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Thursday, July 11, 2013

TI Corruption Barometer puts spotlight on open, transparent government

The Transparency International Global Corruption Barometer 2013 reports on public perceptions of corruption in 107 countries. 

Results for Australia are based on a survey (prior to March 2013) of 1200 people and includes ratings of institutions as corrupt/extremely corrupt.

Should we be surprised?

Political Parties 58%
Media 58% ( Only four countries gave corruption in the media a high rating-Australia, Egypt, New Zealand and United Kingdom.)
Business 47%
Religious bodies 44% ( But least corrupt in worldwide rankings.) 
Judiciary 36% (Third worldwide)
Parliament/Legislature 36% (Fourth worldwide)
Public officials and civil servants 35% (Fifth worldwide)
Police 33% ( Second worldwide)

We aren't alone on concern about political parties. Globally, "the driving forces of democracy, are perceived to be the most corrupt institutions." 

But Australians put the media and religious bodies way up the list compared to global rankings. And public office holders - judiciary, parliament, public servants and the police - lower down the scale than most others.

However, it's hardly reassuring that more than 1 in 3 rate the parliament and public servants as corrupt.  (NSW developments of course would have clouded the picture.)

And then there's the judiciary!

Five per cent report paying a bribe in the last 12 months.That's remarkable, or I'm showing my innocence or ignorance.

(Correction-5% appears in the published graphic but a reader points out the report doesn’t say that. "On page 10, Australia is listed amongst the countries where ‘<5%’ of respondents reported having paid bribes in the past year.  On page 33, the percentage for Australia is given as 1%.  And that’s in relation to any one of eight services: ‘education system, judiciary, medical and health services, police, registry and permit services, utilities, tax and/or customs, or land services’ (see endnote 11 on page 42)." The reader comments "1% is remarkably high —  but it’s not nearly as bad as 5%." I agree.)

In 88 countries the majority of those surveyed consider their government to be ineffective in addressing corruption.

Recommendations in the report won't surprise. They include making integrity and trust the founding principles of public institutions and services with transparency at the top of the list.

(Separately a recent study shows freedom of information laws work to reduce corruption over time, although they are not a quick fix.)

So as we head into pre-election or high election mode, some reflections on recent developments and inaction.

I'm sure these factors don't impact overly on public perceptions. 

But you can only speculate about the influence of a more positive, comprehensive embrace of an openness, transparency, accountability and integrity agenda:
  • The Federal Parliament has just voted to exclude the parliamentary departments from the Freedom of Information Act, and none of the state parliaments other than Tasmania are covered by state FOI law.
  • Dr Hawke's report on review of the Freedom of Information Act is yet to appear in public, and may or may not suggest changes that could see Australian FOI law move up from the current ranking of 48 of 93 countries surveyed. 
  • Despite undertakings by former Prime Minister Gillard in 2010, we don't have a Parliamentary Integrity Commissioner. Legislation proposed by The Greens Adam Bandt. in May 2012 to create  the National Office of Integrity Commissioner, comprising three elements—the National Integrity Commission, the existing Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity (ACLEI) and a new Office of the Independent Parliamentary Advisor - got nowhere.
  • Similarly a Code of Conduct for Federal parliamentarians. Opposition backbencher Steven Ciobo told Parliament these sort of feel good things are a waste of time:
"The reason that there is still behaviour that people frown upon is that, fundamentally, it comes down to individual choice. Simply adding one more document to a pile of documents and simply having one additional public servant called an integrity commissioner is not going to change a thing. Anyone who believes that it will is delusional. It has not changed things in other jurisdictions. It is not as if in the United Kingdom or in the state of Queensland, where these types of vehicles exist, there is this great love of the parliament or towards parliamentarians. No. The same problems exist in those jurisdictions. This is nothing more than a feel-good exercise that will deliver no net tangible benefit whatsoever."
  • Political donation and lobbying laws are weak and reform efforts in recent years amounted to nothing.
  • Silence on the Australian Law Reform Commission recommendation five years ago that the exemption for political parties from the Privacy Act should be removed. ("In the interests of promoting public confidence in the political process, those who exercise or seek power in government should adhere to the principles and practices that are required of the wider community..")
Yes, yes i know good whistleblower protection legislation did pass in the dying days of the last parliamentary sitting after Attorney General Dreyfus rescued the bill from years in the too hard bin. Addendum: but as a reader points out, the major parties opposed changes to the legislation that would provide protection for public officials who report wrongdoing by, you guessed it, politicians.

Bearing all this in mind, we wait to hear what the Government or the Attorney General's Department has to say about a National Action Plan, required by our membership of the Open Government Partnership, with transparency and accountability the touchstone to improving the way our democracy operates.

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