The shocking accusation that the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources sacked an employee due to pressure from a major industry lobby group demonstrates the kind of corruption that is most likely to affect wealthy nations with strong institutions like Australia.
Veterinarian Lynn Simpson told the ABC her termination was “a form of corruption” and alleged it came at the behest of powerful players in the live export industry after a shocking report on animal welfare in the trade she authored was accidentally posted to the department’s website.
In the discussions around whether there is a need for a nationally focused Commonwealth anti-corruption body, popularly called a federal ICAC, researcher Adam Graycar highlighted a distinction between “rich-country corruption” and “poor country corruption”. Australia has a very low incidence of the latter type, which involves widespread bribery and fraud among low level officials in government agencies or the police, for example, but is certainly at risk of the second.
Rich country corruption particularly features the risk of powerful private sector interests influencing the policy choices made by ministers, who can in turn put pressure on senior public servants. Graycar suggests a national anti-corruption council to play a co-ordinating role in making sure matters like Simpson’s sacking are dealt with, rather than a federal ICAC with coercive powers and investigative functions.
According to the ABC, Simpson’s report was supposed to be confidential but was “accidentally published” online and not by Simpson herself. Soon after, she was terminated and she claims that is because the regulator in this case had been captured by the industry.
“For the industry to be able to kick a government employee out of a government job, it speaks volumes, it is a form of corruption and that is all there is to it,” she said last night on the 7.30 program.
The report quotes a letter from first assistant secretary Karen Schneider in which she apparently admitted to Simpson that she was being terminated because the live export industry had expressed the view they could not work with her. Schneider wrote:
“I do not share the expressed views of industry … you have done [your job] competently and, as deputy secretary Philip Glyde and I have assured you … your technical expertise is valued by the department.”
Simpson told the national broadcaster “all hell broke loose” after her report went online and she quickly became “persona-non-grata” and was “isolated” within the department: “I was excluded from discussions, meetings and then they asked me to remove all photographic evidence from a report I had prepared for the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.”
Schneider explains in her letter that Simpson could not continue in the job she was hired for after her worked was accidentally published, specifically because of the reaction to that work from the live export industry even though the department didn’t agree it showed she was biased towards animal rights groups. Simpson was offered then two other positions in different branches, which she rejected.
Update: The Department of Agriculture and Water Resources responds to the story.