Australia’s environment in respect of corruption deteriorated last year, the latest report says.
Releasing its Corruption Perceptions Index report for 2020, Transparency International said Australia’s transparency score dropped by eight points over the past year from 85 out of a possible 100 to 77 out of 100.
Out of 180 countries, Australia ranks twelfth in a list from least corrupt countries to most corrupt nations.
The results come amid numerous cases of potentially illegal behaviour – several of which involve real-estate and construction.
In New South Wales, the Independent Commission Against Corruption is examining allegations that the Labor Party received an illegal donation of $100,000 from Chinese Property Developer Huang Xiangmo.
In Victoria, the Independent Broad-base Anti-Corruption Commission is investigation whether developer John Woodman used bags of cash to buy off councillors in the outer south-eastern municipal council of Casey in exchange for support of planning amendments.
In Western Australia, former Housing Authority bureaucrat Paul Whyte has been charged with more than 500 corruption offenses over allegations that he and an associated stole more than $22 million over eleven years through a fake invoicing scheme.
Federally, Deputy National Leader Bridget McKenzie is under pressure following an auditor-general report which found that funds from the pre-election $100 million Community Sports Infrastructure Grant program had been funnelled in a biased manner toward marginal seats.
Whilst not involving corruption, this last case has further eroded confidence in public sector accountability.
The results also come amid debate about whether Australia should have a federal integrity commission.
A model for such a body proposed by the federal government has been criticised by some corruption experts as being too weak.
Draft legislation for the proposed model is yet to eventuate despite promises that this would be ready last year.
Transparency International Australia chief executive officer Serena Lilywhite said the results were concerning.
“Transparency International is not giving Australia a gold star for effort,” Lilywhite said.
“Australia’s rank on the corruption scale has increased a notch (from 13 to 12) only because the United Kingdom and Canada fell down.”
Lilywhite says the report points to the corrosive influence of money in politics.
“The murkier the political donations trail, the more corrupt a country is perceived to be,” she said.
“The more politicians consult with their friends and cronies rather than the broader public to inform their decisions, the more corrupt a country is perceived to be.
“This further evidence confirms what Transparency International Australia and the majority of Australians have been saying for years: to stop corruption we need greater transparency and stronger rules around political donations, lobbying, and the revolving door between public office and company payroll. A healthy democracy requires transparency and accountability over who funds our politicians, who is trying to influence policy decisions and why.
“Politicians who oppose transparency are running out of excuses.”
Lilywhite says recent developments are concerning.
“While Australia still ranks among the world’s most corruption-free countries, for a number of years the very institutions that keep us honest have been sorely tested,” she said.
“Raids on the media, prosecution of whistleblowers, stacking independent institutions like the Administrative Appeals Tribunal with former politicians, defunding organisations like the Freedom of Information Commissioner, and attacks on people’s rights to protest – these all degrade the very institutions and expressions that provide important checks against the abuse of power and misuse of public funds.
“To safeguard and strengthen our democracy we must value and strengthen the very institutions and people who hold the powerful to account. Whether they be journalists, whistleblowers, public servants or the general public, loud Australians make our democracy stronger.”