 170 countries. In 2012 it ranked seventh. It was the only country among the least corrupt countries to fall significantly in both rank and score. In general, rich countries ranked near the top, and poorer countries ranked at the bottom.
When I teach my courses on corruption I start with a discussion about whether poverty causes corruption, or whether corruption causes poverty.
Globally corruption is big business and big politics. Corruption is estimated to cost 5 per cent of global GDP (about $2.6 trillion): about $1 trillion per year is paid in in bribes; the kleptocrats of this world skim about $40 billion per year. It adds trillions of dollars to the cost of doing business.
I have enough Australian cases in my classes to illustrate most aspects of corruption. Are the Australian examples one-offs and isolated events, or part of something more pervasive? About 40 per cent of Australians think corruption is on the increase.
Corruption is the trading of entrusted authority, for personal gain, which distorts the making of public policy or the implementation of public policy. It's not a public official getting a bunch of flowers, a box of chocolates, a bottle of wine, or a ride in a helicopter. These things are not crimes, and are not corruption. They are code of conduct violations. There is a challenge in knowing where to draw the line, and this is where a culture of ethics and good leadership comes into play. When there is tone at the top, corruption and poor behaviour are minimised.
There are a number of ways in which corruption can be tackled. What we don't necessarily want are more laws, more rules and more processes. This will drive everybody nuts, and will give more opportunities for those bent on a path of corruption to circumvent and play around the rules.
Recently there have been calls for the Commonwealth to establish a federal independent commission against corruption. My view is that a Commonwealth ICAC is not the way to go.
In Australia, each state has an anti-corruption agency, as well as an ombudsman, as well as an auditor-general as well as a public service commissioner. There are other agencies in local government, various inspectors-general and diffuse watchdogs.
The state anti-corruption agencies have a combined budget of about $153 million and the state ombudsman offices have a further $50 million.
A quick flick through them shows it is not all plain sailing. NSW has issues about its powers, WA had some rogue operators in its Corruption and Crime Commission, the former director of the Queensland CCC was accused of partisanship; the retiring commissioner in Tasmania claimed politicians have limited its powers to investigate any irregularities that involve politicians; the South Australian ICAC is accused of great secrecy and the Victorian Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission is having its legislation streamlined after only two years.
The ACT does not have a dedicated integrity agency, and integrity issues are managed by the Commissioner for Public Administration, the Auditor-General and the Ombudsman (the Commonwealth Ombudsman is also the ACT Ombudsman).
There is a loud clamour for a Commonwealth ICAC, but why would you want to set one up, when we don't really know what the problem is that needs to be solved, and when it would certainly be under-resourced, and when any activity would start a massive turf war between overlapping law enforcement agencies, and the likelihood of poor co-operation.
Also, noting that while Australia lies 13th on the global CPI, only one of the countries that ranks above Australia has a national ACA, and that is Singapore. The only other country in the top 20 that has a national ACA is Hong Kong.
I am not saying we should not deal with corruption that falls within the Commonwealth jurisdiction. But a broad-based Commonwealth ACA is not the way to go. I am proposing a different structure, an anti-corruption network that has authority and independence.
What I am proposing is the establishment not of an executive agency, but of an anti-corruption council. Reporting through (perhaps) the federal Attorney-General to an all-party parliamentary committee, this would be expressly a body for discussion and co-operation, and not for the investigation and consideration of individual cases. If cases are brought to the attention of the council, they would be referred to the most suitable agencies.
An Australian council would work independently and refer cases for investigation to appropriate authorities such as the Australian Federal Police, the Public Service Commissioner, the Australian Taxation Office, the Ombudsman, and these in turn would take matters to the Director of Public Prosecutions, as appropriate.
In addition the council would:
■ increase awareness of corruption in society and promote awareness of anti-corruption guidelines in State and local government as well as in the private sector;
■ monitor how Australia adheres to international conventions and agreements; and
■ devise public information on corruption prevention, and in particular chart potential weaknesses and vulnerabilities in different sectors to corruption, and outline countermeasures.
There would be no separate agency or organisation to do this, but a network that would meet a few times per year, and be supported by a (very) small secretariat. It would draw on stakeholder support and academic and NGO research for its evidence base.
There have also been calls for an ACT ICAC, but that money could be better spent elsewhere. A network, as proposed for the Commonwealth, could also work in the ACT, though there would have to be a greater emphasis on municipal issues, development processes, and other local issues.
One of the greatest threats to integrity is denial of responsibility and denial of accountability, as well as silence. We can't look the other way. When Julia Gillard established the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse she accused pillars of the establishment of "averting their gaze". Australian of the year David Morrison told his army colleagues "the standard you walk past is the standard you accept".
We do accept things we shouldn't, we do avert our gaze from time to time, but we know not to.
Adam Graycar is strategic professor at Flinders University's School of Social and Policy Studies and a former head of the Australian Institute of Criminology.