Fighting corruption will be hard graft
"We need to be sure to put in place an arrangement to respond to corruption at every level of society" ... Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor. Photo: Rob Homer
THE government will spend $700,000 on a ''National Anti-Corruption Plan'' to reduce the risk of graft and vice across the country, the Home Affairs Minister, Brendan O'Connor, has announced.
The announcement comes as a Herald investigation exposes systemic probity concerns within several of the Commonwealth's largest agencies and the existence of hundreds of internal fraud inquiries.
Mr O'Connor said the funds, sourced from confiscated criminal proceeds, would pay both for the new national plan and for the government's implementation response report to a global anti-corruption initiative.
''This plan has been devised because the government believes there may well be gaps across all jurisdictions and we need to be sure to put in place an arrangement to respond to corruption at every level of society,'' he said.
The plan will be run inside the Attorney-General's Department, he said, and will examine measures at federal and state levels of government to catch those engaged in corrupt activities.
His statement said the funding would also be used ''to support implementation of the G20 Anti-Corruption Agenda, which will form the subject of a report to G20 leaders in November''.
Australia is a signatory to the United Nations Convention Against Corruption.
The Commonwealth already has several fraud prevention mechanisms, including a national agency survey. It is not clear how this new plan will fit with such measures, but Mr O'Connor said he expected the new national plan to identify breaches in the government's integrity measures.
''I want them to come back to government [and] say, this is where we are deficient.''
There is no investigative body specifically empowered to expose corruption within federal agencies or among federal politicians and ministers.
Such bodies exist in NSW, Queensland and Western Australia, which all have far smaller budgets than the $300 billion Commonwealth purse.
This week, the Greens MP Adam Bandt urged the Parliament to support a private Senate bill to introduce precisely such an agency. Mr O'Connor said he had seen the bill but that ''I don't
think it's been put to me that there is a compelling case for a standing royal commission.''
Almost 10 per cent of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry were investigated last year for fraud, the Herald revealed this week.
Similar systemic problems were also exposed in the department helping to roll out the $36 billion broadband network, and in the Department of Infrastructure and Transport.
Even the Treasury has its concerns, from $900 worth of ''suspicious overseas phone calls'' in 2007 to claims of an officer rorting travel allowances in 2009, and an incident of internal fraud in April last year that was referred to the federal police.
Mr O'Connor said ''we must not become complacent'' about corruption, despite Australia's strong institutional protections.
''In developing the National Anti-Corruption Plan, the government will examine evolving corruption threats to Australia's national interests and ways that all levels of government can reduce corruption risks.''
At present, federal parliamentarians are excluded from the purview of the Commonwealth Ombudsman, which can handle complaints about corruption. But Mr O'Connor said he saw no reason for that to be reversed.
Do you know more? email@example.com