The jailing of disgraced former NSW politician and Labor factional warlord Eddie Obeid may have roused applause from all political quarters, but those on the frontline of fighting corruption are warning their job is getting much harder and far more unpleasant.
Just a fortnight before Obeid was finally taken down into the cells, Australia’s corruption-fighting chiefs celebrated International Anti-Corruption Day, an occasion dedicated to exposing serious crimes that undermine social and economic development in all societies.
In a speech to mark the occasion in Australia, John McKechnie QC, the Commissioner of Western Australia’s Corruption and Crime Commission, painted what must rate as one of the bleakest pictures to date of the struggle faced by those charged with keeping government clean.
“Everyone loves the idea of a corruption agency. I am not so sure though that everyone loves an effective corruption agency to the same degree,” McKechnie told a breakfast gathering of public officials and corporate executives, before detailing the headwinds he and many of his peers face.
Citing amendments passed last year in WA that “quietly removed jurisdiction over misconduct for Members of Parliament” from the CCC, McKechnie quipped that anyone who took up the cudgels against public corruption to earn the love and respect of fellow humans “had a poor choice of career advisor”.
The niceties stopped there.
“The personal toll on commissioners in WA is such that in 12 years, not one has completed a full term,” McKechnie lamented, warning that he personally had “no intentions to depart early” and was only “warming up” after taking on the role in 2015.
Recent heat directed toward the recently resigned NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption chief Megan Latham was returned in kind.
“Events in New South Wales regarding ICAC have seen a sustained, personal, vituperative attack on its commissioner by, among others, a powerful media organisation,” McKechnie said, before cautioning of the consequences of attacking anti-corruption bodies.
“Whether by chance or design, it will make the task of attracting quality candidates much harder. I might add that there is a strong whiff of misogyny in some of the attacks on Megan Latham.”
Heading north, Queensland’s most recent former government also copped a spray.
“We have seen efforts by the previous Queensland government to neuter and restructure the CCC,” McKechnie said, before tempering any hopes of a federal anti-corruption agency being established “any time soon” to look over Canberra’s politicians or the Australian Public Service.
“Apparently, there is no possibility of corruption in the Commonwealth public sector,” McKechnie said.
It could be worse though. Looking to Papua New Guinea, McKechnie called out government funding priorities there, especially specialist anti-corruption body Task Force Sweep. He said PNG’s Police Band had received more funding than the Police Anti-Money Laundering Unit.
For McKechnie, the bottom line is clear and simple.
“We all deserve a public service free from corruption, he said. “But vigilance is ever required.”
Vigilance and the courage and tenacity to speak out clearly — and provocatively if necessary — it would seem.
Last year, McKechnie marked Anti-Corruption Day by listing “seven deadly sins” that feed public sector corruption — greed, power, influence, ignorance, impunity, complacency and poor governance — and has been trying to rebuild the CCC’s reputation, having taken on the role after very serious corruption was found within its own ranks.