JUST HOW CORRUPT HAS AUSTRALIA (THE WORLD) BECOME IN THE LAST 10-20 YEARS? Why is this so, and might this also mean that various ‘anti-corruption watch-dogs’ are perhaps designed more to cover-up than to genuinely investigate illegality and corruption? And are such practices as turning a ‘blind eye’ to corruption (and encouraging people to believe that our government-appointed ant-corruption ‘watch-dogs’ are genuine) itself a form of corruption? [What actually is ‘corruption’?/Links to an appropriate 2019 New Year’s resolution?]
The extent of the illegality and corruption in the Australian banking system (recently revealed by the Royal Commission into this) (1) exemplified just how generally unscrupulous, devious and dishonestly profiteering the institutions as well as companies which run our supposedly corruption-free society have become. This process has also included the very solicitors who advertise to defend the ordinary person (or ‘victim’) against the endemic financial corruption now revealed (2). Even the so-called peoples’ bank CBA had so lowered its standards that money-laundering as well as systematically ripping off clients (and so often the most vulnerable in our society) had become normal everyday behavior in recent years (3).
The rot really set in about twenty years ago (“during the 1990’s Australia was among the most active privatising countries in the world”) (4) when it became fashionable for incompetent and/or greedy politicians encouraged by lazy and/or power-crazy bureaucrats to ‘privatise’ and ‘corporatise’ the public service and public infrastructure. Just as they began to outsource important public serves at ultimately inflated prices and rip-off costs, local, state and national governments around Australia all promptly started to flog off at firesale prices very valuable public infrastructure – not just water, electricity, gas followed by rail, ports and airport but also transport and telecommunications. And after a while they stopped looking at who was buying (and whether this was in the public interest) and happily ‘sold us out’ to suspicious and dodgy overseas companies often linked to the ‘foreign influence’ of not just international competitors but often authoritarian governments and even terrorism-related organisations. Naturally these people could not believe how stupid and corrupt our county had become to freely allow this. Naturally also, unethical Australian politicians and bureaucrats alike rubbed their hand with glee at how the license to muddy the public-private waters allowed them to become a law unto themselves to do what they liked, how they liked , and to basically manipulate or rip-off the public in this county when they liked.
One of the exemplary instances of this is how after the Queensland government gave local councils license to ‘privatise’ a decade ago, so many of them are now being found to have endemic corruption (5) – and for it to be seen as normal behavior for local mayors and/or councillors to take bribes or related forms of ‘influence’ from developers (e.g. 6). Another world class scam supported by the Qld government after it ill-advisedly privatised future as well as existing toll-roads, has allowed the dodgy company Transurban an open licence to print money as it now further encourages governments around Australian and overseas to embrace user-pays road which profits itself as it rips-off motorists, said governments and the Australian residents more generally. View our Aussie Watch-dogs expose of this scam (7) – which includes its funding of an ‘independent’ tolling ombudsman, designed to obstruct, cover-up and deceive not to really help people battle unfairness by Transurban and related gouging by the government.
The systematic undermining of ‘the public interest’ in Australia – and ultimately the betrayal of the responsibility of our public servants to defend us, to protect us, and to act in our public interest (and related past protections against dishonest scams and general corruption) – took place in one what useful article refers to as ‘the decades of negligence which transformed Australia (like so many other countries around the world) into a place where endemic corruption now rules: “ It could be argued that the systemic failure of government to address fraudulent financial practices, adhere to Rule of Law, lack of accountability, corruption, conflict of interest, public service negligence and incompetence, raises serious questions whether Government has really grasped the full extent of the social, economic and the long term national and international security implications of allowing such fraudulent and corrupt banking practices to continue festering unabated in Australia” (8)
It’s no coincidence that this also happened to other western and/or developed countries around the same time – following in the footsteps of the ruthless kleptocrats who are common in many :of the poorest and vulnerable societies without basic forms of ‘civil society’ (yes, it is a ‘global pandemic’) (9): “Corruption is the cancer at the heart of so many of our problems in the world today. It destroys jobs and holds back growth, costing the world economy billions of pounds every year… As the Panama Papers show, corruption is a truly global challenge. Criminal networks operate across borders. And wealth that is plundered from the poorest countries can end up hidden away in the richest countries… We need to end the use of secret shell companies, so that the corrupt no longer have an easy and anonymous way to hide their loot and move it across borders. We need to drive out the rogue lawyers, estate agents and accountants who facilitate or tolerate corruption in commerce and finance. We need to expose the theft or misuse of taxpayers’ money by opening up budgets and procurement so that people can see exactly how their money is used and they can demand that people are held to account when it is stolen.. What is needed is a network of investigative journalists that could help make transparency the natural enemy of international organised crime gangs and corrupt officials all over the world. ..[without this and ‘true leadership’ many of the rules, institutions and mechanisms to address corruption will never actually bite. For years Nigeria had the laws and the anti-corruption agencies, but there was ‘a complete lack of political will to strengthen these agencies and to faithfully enforce the laws’” (10).
So, the corruption in Australia is much worse than people think. Despite a 2016 law to tackle this, we still have a situation where multinational corporations are reluctant to pay any tax at all here whilst they greatly profiteer and are still able to provide strong influence on our ‘corrupt’ politicians and bureaucrats (11). [A year on and the tax office revealed that 36% of the largest public companies and multinational entities in Australia paid no tax the last financial year] (12). And in the last year our government has woken up to the fact that many are also owned or controlled by Chinese billionaires who also assist with the ‘foreign influence’ designs of the Chinese government (13). [A number of politicians – especially from state Labor parties in NSW and elsewhere – have still apparently not woken up to how accepting that offer of a free trip to China for ‘information-gathering’ is an initial seduction that has already started to compromise them].
