Sweeping inquiry the only answer
MEET the new targets of Australia's corruption fighters. They are young, often in their 20s, mostly fresh faced and fit, but for whom a night out means a few ecstasy pills or some cocaine.
Through friends, family, the gym or the clubbing scene, they know bikies and organised criminals who, like them, are often relatively young and muscled up.
On Facebook, where they freely document their night life, these corruption targets look much like their underworld friends. They pose with their shirts off, muscles flexed and tattoos on display, or with their arms around similarly buff, inked-up mates or skimpily dressed female companions.
Some of these targets even proudly state on their Facebook page who they work for: the Australian Customs and Border Control Service.
The scandal exposed today has lifted the lid on the dismal vetting, oversight and culture that has allowed alleged drug trafficking and serious corruption to become entrenched among small cells of customs officers.
It is too early to say how many successful drug importations have been aided by customs officials or exactly how staff with criminal records and associations could be working for a law enforcement agency.
The criminal inquiry being undertaken by the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity (ACLEI) and federal police is gathering evidence to prosecute drug traffickers, including customs officials.
But a criminal probe is not a broad and independent inquiry and may not be able to answer many of the serious questions that flow from this scandal.
And what of the public servants, including senior customs managers, who have not committed a criminal offence but have nevertheless failed in their oversight duties?
Leaked internal documents dating back to 2007 reveal that for several years customs has ignored high-level warnings that its anti-corruption system was woeful. Its failure to act promptly on these warnings has contributed directly to the scandal.
The good news for customs is that it has an acting CEO, Mike Pezzullo, who is viewed as far more aggressive, dynamic and reform-driven than its former boss, career public servant Michael Carmody.
Carmody resigned in August, within days of the first allegedly corrupt customs officer being quietly arrested and months after Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare spoke publicly about the need for change within customs. If the government believes Pezzullo can drive that change, he should be appointed CEO immediately. Now more than ever, customs needs a permanent boss.
As for a broad inquiry, the government could appoint a former judge or senior policing official to lead a taskforce into the scandal and to advise on the handling of disciplinary cases and wide-ranging reform. ACLEI, which has royal commission powers including the ability to hold public hearings, could perform a similar role.
Such an inquiry may need to conduct some of its activities behind closed doors so as not to prejudice the cases of charged customs officers. But it should report publicly, and speedily.
Until all serious questions are answered, how can the public have confidence that the agency ostensibly at the forefront of the battle against drug trafficking is not hosting its own smugglers.