Entitlements scandals demand integrity, not more rules

Persistent beliefs that corruption in government is endemic and unsolvable are simply not true, writes public policy professor Adam Graycar, former SA Cabinet Office head and author of Understanding and Preventing Corruption. More rules won’t stop the remaining Bronwyn Bishops, but a focus on integrity culture might.

Bronwyn Bishop resigned after a couple of weeks of controversy about entitlements. The controversy has not gone away, as the net has widened and a review is underway. The surprising thing is not that she resigned, but that the debate went on for so long. The week before, it was a member of the UK House of Lords.

“It’s not for lunch, luvvie darling — it’s paying for this”. These were the words of a member of the British House of Lords in response to an incredulous young lady who asked him if he really received £200 a day for expenses. The Deputy Speaker was filmed snorting cocaine which had been placed on the sex worker’s breast.

The politician resigned his post and quit the the House of Lords but this episode again highlighted the public’s scepticism of politicians’ entitlements, and concern about how taxpayers’ money is spent. At least he made no attempt to justify the action or to try to claim it was related, however obtusely, to his work. Ironically, Lord Sewel had written in the Huffington Post a few days earlier about the importance of politicians upholding behavioural standards, and about how easily bad behaviour can damage revered institutions.

Integrity and accountability are bedrock principles of good government. Without them all the hard work and governmental expertise comes to nothing. It is often said that corruption in government is endemic, and has always been so, and will always be with us. This is simply not true. In many countries egregious corruption has been reduced dramatically, and over a long period of time Australia has moved from a convict colony marred by corruption to a country in which the daily lives of citizens are not blighted by corruption. This is not to say that Australia does not have its share of scandals, nor that integrity and accountability could not easily be undermined.

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  • thomas vesely

    well said, thank you..

  • thomas vesely

    loss of pension ought to be mandatory for those that are exposed and “convicted”

  • alun probert

    Well said Adam. It was disappointing to hear an ex-pollie on QandA use the “rules can be confusing” defence. The rules are clear cut and a condition of employment. And even if the use of a helicopter (hypothetically) isn’t expressly forbidden, common sense should be the very least we expect.