Politics Analysis

Australia going backwards on combatting corruption

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Cartoon by Mark David/@mdavidcartoons

Most countries are improving their performance in eliminating corruption, but Australia is heading in the opposite direction, reports Alan Austin.

UNDER THE CURRENT Administration, Australia has become one of three developed countries with the worst record in recent times for weeding out corruption. 

Transparency International findings

As Independent Australia reported recently, the global corruption watchdog Transparency International now ranks Australia 11th in the world on corruption perceptions with a modest score of 77 index points. That’s down from the creditable score of 85 and seventh ranking in Labor’s last full year in 2012.

But Australia’s humiliation is more serious than just falling from seventh to eleventh. The decline in the score over that period – from 85 to 77 – is among the world’s worst.

Most countries are steadily improving their scores on freedom from corruption. But not Australia under the Coalition.

Transparency International currently rates corruption in 156 countries with populations above one million. Of these, the majority have increased their corruption index numbers or kept it level since 2012. A sizeable group of 30 countries has experienced a slight drop of one or two points in their score.

Only nine countries out of the 156 have had their corruption measure deteriorate by eight points or more since 2012. Australia is on this tawdry list. The others are Syria, Yemen, Guatemala, Macedonia, Turkey, Bahrain, Hungary and Liberia. The only developed members of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) here are Australia, Turkey and Hungary. And the latter two have demonstrated authoritarian tendencies.

Corporate crime remains a problem

According to Transparency International's latest report:

‘Australia faces several corruption challenges, including anonymous company ownership and money laundering. Following the FinCEN files, where thousands of leaked financial documents exposed a vast paper trail of money laundering across the globe, more than $150 million were traced back to Australian banks.’

The report continued:

‘Australia currently doesn’t require individuals behind foreign companies, or beneficial owners, to disclose their identity when purchasing property. Investigations show that real estate can open the door to money laundering and grand corruption, like in the case of Chinese police chief Wang Jun Ren, who received a 17-year prison sentence after embezzling money to buy Australian real estate.’

Hundreds of instances of Coalition corruption

Back in 2018, IA kept track of corruption under Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who continued the pattern of his predecessor Tony Abbott. That series documented 113 separate actions which benefited Turnbull Government members or their mates – financially and in other ways – at the expense of the community.

There have been plenty since then under Scott Morrison, a grievous one being the decision to allow billionaires to keep millions in JobKeeper money pocketed illegally while hounding poor welfare recipients – sometimes to death – for puny or non-existent welfare overpayments.

IA colleague John Haly has identified many of these, including $443 million given to the so-called Barrier Reef Foundation, fraudulent expenses claims by politicians, Environment Minister Sussan Ley purchasing a property while on a taxpayer-funded trip and Government Services Minister Stuart Robert's family company receiving Government contracts worth more than $37 million.

It remains a profound global scandal that Australia does not have a national anti-corruption agency.

International humiliation

These have brought great shame on the nation, which was hailed worldwide in 1996 for its bold gun buy-back scheme, in 2007 for signing the Kyoto agreement, for the 2008 formal apology to Indigenous Australians and, also in 2008, when Prime Minister Kevin Rudd told China to improve its human rights record — in Mandarin.

Several publications compiled long lists of the Labor's achievements, including winning a coveted seat on the United Nations Security Council in 2012. Many lauded its world-leading economic management.

The current Federal Government has also trashed the reputations of the once-respected political parties of Arthur Fadden, Richard Casey, Robert Menzies and Tim Fischer.

And it has shamed the Christian Church, of which several ministers and backbenchers are vocal, active members. Although some believe that the right-wing fringe denomination to which Morrison and some others belong stands in the tradition of the Scribes and Pharisees. They opposed Jesus of Nazareth, rather than being part of mainstream Christianity.

Global awareness of Australia’s failures

Highly negative reports about corruption under Scott Morrison have been published worldwide, including by Statista in the U.S., the Straits Times in Singapore, the Law Reviews in the UK, DK News in Algeria, Sécurité Publique in Canada, L’Orient-Le Jour in Lebanon, Le Temps in France, Globalis in Sweden, New York-based Knoema and by the OECD.

The 2020 OECD report expressed concern:

‘... about the continued low level of foreign bribery enforcement in Australia given the size of Australia’s economy and the high-risk regions and sectors in which its companies operate.’

It also found:

‘... Australia’s low level of cases against legal persons very concerning and hopes that Australia will address its long-standing challenges in attributing wrongdoing to corporate entities.’

Based on its record, there is little chance of this under the current Government.

Alan Austin’s defamation matter is nearly over. You can read the latest update here and contribute to the crowd-funding campaign HEREAlan Austin is an Independent Australia columnist and freelance journalist. You can follow him on Twitter @alanaustin001.

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