Is Australia doing enough to prevent corruption? Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index (2018) suggests a Federal ICAC might help.
By Scott McLintock,
Transparency International recently released the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) for 2018 (see link here to the results). The CPI ranks the perceived corruption levels that exists in the public sector across 180 countries and territories. Each of the 180 countries and territories are assigned a ranking from 0 (being highly corrupt) to 100 (clean).
The 2018 results saw the average score being 43 with two thirds of countries scoring below 50. Australia came in 13th with a score of 77, unchanged from 2017 but two points below the 2016 and 2015 results. The poor overall scores indicate that in general, countries appear to be failing to tackle the issue of corruption in the public sector. While the CPI is based on subjective assessments from data sources and reflects perceptions, we know, as the saying goes, “perception is reality.” So are we doing enough here in Australia to fight corruption?
The announcement by Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, at the end of last year to establish a federal ICAC may go some way to reversing the slide in our CPI score over the last couple of years. For too long Australia has adopted a, “she’ll be right mate”, “nothing to see here” mentality when it comes to corruption, so the establishment of such a body is a step in the right direction. The scope and extent of powers available to the proposed federal ICAC will determine whether it may simply appease the masses or whether it will have some bite capable of making senior bureaucrats and politicians more closely consider their choices when they are at the precipice of ethical decision making.
Transparency International points to the weakening in democratic institutions as a contributor to the lack of progress in combatting corruption. Since 2006, 113 countries have seen a net decline in their aggregate Freedom in the World score with only 62 seeing an improvement. A lack of adequate oversight is seen as a factor that undermines democracy and the absence of adequate federal oversight in Australia is an obvious chink in the corruption prevention armour. In broad terms, it is argued that where corruption is rife and senior bureaucrats have benefited financially, they are more likely to seek to undermine transparency, democratic principles and any checks and balances to remain in power and to avoid prosecution. This pattern of behaviour eats away at the key principles of a democratic society and creates a breeding ground for corrupt practices. While I don’t believe the principles of a democratic society have been eroded here in Australia, in the absence of an alternative and viable option, the reluctance to support the establishment of a federal ICAC may have a negative impact on how seriously Australia is perceived to be taking the issue of public sector corruption. A cursory glance at the US provides an insight into how democratic principles can be challenged from the very top (cue ‘fake news’) and how such actions might be perceived locally and in the wider international community.
Transparency cites the pillars of a democratic society to include:
- Strong independent institutions with strong oversight
- Freedom of the press
- Free and fair elections
- Civil rights
- Engaged citizens that are willing to hold governments accountable
Corruption chips away at democracy to produce a vicious cycle, where corruption undermines democratic institutions and, in turn, weak institutions are less able to control corruption. It is therefore imperative to have adequate checks and balances and deterrents to ensure that corruption is kept in check.
While Australia’s drop in CPI score in the last couple of years is not disastrous, it is a gentle reminder not to become complacent in the fight against corruption. Having the appropriate oversight to uphold our democratic pillars needs to be a priory to provide confidence in our public sector. Anything less will signal to the Australian and global community that the detection and prevention of corruption in our public sector is not taken seriously.
Linkedin Blog – Is Australia doing enough to prevent corruption? Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index (2018) suggests a Federal ICAC might help.
By Scott McLintock
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 Transparency International. 2019. How corruption weakens democracy. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.transparency.org/news/feature/cpi_2018_global_analysis. [Accessed 18 February 2019]
 Freedom in the World is Freedom House’s (an independent organisation dedicated to the expansion of freedom and democracy in the world), annual report, which assesses the condition of political rights and civil liberties around the world. Available at: https://freedomhouse.org
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