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Monday, September 15, 2014

Trust drops to the cellar while a smorgasbord of integrity issues struggle for attention

Lukas Plewnia
Read Peter Hartcher in the Sydney Morning Herald on Saturday "A glaring omission in our political life" and weep: despite everything we are seeing unfold in NSW, the Abbott government, well as of last Friday, is not interested in a federal body along the lines of the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption. 

The Opposition weren't much interested either when they committed to establishing a Parliamentary Integrity Commissioner in 2010 then let slide a bill introduced by The Greens Adam Bandt in May 2012 to create the National Office of Integrity Commissioner.

On that front at least change is in the air. Hartcher quotes ALP Senator John Faulkner as saying the Parliament 
"needs to ensure the events in NSW cannot be repeated in Canberra or anywhere else in Australia. In my view, the sorts of issues being raised at the NSW ICAC do not miraculously stop at state or territory borders." "This will be a real challenge for our current political leaders," Faulkner observed.

The government, with control of the lower house can determine at the end of the day what goes and what doesn't but debate in the Senate might at least cause reflection on its  defence of the status quo, in essence 'we've got everything covered, believe us."

In debate in May on The Greens renewed effort to push the National Integrity Commission bill, government speakers rubbished the idea. National Party Senator O'Sullivan said the government is proud of Australia's position and reputation
"as one of the least corrupt countries in the world. This is a recognition of the net measure of respective coalition governments in this place and in states right across this country. As a political movement, we have a sub-zero tolerance to corruption." .
As Hartcher notes, Federal parliamentarians don't have a code of conduct. Conflicts of interest of the kind on display in the Palmer party go through to the keeper. 
In October 2012 Steve Ciobo then in opposition and now Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer said a code of conduct 
"is nothing more than a feel-good exercise that will deliver no net tangible benefit whatsoever."
It's not just the absence of an integrity commission and a code of conduct for parliamentarians. 

Just before the 2013 election the Federal Parliament voted to exclude from the Freedom of Information Act the parliamentary departments that spend large amounts on helping them do their job. Silence since.

Last year the government response to latest round of improper or dodgy use of travel entitlements by Federal parliamentarians hardly moved beyond 'Oh dear.' Recommendations years ago by the Belcher committee continue to gather dust. One, precluding use of printing allowance during an election campaign, might put an end to the double dipping identified by Nick Evershed at Guardian Australia recently. 

Political donation and lobbying laws are weak, and reform efforts in recent years amounted to little. While some third party lobbyists who lobby ministers and public servants are subject to a registration requirement that doesn't amount to much, lobbying federal parliamentarians including the Palmer party that can make or break a piece of legislation for the government is a regulation free zone.

Then there's silence on a National Anti Corruption Plan despite obligations under the UN Convention Against Corruption ratified by Australia on 7 December 2005.

And silence too on the Australian Law Reform Commission recommendation five years ago that the exemption for political parties from the Privacy Act should be removed. To quote the report:
"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.." 
Whistleblower protection?  
While we have passable to good law to protect public sector employees ( overall rated middle of the pack among G 20 members) the major parties last year opposed changes that would provide protection for public officials who report wrongdoing by....
you guessed it, members of parliament.

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