But despite their growing awareness of the serious security risks (e.g. of how Huawei has had growing control with claimed secret espionage designs over our telecommunications sector here as well as overseas (14), Scott Morrison still baulked at an independent national commission against corruption that also needs to support related security agencies – perhaps because of what some call the ‘Eddie Obeid factor’. In other words, influential agitators in the Liberal Party have baulked at what they see as something targeted at a few of ‘their own influential insiders’ (even if they are known to be either a little bit or very corrupt). This is ironic given that at the state level at least (and especially in Queensland) the Australian Labor Party has perhaps been even more ‘influenced’ by corrupt forces – so that Bill Shorten & Co may just think they can (i.e. neuter to their own design) the agenda of any national independent commission against corruption.
In any case, the Australian government recently resisted and then only begrudgingly agreed to look into creating a national “ICAC” when cross-bench reps supported the Labour proposal (15). But as an insightful SMS article “(“the expert you pick for a corruption body without bite”) by Peter Fitzsimons suggests (16), they have so far signalled they are perhaps not really serious (see also 17). As Fitzsimon points out, the current national government picked Margaret Cunneen to advise on the formation of the new commission – someone who is apparent also an Eddie Obeid fan as well as having a known track record of being very critical of the NSW ICAC. In any case, he is at least right to point out that forces are already trying to nobble the concept of a genuinely independent and thus effective national agency against corruption in this country. And from our own experienced and that of many other people, we think he is also right by his implied suggestion that so many watchdog agencies set up around Australia are not only ‘toothless’ but have been designed rather to cover up and/or ignore rather than properly investigate the growing epidemic of fraud, dishonesty and devious profiteering (i.e. rip-offs, scams, and immoral gouging) that have overtaken so many businesses, organisations and public sectors around Australia in recent years – including the highest level of government itself in Australia (18).
WHAT WE WANT TO ASK IN LIGHT OF THIS IS WHETHER SUCH WILFUL NEGLIGENCE AND APPARENT SABOTAGE OR BETRAYAL (i.e. of what so many around Australia in the community as well as in public life are saying is absolutely crucial to Australia’s future) COULD ITSELF BE CONSTRUED AS A POSSIBLE ACT OF CORRUPTION – AS COLLUSION OR COMPLICITY WITH THE FORCES OF EXISTING (OR EVEN EMERGING AND/OR FUTURE) FORCES OF CRIME AND CORRUPTION IN AUSTRALIA?
The answer to this question lies in a more accurate understanding of what exactly is ‘corruption’ or (better still) how does it work to corrode good faith, trust, and a commitment to truth as well as standards of behavior in our society (19). The process by which people become ‘corrupt’ has two stages and levels . The first ‘seduction’ (or ‘losing your moral compass’) stage is when people are either seduced to turn a blind eye to mere ‘shortcuts’ if not outright illegal/ unethical behavior or simply lower their normal standards of ‘doing the right thing’ – either in terms of often false promises of personal profit or even the mistaken belief that the community will somehow be really be better off for their failure to act. In the first stage people undergoing a process of corruption tend not to bother to check up on who they are really dealing with or what is really involved and why.(or if they do, to turn a blind eye to what they know). At the second stage, a corrupted person has crossed a threshold of personal integrity and basically lost the ability to do the right thing even when they find out they have been manipulated by the lies and deceptions of crooks (i.e. corruption is ultimately not just the loss of personal integrity or self-betrayal but betrayal of their community). This is also suggested by how the proposed national anti-corruption commission is also often referred to as a ‘national integrity commission’.
To return to our question above: It is therefore clear that any nobbling of a present or planned anti-corruption ‘watchdog’ agency represents not just the wilful negligence but a specific act of corruption when it involves crossing “ the fine line between Governments failure to act due to ignorance, as opposed to failing to act after being provided with evidence highlighting offences which go to the very heart of financial integrity” (20). All public servants in Australia are supposed to operate under a Code of Conduct with personal as well as lawful integrity (also diligently, ethically and honestly) yet relatively few do when it really comes down to it (21). To be fair, the epidemic of illegality, corruption and general lack of real accountability in Australian public or commercial life means that most tend to focus on ‘arse-covering’ (22). But again this is ultimately no excuse when any bureaucrat or politician wilfully ignores, neglects, and/or obstructs any complaint and related evidence of wrong-doing, fraud, unethical profiteering, dishonest rip-offs, unscrupulous gouging (etc) of any ordinary Australian. On the social as well as personal level then, the concept of ‘corruption’ is consistent with either an absence or loss of trust and good faith as well as an overall sense of integrity. This is why the Rule of Law also tends to go out the window in practice when corruption reaches a critical mass.
So yes ‘wilful negligence’ of any kind is ultimately a form of corruption not too far removed from the worse acts by crooks. This reflects also how a naïve first stage of corruption quickly turns into complicity and the loss of personal integrity or loss of moral compass/ accountability which allows and encourages people to really become crooked and to basically betray their friends, their community and ultimately Australian and/or global society (23)…. This is unless people make a stand, make a commitment to keep (or even recover) basic standards of personal integrity as well as every-day community notions of ‘doing the right thing’. Everyone – but especially politicians and bureaucrats (as well as ‘the crooks’ themselves) – is ultimately face with the choice, especially in a world where all formal authority is being undermined or corrupted by the forces of dishonesty (e.g. 24). What better or more appropriate ‘2019 New Year’s Resolution’ can there be than to also assist others to avoid corruption by encouraging greater accountability at the two levels (personal and political) where seductive but rotten ‘lack of integrity’ operates.
- CKR 30/12/2018