It is sometimes observed, with some justification, that disproportionate attention is drawn to corruption in Papua New Guinea when it can be just as pernicious a blight in Australia. Leading barrister ROGER GYLES, who is also chair of Transparency International Australia, proposes that Australian governments – of whatever colour – ought to be doing more
THERE IS NO ROOM for complacency about corruption in Australia.
Two former New South Wales Ministers, Eddie Obeid and Ian McDonald, and a number of businessmen have been declared by NSW ICAC to have acted corruptly and criminal charges have been recommended.
These disclosures alone are cause for grave concern, but they are by no means isolated incidents. In recent times, for example, two Federal members of Parliament (Craig Thomson and Peter Slipper) are facing criminal charges involving the misuse of funds – in one case of a trade union and in the other of the Commonwealth.
Allegations of a similar kind have been made about one of our largest companies – BHP Ltd. Not so long ago a Queensland Minister of the Crown was gaoled for accepting bribes from a businessman.
There are current allegations that Australia is a haven for proceeds of corruption by public officials in Papua New Guinea and China.
Organised crime, including bikie gangs, with its propensity for corruption of police and public officials, is becoming more brazen and is taking over the streets of south-western Sydney.
All of this, and much more, cries out for an effective, coordinated National Anti-Corruption Plan. The formulation of such a Plan was announced by the then Attorney-General Robert McClelland, in September 2011, and public consultations finished during 2012.
Despite continuing promises about the unveiling of this Plan, nothing emerged prior to the calling of the election. Neither Labor nor the Coalition has any published policy on this issue as part of their election platform.
In answer to questions from Transparency International Australia, the Labor Party says that it is continuing to work on the National Anti-Corruption Plan, without any commitment as to its content or introduction.
At the time of writing, the Coalition has not replied to questions from Transparency International Australia.
The Greens have responded, including positive commitments, but they are not in a position to lead the executive and legislative action which is required.
These issues are not only of domestic concern. The OECD Working Group has expressed criticism of elements of Australian anti-corruption law and practice to which there has been no substantive response.
Australia assumes chairmanship of the G20 next year, and one of the key planks of the G20 in recent times has been anti-corruption.
Combating corruption at home and abroad should command the attention of the major parties and should rank well above the politics of personality and some of the concocted issues which have dominated the campaign so far.
Roger Gyles AO QC is chair of Transparency International Australia