After years of pressure to do something about the scourge of growing corruption in Australian politics, the Morrison government bowed to public pressure and drafted legislation to establish an anti-corruption commission.
Except that it has been designed to lack the teeth to do anything meaningful. Further progress is being delayed, as the government goes through what it says is a process of consultation with key stakeholders on draft legislation.
Photo by Jessica Shapiro
Critics have seen through this right away. The promise to act is to offset criticism and do as little as possible. Even worse. It may degrade whatever integrity framework that already exists. The corrupt will have even less to fear.
A major feature of the proposed legislation is its lack of transparency. There are to be no public hearings. There will be low standards of investigation, and the decisions made by handpicked officials.
Two weeks ago, the group of retired judges making up the National Integrity Committee argued that this would leave ministers immune form investigation.
Corruption is a serious problem that takes many forms. There is outright hard corruption, involving bribes, and taking advantage of position for personal gain. There is also soft corruption. This is becoming part of a culture of cover up, indulging in certain advantages, giving mates a hand, and outright moral bankruptcy.
Corruption can be conscious or the come from the unconscious force of habit. Take the present scandal over the treatment of women at Parliament House. Is this not a form of corruption?
Then there are the activities of the lobbyists, political donations, jobs for former politicians, and more. Nothing is given without the expectation of payback.
Proper regulatory framework may help to reduce hard corruption. It won’t eliminate it and will do little to impact of soft corruption. This would require major change in the way politics is conducted and a major change in in the political culture.
Corruption in the political system exists because it is entrenched in society, and those serving the political system have opportunities to engage in it. Change is needed across society.
Unless this is pressed by society, little will change.