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Work to do in tackling graft

Date

The Canberra Times

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There is more than a hint of deja vu in the allegations that official personnel at Sydney airport have been involved in drug trafficking and manufacture, money laundering and bribery. In 2005, a leaked report revealed that Sydney and Melbourne airports had been infiltrated by criminal gangs, and that airport baggage handlers were involved in conspiracies to smuggle goods into and out of Australia. That led to an urgent review of aviation security at all of the nation's airports and substantially enhanced security measures.

Seven years later, it is officers from the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service and the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service who are in the frame. Eight people, including officers from Customs and AQIS, were charged on Thursday with drug importation and corruption offences dating back to 2009 and 2010, and more charges are expected. This follows a two-year-long corruption investigation conducted by the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity.

Corruption in government is always a matter of grave public concern, particularly when it occurs within agencies such as Customs and AQIS, charged as they are with collecting revenues on behalf of the Commonwealth and securing and protecting the nation's borders and ports. However, the fact that the alleged corrupt activity took place after internal warnings that Customs was ill-prepared to detect such malfeasance adds a further worrying element to this episode. Internal memos calling for better anti-corruption intelligence gathering, drug and alcohol testing, and mandatory reporting of misconduct and administrative breaches reportedly circulated in Customs from 2007-09. Only this year have those reforms begun to be implemented, and it has been reported that some will not be in place until next year.

Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare has reacted to the corruption allegations by announcing the establishment of a Customs Reform Board to provide him with advice and recommendations for promoting integrity within the service. The government's desire to root out corruption within Customs is commendable, but whether the appointment of yet another board (even one staffed with the calibre of people such as former NSW police commissioner Ken Moroney and Justice James Wood) is the best way to go about it is open to debate. Internal investigators within Customs are no doubt already well acquainted with what needs to be done - and the extra funding needed to accomplish it. Adding a middleman will not only add to the cost of the reform process but tend to draw it out unnecessarily.

However, if Labor were committed to curbing corruption across all Commonwealth departments and agencies, it would seriously consider establishing a federal anti-corruption agency, as many of the states have done. The arrests of Customs officers this week proves, once again, that corruption in government is not limited to the states.

Careful on highway

With ACT schools having already broken up, today marks the start of the summer holidays for many Canberra office workers - and the dash to the south coast via the Kings Highway.

This stretch of road, particularly from Braidwood to Nelligan, is one of the most dangerous in south-east NSW, and organisations such as the NRMA regularly broadcast appeals for more money to be allocated for improvements. But the road is safer than it was two decades ago. Earlier this year, the NSW government allocated $5 million to reduce black spots and provide more overtaking lanes. But with traffic volumes increasing every year, the Kings Highway still demands care and respect from drivers.

This applies particularly to Canberrans, who appear prepared to take unnecessary risks in their rush to get to the coast. A survey conducted last summer indicated Canberrans were the among the worst offenders for speeding. Doubtless many others drove while fatigued, a major contributing factor to accidents. In December and January, there were 40 crashes on the highway.

Police plan a high-visibility presence this summer, but of course the main duty of care lies with motorists themselves. Providing the journey to and from the coast is approached with care and patience, there is no reason why anyone should come to grief on the Kings Highway.

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