Text by Wendy Cavenett
Transparency International’s 2020 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) was released late last month. Assessing perceived corruption in the public sector across 180 countries, this year’s report has put Australia in eleventh place with a score of 77 points on a 100-point scale. While this is a relatively enviable position, Australia still faces serious corruption challenges.
In part two of our No country is immune from corruption series, we focus on the CPI report’s assessment of Australia and the Asia Pacific region. We also ask: Is it time to move forward on a National Integrity Commission in Australia?
On the release of the 2020 CPI, Serena Lillywhite, CEO of Transparency International Australia (TIA) said that compared to other nations, Australia’s CPI score was relatively high, but it was important that this did not lead to complacency. “The truth is,” Lillywhite said, “after a significant drop our score has remained stagnant for far too long.” Indeed, Australia has been stuck on 77 points for three years after falling from its 2012 peak score of 85 points. As Professor Adam Graycar recently observed, “… Australia’s decline since 2012 matters because trust in our institutions is fundamental to our functioning as a society.”
“This past year we have seen our fair share of scandals, questionable public spending and opaque decision-making,” continued Lillywhite, “such as the lack of accountability and transparency around the National COVID-19 Coordination Commission and the misuse of public funds in the ‘sports rorts’ affair.”
The issue of COVID has tested governments worldwide, but as Christopher Knaus reported for The Guardian in July 2020: “The prime minister’s department refused to publicly release 1,100 documents linked to the Covid-19 commission’s discussion of gas projects and 690 documents about potential conflicts of interest, while also redacting its meeting minutes on economic and national security grounds.
“The government has faced sustained criticism about the lack of transparency surrounding its National Covid-19 Coordination Commission, a body designed to guide Australia’s economic recovery.”
In light of these and other CPI findings, Lilywhite went on to say that there should be a “sharp focus on how we spend public funds, how we manage conflicts of interest and how we conduct proper due diligence on government contracts.”
Transparency International’s global recommendations that are especially relevant to Australia include:
- Strengthening oversight institutions
- Ensuring open and transparent contracting
- Promoting civic space
- Ensuring access to information.
“The key lesson from Transparency International’s research,” Lillywhite concluded, “is that strong democratic governance is essential to managing an equitable and effective COVID-19 response. This means we cannot put tackling corruption on hold, we must establish a strong, national integrity agency without delay.”
Australia and the Asia Pacific region
With an average score of 45, the Asia Pacific region struggles to combat corruption and tackle the profound health and economic impact of COVID-19 (Asia Pacific report)
With a score of 88, New Zealand leads the Asia Pacific region – and with Denmark, the world – on the 2020 CPI scale. Followed by Singapore (85), Australia’s score of 77 was shared with Hong Kong. The bottom three scoring countries in the region were Cambodia (21), Afghanistan (19) and North Korea (18).
With an average score of 45, the report found the region struggled to “improve their anti-corruption efforts”, but there were some positive signs. After many decades, Papua New Guinea (PNG) (27) passed legislation to establish an anti-corruption commission, while the Solomon Islands (42) appointed its first ever director general of its national anti-corruption commission. It is hoped this will help set up the commission to address serious corruption issues involving key government actors who were accused of diverting funds intended to assist people during the pandemic.
IN THE PACIFIC, Cyclone Harold highlighted already weak governance systems with calls across Vanuatu (42), PNG and the Solomon Islands for “greater transparency and accountability” in the COVID-19 response.
Unfortunately, there was LITTLE PROGRESS IN ASIA in terms of anti-corruption efforts. This was particularly noticeable in India (40), Indonesia (37) and Bangladesh (26). The Maldives (43), however, climbed 14 points on the 2019 Index thanks in part to the removal of several repressive laws.
There continued to be POSITIVE CHANGES in Afghanistan (19), climbing 11 points since 2012 with significant institutional reforms and plans to establish a new anti-corruption commission. Myanmar (28, up 13 points since 2012) and Timor-Leste (40, up 10 points since 2013) also continued to build their integrity infrastructures.
Is it time to move forward on a National Integrity Commission in Australia?
The growing consensus is yes, but what an Australian national integrity commission should look like has been debated for decades. The growing challenges of corruption risks in Australia’s federal public integrity system has been analysed and reported on since the 1990s. Fast-forward to November 2020, and the release of the Commonwealth Integrity Commission consultation draft outlining the Morrison Government’s “heavily criticised” $147 million commitment to “the development and operation” of a Commonwealth Integrity Commission (CIC).
Submissions to the draft legislation closed on February 12, 2021, and many hope the consultation period will result in a stronger CIC model, particularly in terms of its “resources, scope and powers.”
Only time will tell what the 2021 CIC legislation will bring.
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Further reading: a selection of our blogs
VPS corruption prevention & COVID recovery
Spotlight on how to help prevent corruption and mismanagement
Corruption begets more corruption: IACD19
Ignore corruption at your peril
Corruption risks in post-VPS employment
Australian dialogue on bribery and corruption
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Image: Heat map showing the perceived levels of public sector corruption in the Asia Pacific region (© Transparency International)
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A participant in the UN Global Compact, CourtHeath seeks to raise awareness about the Sustainable Development Goals and the principles of the Global Compact with business and government organisations in Victoria.
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Written by Wendy Cavenett
[category courtheath's blog]
[Corruption Perception Index, corruption, public service]