If Tony Abbott was a company director and had conducted a pitch to the market then turned around and did the opposite of what was promised he would be fined and possibly jailed under the Corporations Act 2001. Under the present system we have no recourse unless a double dissolution is triggered.

In the last Parliament, Julia Gillard sent disgraced union-rorter Craig Thompson into political exile but counted on his vote to maintain a wafer-thin majority. So where is the principle here?

History reveals that both the Labor and Liberal parties play the game called “whatever it takes”.

Why do Australians allow their politicians to get away with white-collar crime? As elaborated further below, Australians consider politicians as the most corrupt group in our society.

In 2013 Transparency International rated Australia equal 8th with Canada on the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), behind New Zealand and Denmark (equal 1st) and the other Nordic countries, Singapore, Switzerland, and the Netherlands. CPI defines corruption as the misuse of public power for private benefit.

Our 8th ranking should not make us complacent, particularly as the codes of conduct and oversight mechanisms widely differ between the nine government jurisdictions in the Commonwealth of Australia.

Surprisingly, the highest standards in our nation come from the states and not the federal government, found respectively through the establishment of the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), and Queensland Crime and Misconduct Commission. Indeed, ICAC has recently claimed the scalp of NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell as it investigates the dealings of corrupt Labor and Liberal politicians caught in its web, and best described by Michael Pascoe:

The current and recent ICAC investigations have broken open the political process to the disinfecting power of sunlight, laying bare the jobs for mates, the mates for jobs, the influence peddlers and buyers, the grubby favours and deals. From the outright stench of the Obeid and MacDonald relationship to the lingering odour of the lobbying by and business plans of Sinodinos and Di Girolamo, the ICAC hearings should mean NSW politics will not be the same. Gift horses will indeed be looked in the mouth. The career paths of politicians, machine men and lobbyists should become delineated.

[ http://www.smh.com.au/business/comment-and-analysis/remember-failings-of-wrans-nsw-before-curtailing-the-icac-20140423-373il.html#ixzz32nz5fANy ]

Because corruption is wilfully hidden, it is very difficult to detect, let alone prosecute by the relevant authorities. The Transparency International 2013 report for Australia contains some interesting data. Under the heading ‘Percentage of respondents who felt these institutions were corrupt’, Australians rated political parties and the media as extremely corrupt (58%); followed by business (47%) and religious bodies (44%); parliament/legislature (36%); public officials and civil servants (35%); police (33%); judiciary (28%); military (25%); NGOs (23%); medical and health services (20%); and education systems (19%).

[ http://www.transparency.org/gcb2013/country/?country=australia ]

Why do Australians rate political parties and the media as extremely corrupt? More is known about the misdeeds of politicians thanks to state government authorities like ICAC, but less is known about the media and why public perception is so jaundiced – perhaps the subject of another article someone?

Also I have stayed away from considering Tasmania’s Integrity Commission for this piece …

In 1996 one of my tasks was to escort the PNG Chief Ombudsman to meet federal and state anti-corruption authorities. It was my job to organise meetings with eminent jurists like Tony Fitzgerald QC and James Wood AO QC and to visit ICAC in Sydney and the Criminal and Justice Commission in Brisbane (CJC, the precursor to the ‘watered-down’ Crime and Misconduct Commission), as well as the Commonwealth Ombudsman and calls on the Clerks of the House of Representatives and Senate of the Australian Parliament in Canberra.

It soon became apparent that while ICAC and CJC were the leading anti-corruption forces within Australia, the Commonwealth government does not have a system of checks and balances stipulated in our constitution to regulate governance of Australia, particularly as it relates to leadership. In that sense, Papua New Guinea’s powers vested in their Ombudsman Commission allows for guarding against the abuse of power by those in the public sector; and imposes accountability on those who are exercising public power through observance of a Leadership Code.

Here in Australia, we have no leadership code at the Commonwealth level, and worse still, we have no independent authority to hold those who hold the highest public offices in the nation to account. It has never gained favour by either of the major parties in our country.

Time to improve our governance structures?

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Phil na Champassak owns The Madsen Boutique Hotel in Penguin and is a founding board member of the Cradle Coast Innovation Inc fostering enterprise facilitation. He is also a board member of the Cradle Coast Tourism Executive, the regional tourism organisation for NW Tasmania. Formerly a diplomat and DFAT policy analyst, Phil has worked on trade, aid, public diplomacy, consular, international security, and bilateral relations with PNG, the US, and NZ, and was most recently DFAT State Director for Tasmania. Prior to that Phil worked for the UN Development Programme in New York, West Africa and PNG. Phil also served as election monitor to the first elections in Cambodia (1992) and South Africa (1994) and was a peace monitor in Bougainville (2002). He has contributed to publications on human rights, election monitoring, and UN issues. Awarded in 2003 a Australian Service Medal. Phil was a guest of ABC Radio Richard Fidler’s ‘Conversations’ in November 2013.