Australians increasingly view corruption as a major problem and their faith in the federal government’s ability to handle it is greatly diminishing, a new report has found.
Griffith University and Transparency International Australia have released a major report on the state of Australia’s integrity systems, detailing attitudes towards corruption and laying out a blueprint to improve the nation’s response.
The report shows Australians increasingly view corruption as either a “very big” or “quite big” problem, rising from 61% in 2018 to 66% in late October 2020. The proportion of those who believe the federal government is handling corruption issues “very badly” has risen from 15% to 19.4% over the same time period.
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Overall trust in government actually improved significantly in 2020, for both federal and state governments. About 17% of respondents said they trusted the federal government “a great deal” in 2020, compared with 6.7% in 2017. This phenomenon is largely attributed to the Covid-19 crisis.
The report, titled Australia’s National Integrity System: The Blueprint for Action, makes 10 recommendations for actions to improve the nation’s integrity system, including creating a commonwealth legislative plan on corruption, enforcing parliamentary standards through legislated codes of conduct, and establishing a system of real-time donations disclosure.
It also recommends caps on campaign expenditure during elections and limits on political donations, as well as stronger public sector whistleblower protections, an overhaul of the lobbying system, and measures to ensure “fairer, more honest election campaigns”.
The report says integrity bodies such as the auditor general should be given sustainable funding guarantees, including through four-year, direct budget allocations by parliament. The report recommends $100m per year in funding for a federal integrity commission, and corruption prevention and whistleblower protection.
New shield laws should be implemented for public interest journalism and disclosure, the report says.
Unsurprisingly, the creation of a strong, independent and well-resourced federal integrity commission is seen as a key plank to bolstering Australia’s anti-corruption efforts.
The report identifies the lack of a federal anti-corruption watchdog as “the biggest institutional gap in our system”.
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Griffith University integrity expert Prof AJ Brown said the anti-corruption body was not a “silver bullet”, but was desperately needed.
“We need political consensus on a strong national commission, but also action to strengthen the integrity of politics and government at all levels, including more effective regulation of lobbying, checks on undue influence, and fairer, more honest election campaigns,” Brown said.
“We also must value the contribution of whistleblowers and public interest journalism to the integrity of our democracy.”
The Transparency International Australia chief executive, Serena Lillywhite, said Australians were “loudly demanding” that politicians and public servants act with honesty and integrity.
“The assessment strongly endorses the need for a strong, independent commonwealth integrity agency with scope to review criminal or non-criminal conduct that undermines integrity of public decision-making, and points the way forward for new, best practice investigation and public hearing powers,” she said.
“While Australia has a strong past record for integrity in public decision-making, democratic innovation and multi-agency frameworks for controlling corruption, Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index confirms we’ve been slipping.”