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January has been another bad month for corruption in Australia. Alan Austin reports, in what is now becoming an embarrassingly regular series.

Read November’s report here. Read the December update here.

BURGEONING CORRUPTION under the Coalition is now perceived outside Australia as well as within.

The influential global corruption watchdog Transparency International (TI) released its 2015 report last Wednesday. It listed five "big decliners" —  Libya, Australia, Brazil, Spain and Turkey. In that order.

As with Australia’s economy – deteriorating while the world recovers steadily – perceived corruption is worsening Down Under as it improves elsewhere. More countries lifted their 2015 scores on TI’s corruption perceptions index than declined.

When the index began in 1995, Australia ranked seventh in the world, behind New Zealand, Denmark, Singapore, Finland, Canada and Sweden. Through the Howard years, ranking slipped down to 13th by 2000, overtaken by Iceland, Norway, Netherlands, the UK, Luxembourg and Switzerland. It then fluctuated between 11th and ninth.

From 11th in 2007, the ranking improved steadily through the Rudd/Gillard years to seventh in 2012. Then, after the return of the Coalition, the gradual slide began once more. Australia now ranks 13th again, its equal lowest level ever.

TI Australia claims the continued slippage is due to several issues, including failure to address foreign bribery.

New CEO Phil Newman urged the Turnbull Government to enact overdue bribery law reforms this year, to show it is serious about corruption:

With Australia’s worst foreign bribery offences having been committed by former or current government-owned entities – the Australian Wheat Board, Note Printing Australia and Securency – there is no excuse not to have implemented all of the OECD’s reform recommendations in this area by the end of the year.

Other key actions identified by TI Australia for arresting the slide in Australia’s global reputation include:

  • A strong, broad-based federal anti-corruption agency,
  • Stronger enforcement of anti-corruption laws in the finance sector at state and federal levels,
  • Enforcing Australia’s anti-money laundering laws to ensure public regulators and key industries – notably finance and real estate – prevent the flow of dirty money from overseas.

This was not the only bad news for the Turnbull Government in January. The country’s most senior economist drew stark attention to its destruction of the economy by enriching the top five per cent although not in those precise words, unfortunately. Treasury secretary John Fraser warned on Thursday that Australia’s prized AAA credit ratings are in jeopardy unless the Government abandons its current course on taxing, borrowing and spending.

The gutsy speech contained several embedded criticisms of current and former Coalition policies all of which have been made repeatedly by Independent Australia and other alternative journals.

Highlights – for those appalled at the mainstream media’s abject failure to critique the Coalition’s glaringly inept economic performance – included the following.

Placing blame for the current structural deficit exactly where it belongs with the hapless Howard/Costello administration.

“We have a structural budget problem that arose before the global financial crisis. The recent weakness in revenue is only partly to blame. From the outset of the commodity price boom of the early 2000s ... structural expenditure decisions offset much of the temporary revenue gain.”

Correct.

Cherished Coalition policies, while electorally appealing, have been disastrous for the economy. Poor spending decisions included,

“Increased Defence operations and border protection spending, expenditure related to the carbon compensation package and the outcomes of negotiations around the repeal of the minerals resource rent tax.”

Condemnation of the current rate of debt expansion: 

“Net debt is approaching levels not seen since the early 1990s recession, which at that time was the highest since World War II.”

Failure to collect taxes due. Fraser noted that the budget deficit has deteriorated by $37.9 billion since the last election: 

“Of course, successive downgrades to tax receipts have been the main driver of this deterioration.”

Of course.

Regrettably, Fraser did not specify that tax was not being collected from the rich. He should have. Otherwise, it was an impressive serve.

Further confirmation of unconscionable Coalition conduct turned up in January, in the answer to a question (347-355) in a Senate estimates hearing. After delivering the 2015 May budget which cut benefits for many low income Australians, Joe Hockey and other MPs spent $9,425 of taxpayer money on Treasurer's budget night drinks at Parliament House.

If this is within the guidelines for MPs, then those guidelines should have been amended instead of amendments reducing the living standards of the poorest Australians.

Finally, Liberal MPs are increasingly defying PM Turnbull’s leadership by abandoning their parliamentary posts. Tony Abbott left his electorate last week to address a function run by ultra-conservative religious group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) in New York. In contrast to Australia’s Liberal Party, which yearns for a return to the 1950s, the ADF longs for a return to the religious and social values of the U.S. founding fathers in the 1780s.

Deposed defence minister Kevin Andrews also flew off to the U.S. for an event of no benefit to the constituents who pay his salary. Andrews reportedly ‘infuriated the Liberal Party's chief whip’ Nola Marino, when he hoodwinked her over the reason for his absence from the first sitting week of Parliament, which starts today.

His real purpose is to deliver a speech to conservative think-tank the Heritage Foundation. According to Fairfax Media this is likely to heighten tensions between Tony Abbott’s supporters and Malcolm Turnbull.

So two questions arise. Does PM Turnbull want to change any of these corrupt practices? Will his party let him?

You can follow Alan Austin on Twitter @AlanTheAmazing.

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