The need for a national integrity commission?

How bad and how endemic is the Australian brand of corruption, non-accountability, and political or bureaucratic arrogance? Does Australia need and deserve a proposed new national ‘integrity commission’? If so, then what kind of agency and what should be its specific brief or purpose?

It all sounded a great idea and indeed it was in principle – the suggested creation of an Australian ‘intregrity commission’ also functioning as a national anti-corruption watchdog (1 and 2). The idea itself seemed to be an acknowledgement of a ‘lack of integrity’ epidemic in Australian society more widely and in our governing institutions in particular – which of course is indeed the case. However, as the Age has pointed out, its proponent (Opposition leader Bill Shorten) was perhaps more interested in ‘points-scoring’ against the government than seriously proposing an agency that would end up focusing as much on dodgy activities by representatives of the Australian Labor Party (if not more) as on the LNP (3). Another paper cited the example of how a previous decision to set up a ‘integrity commission’ in Tasmania was apparently self-defeating and inadequate – a ‘toothless agency (4). And one of the great exemplars of dodgy political wheeling and dealing as well as IDD (Integrity Deficit Disorder) in Australia [Graham Richardson] even had the nerve to reject the idea out of hand on the basis that such an agency would likely become even more corrupt than the forces it should investigate (5) – he may be right about this but the arrogance of trying to shut down any suggestion or effort to fix the situation is still very annoying. As the Age (2) article also accurately points out:

“It would help. It would work to improve “standards of public administration”, with better “accountability and transparency”. But as long as our politicians are still pre-selected the way they are, leading to Parliament being dominated by apparatchiks, focused more on political point-scoring and blame-shifting, not governing; as long as our ministers are mostly inexperienced amateurs, few of whom have ever had a “real job”; as long as campaign funding is so opaque and corruptible; as long as lobbying, too, is so opaque; as long as question time and other parliamentary processes remain a “circus”; and as long as those in government continue to “kick issues down the road” rather than meeting challenges and solving problems, that “corrosive sentiment” will persist and fester. The tragedy is that the two major parties know what needs to be done, and how to do it, to genuinely clean up our politics, and while they are prepared to talk about it, even to make “promises” to fix it, neither has ever done so, basically because each believes that they can exploit the present system more effectively than the other.”

Maybe politics and ‘public service’ bureaucracies in Australia are so rotten and/or corrupt now that its too little, too late. In any case, from both our own research and personal experience we are confident in saying that most of the government- appointed ‘watchdog’ agencies now operating in Australia are not only similarly toothless (and often just ‘useless’) but are actually often and indeed perhaps typically designed to ignore or even cover-up and ‘white-wash’ abuses of power, corruption and the widespread refusal not just failure of accountability in the governance of this country as well as corporate corridors – that is, those behind various public-private dodgy deals which increasingly continue to afflict the long-suffering wider Australian community. [A case in point are the commissions set up to address dodgy, professional negligent solicitors in Australia – the focus of an upcoming Post on the Aussie Watchdogs Page (it’s going to be a doozy!]

  • CKR 2/2/2018


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