Politicians meeting with organised crime figures is a sure sign that government has been impacted in some way, says an Italian corruption expert who has researched the Mafia in Australia.
“Whenever you see high level political proximity of certain underworld/upper-world mixtures, it already means the public sector has been touched somehow,” argues Dr Anna Sergi of the University of Essex.
“I’m not saying it’s systemic, I’m not saying it’s endemic, I don’t know that, I haven’t done research into public administration in Victoria, but all the research I’ve looked at and all the countries I’ve looked at, you don’t get to a certain level of political proximity unless you have certain interests already in the public sector.
“How that manifests in Victoria I don’t know, but I’m quite sure you cannot have one without the other. Good luck to you,” she said this morning.
“If you have crime and political proximity, it’s already too late.”
The comment was prompted by a question about Victoria’s perception of itself as an un-corrupted jurisdiction, at a conference being held this week by the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission.
Victorian Opposition Leader Matthew Guy was recently revealed to have dined with an alleged Mafia boss.
Sergi explained that one of the features distinguishing organised crime from regular criminal pursuits is the planning involved — organised criminals take a long-term view, cultivating useful “upper-world” contacts before requesting favours.
Politicians or top public servants are then able to enter into a reciprocal relationship with those in the “underworld” and use their leadership capacity to benefit themselves and their contacts while maintaining clean hands.
A rotten public service tends to be the starting place for deeper corruption.
“There is no way in which political corruption happens without public administration being corrupted first,” Sergi argues.
Ensuring investigators are able to target politicians, and withholding immunity, are important parts in keeping both politics and public administration clean.
Italy has produced some particularly eye-popping examples of organised crime — Sergi cited the dissolution of the entire local government of Reggio Calabria over Mafia ties, as well as a scandal known as Mafia Capitale, involving some 40 defendants, including the former mayor and many other top political and civil service leaders in Rome.
Yet she argues corruption is “not a status, it’s a behaviour” — and one which we should not pretend is absent in Australia. Italy is “not that special” and there are clear echoes of the Italian Mafia clans in the behaviour of various organised crime groups here.