Anti-corruption and public policy researcher Professor Adam Graycar has questioned the growing clamour for a commonwealth ICAC.
Graycar, who has written for The Mandarin on the need for an integrity culture rather than more rules, elaborated for an audience at Flinders University on the potential problems of a new anti-corruption body that would compete with existing integrity bodies and mechanisms.
The Australian quotes Graycar suggesting an alternative model in the form of an anti-corruption council, comprising key federal agencies, reporting to an all-party parliamentary committee.
“There is a loud clamour for a commonwealth ICAC, but why would you want to set one up, when we don’t really know what the problem is, when it would certainly be under resourced, and when any activity would start a massive turf war between overlapping law enforcement agencies, and the likelihood of poor co-operation.”
The anti-corruption council model would not investigate individual cases, but refer them to existing investigative bodies, such as the Australian Federal Police, Australian Public Service Commission, Australian Taxation Office or the Commonwealth Ombudsman, who could in turn refer prosecutions to the Director of Public Prosecutions.
While Singapore uses a federal anti-corruption body like ICAC and rates better than Australia on international corruption perception indexes, others like Finland use the council model.
Each state has an anti-corruption body, although they vary considerably. Observers have been watching Western Australia in particular after misconduct responsibility was siphoned off and given to the Public Sector Commission. But there were still problems, Graycar warned, in part due to the confusion about what corruption entails — citing the example of former speaker Bronwyn Bishop’s helicopter ride:
“That’s not corruption. It is arrogance, stupidity, a reflection of a politician out of touch with their community and with an inflated sense of their own importance, and all of this against a backdrop of very poor leadership which looked the other way.”
Whereas, corruption was the trading of entrusted authority for personal gain.
“It’s not a public official getting a bunch of flowers, a box of chocolates, a bottle of wine or a ride in a helicopter. These things are not crimes, and are not corruption. They are code of conduct violations.”
Graycar wrote in The Mandarin that such cases are both a cultural and educational matter.
“One would expect that people in entrusted positions are enculturated to know what is right and what is not. Children are taught this all the time. Some (and only some) forget this when they reach positions of power or authority, political or bureaucratic. There are important lessons for both politicians and public servants who can see their policy ideas and hard work completely eroded if integrity does not underpin their everyday work.”
Read more at The Mandarin: Why public sector corporations need an independent watchdog