Three recent reports on government corruption, economic freedom and global citizenship deliver more bad news for Australia. Alan Austin reports from France.
AUSTRALIA'S INTEGRITY, democracy and freedom have taken a hit. And the world is watching.
The first few weeks of each new year bring accolades for national governments serving their people well, but censure for incompetent or corrupt regimes. Australia has received bad news this year. Again.
Three organisations monitor international shifts in democracy, corruption perceptions, economic freedom and good global citizenship.
They all downgraded Australia badly during the two years Tony Abbott led the Coalition Government starting in late 2013. That will be no shock to those who have followed Abbott’s dismal 25-year parliamentary career. What may surprise is that nothing much improved under his immediate successor Malcolm Turnbull. Nor under the latest Coalition work experience prime minister Scott Morrison.
Heritage Foundation economic freedom index 2019
New-York-based Heritage Foundation claims
‘the most critical variable in sustaining the economic dynamism and wealth of nations is economic freedom.’
This, they claim, is achieved by 'dispersing economic power and ... empowering ordinary people with greater opportunity and more choices.’
Specifically, its economic freedom index rewards
‘low tax rates, monetary stability, limited government, strong private property rights, openness to global trade and financial flows, and sensible regulation.’
With robust free enterprise criteria like that, you would reckon it’s a monty that the right-wing, pro-business Coalition would have much higher scores and rankings than Labor. The opposite is the case.
Throughout the John Howard period, Australia’s Heritage rankings varied between fourth and 11th, averaging seventh over the 12 years. Ranking rose impressively to third in the world in 2009 – Labor’s second year in office – where it stayed throughout the Labor period. This was the highest rank among the 36 developed member countries of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Australia was behind only the two Asian tear-away economies Hong Kong and Singapore.
Heritage’s latest report noted:
‘In a reflection of the turmoil within the governing party, Scott Morrison replaced Malcolm Turnbull as head of the ruling Liberal-National coalition and prime minister in 2018. Turnbull had replaced former Prime Minister Tony Abbott in 2015.’
Transparency International corruption perceptions index
The Berlin-based corruption watcher ranks 180 countries by their perceived levels of public sector corruption using a scale of 0 to 100, where 0 is highly corrupt and 100 is clean. Only 60 of those 180 countries improved their scores this year. Australia was not one of them.
Australia’s history is most intriguing, starting at a creditable seventh ranking in 1995 at the end of the Hawke/Keating era. Through the Howard years, ranking slipped gradually to a low point of 13th in 2000. It then rose slightly to finish at 11th in 2007. Through the Rudd/Gillard period, Australia rose through the levels to eighth for the three years from 2009-2011, then up to seventh in 2012 — back where Australia was when the series began. The transition year of 2013 slipped to ninth, then it was downhill all the way after Abbott’s Coalition took charge. Ranking fell to 11th in 2014, then to 13th in 2015 where it has been stuck ever since.
In 2012, Australia lagged only Denmark, Finland, New Zealand (Grrrr), Sweden, Singapore and Switzerland. It has now been overtaken also by Norway, the Netherlands, Canada, Luxembourg, Germany and the United Kingdom.
The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) democracy index
This index provides
‘a snapshot of the state of democracy worldwide for 165 independent states … based on five categories: electoral process and pluralism; civil liberties; the functioning of government; political participation; and political culture.’
Australia has just been overtaken by Finland. Its ninth ranking is now behind, in order, Norway, Iceland, Sweden, New Zealand, Denmark, Canada, Ireland and Finland.
Australia’s overall score remains at 9.09, exactly where it was in 2006 when the index began. From 9.09 again in 2008, it rose during the Rudd/Gillard period to peak at 9.22 in 2010 where it stayed for three years, before a dip in 2013 to 9.13. The Abbott years plumbed the depths, down to 9.01 for the three years 2014 to 2016, then back up to 9.09 last year.
In ranking, Australia started at eighth in 2006, slipped to tenth in 2008, rose to sixth for the four Labor years 2010-13, tumbled to ninth in 2014 and 2015, then down to tenth again – the lowest ranking Australia has had – in 2016. The brief recovery in 2017 to eighth has not continued, with slippage this year back to ninth.
The EIU report notes:
The Liberal-National coalition led by the prime minister, Scott Morrison, will remain in a weak parliamentary position at least until the next legislative election, which is due by November. Mr Morrison's efforts to rebuild support for the coalition, which remains in the doldrums ahead of the polls, are unlikely to succeed. We expect the opposition Labor Party to win the election and form the next government.
Should this happen, the Coalition appears to have no-one to blame but itself. Labor, according to all three of these international agencies, has a far better record in virtually all areas of good governance.
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