Australia’s perception as a clean country in which to do business has taken a major hit as a number of high profile domestic and international bribery scandals have seen the international view of doing business in the country slide.
Unveiling the latest version of its Corruption Perceptions Index, Transparency International said Australia had slipped from 11th to 13th place out of 168 countries surveyed in 2015 – six places below its ranking at number seven in 2012.
Australia’s overall performance has also fallen six points from 85 in 2012 (out of a possible score of 100) to 79 last year.
Though Australia still ranks highly, its reputation as a transparent country in which to do business has been impacted in recent years by a string of both international and domestic scandals.
Internationally, property and construction giant Leighton Holdings (now CIMIC) has been rocked over an alleged bribery scandal in Iraq, while two firms owned by the Reserve Bank of Australia were charged with bribing officials in foreign countries to win banknote contracts in 2013.
Domestically, allegations of unlawful conduct have been in the public spotlight as bodies such as the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) have bought a number of cases against high profile figures such as former NSW Labour Party power broker Eddie O’Beid.
While Australia’s slide in terms of corruption perceptions may well be reflective of more cases coming to light as a result of the work of bodies such as ICAC and Victoria’s Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission, it also reflects concerns that governments have been lagging in their efforts to implement effective mechanisms to prevent corruption from occurring.
In August, for instance, Transparency International said Australia was well behind other countries in terms of transparency with regard to political donations and enforcement of political financing regulations. In April, the agency lambasted Australia for what it said was a lax enforcement of money laundering rules.
The slide also comes amid debate over political donations from property developers.
A law in New South Wales to ban developers from donating to political parties in New South Wales was upheld by the High Court late last year.
In Victoria, calls for similar laws have been made by the Greens and the Victorian Ombudsman.
Transparency International Australia CEO Phil Newman called on the federal government to deliver a strong anti-corruption agency at the Commonwealth level.
“With Australia’s worst foreign bribery offences having been committed by former or current government-owned entities – the Australian Wheat Board, Note Printing Australia and Securency Limited – there is no excuse not to have implemented all of the OECD’s reform recommendations in this area by the end of the year,” an ABC report quotes Newman as saying.