Branch stacking isn’t just about corruption — it’s a symptom of an outdated, withering party system


Marija Taflaga, Australian National University

In recent months, two investigations by The Age and the Nine Network have revealed allegations of branch stacking in the Victorian divisions of the Labor and Liberal parties. The scandals saw ministers and powerbrokers resign and investigations launched.

But what is branch stacking? At its most basic level, it involves recruiting members to a political party who have no genuine interest in supporting the principles or participating in the activities of that party. It can involve paying new recruits membership fees, falsely reporting addresses and recruiting people who don’t know they are even joining a political party.

By increasing the number of members in a given branch, the “stacker” can manipulate party decisions about candidate pre-selection and its internal governance bodies. These organs control the rules about how the party selects candidates, resolves disputes and governs its internal affairs.

As political scientist Anika Gauja explained, one way to reduce branch stacking might be to adopt the Queensland model of electoral commission oversight. By shifting responsibility and compliance to a third party, this could reduce the incentive structure for party operatives.

But branch stacking raises two broader questions about the health of our political parties and the way our political system operates.

The Labor branch stacking allegations resulted in several Victorian MPs losing their ministerial positions.
James Ross/AAP

Our parties aren’t as healthy or representative as they could be

The first is philosophical. It relates to why branch stacking is a problem for political parties in the first place — and it’s not just that it violates the parties’ own rules.

Australian parties claim to be democratic institutions that represent popular opinion, albeit shaped by specific political values and principles. In this way, they claim to be a vital democratic link between citizens and the elected elites who govern us, rather than a narrow group of power-seeking individuals. This is key to their claims of legitimacy.

Branch stacking undermines this claim, because it shows the selection of candidates is not always based on democratic principles, merit or representation.

Are the candidates who win the right to represent parties in government a true reflection of the values of the voters? It becomes harder to argue this point if the only way representatives got into power is because they ingratiated themselves with the right power-broker.




Read more:
Explainer: what is branch stacking, and why has neither major party been able to stamp it out?


The second question goes to the health of political parties. Australian parties have very low rates of membership (less than 2% of the population). Moreover, they are not required to publish membership numbers, despite receiving public funding.

As the recent branch stacking scandals demonstrate, manipulating party membership numbers and votes is far easier in institutions that have scant members in the first place. In small branches that are poorly attended, it only takes a few new recruits to shift outcomes.

Labor is pushing Scott Morrison to sack Housing Minister Michael Sukkar over the latest branch stacking allegations.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Better ways to bring citizens into government

While parties can take steps to try to boost membership and internal party democracy by giving members a greater say in selecting candidates, leaders and policies, it may also be time to consider system-wide institutional reforms.

With interest in joining political parties so low, placing the entire burden on parties to ensure robust democratic representation may be too much to ask.

There are multiple options that could help fix the current system. Some include increasing the overall size of parliament, creating more opportunities for people to run for office, or modifying the voting system to be more favourable to minority candidates.

Expanding the size of parliament can bring new opportunities for different types of representation, such as deliberative forums. This style of forum involves the recruitment of ordinary citizens to consider a specific problem facing society with the assistance of balanced, expert advice.

Citizens are given the opportunity to discuss and deliberate issues, potentially changing their minds. It was precisely this process that saw the historic removal of abortion laws in Ireland.




Read more:
Democracy is due for an overhaul – could lawmaking-by-jury be the answer?


Another option is to select a portion of our representatives by democratic sortition.

Sortition involves the selection of representatives by lottery, similar to jury duty. The advantage of sortition is that it is random and more likely to recruit from across the community.

Given this, careful consideration would need to be given to the exact number of members drawn by lot and how long we might expect citizens’ recruited this way to serve in parliament, given the disruption this may cause to their lives. Such a system could be combined with the methods of party-based selection that we use today.

No magic bullet, but clear alternatives

To be clear, political parties remain important institutions in our democracy and are likely to persist for some time to come. Further, none of these measures outlined above would be a magic bullet.

In fact, any of these suggested alternatives involve trade-offs, but they would all change our current structure which encourages recruitment of professionalised politicians from narrowing groups.

Ultimately, what the alternatives do offer is a chance to reconsider how we bring ordinary Australians into the political system again and to encourage a debate about what we want representation to look like in the 21st century in order to best renew our democracy.




Read more:
Labor’s branch stacking scandal is a problem for the whole party. Not just Victoria.


The Conversation


Marija Taflaga, Lecturer, School of Political Science and International Relations, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Will the Najib Razak verdict be a watershed moment for Malaysia? Not in a system built on racial superiority



Vincent Thian/AP

James Chin, University of Tasmania

Malaysians are rejoicing the news this week that former Prime Minister Najib Razak has been found guilty on seven charges related to corruption and abuse of power, and sentenced to 12 years in prison.

Many people want to see him (and his wife) jailed for the 1MDB financial scam, in which billions of dollars went missing from a government investment fund. Whether Najib will eventually end up in jail, though, is unclear. He will next file an appeal and the process could take more than a year to play out.

But there is a bigger question not being addressed in Malaysia. Does this verdict represents a watershed moment in Malaysian politics? Will Malaysian politics, or more precisely Malay politics, fundamentally change as a result of this monumental victory against corruption?

I would argue no.

A system built on Malay supremacy and discrimination

Malay politics is founded on a simple proposition — Ketuanan Melayu, or Malay supremacy. In recent decades, it has metamorphosed into Ketuanan Melayu Islam (Malay Islamic supremacy).

At its core is the belief Malaysia is Tanah Melayu (Land of the Malays) and ethnic Malays are the true indigenous people. As such, even though at least one-third of Malaysia’s population are non-Malays, Malays must be first in every facet of Malaysian life — from politics to government to religion to culture.

This philosophy has been institutionalised since 1971 under the government’s New Economic Policy (NEP). The NEP dictates that bumiputera (the official term for indigenous Malays) are given preference in all socio-economic spheres, including entry to the civil service, quotas in university intake, mandatory shareholdings in listed companies and exclusive business licences.

You can even get a 7-15% discount for buying a new house under the “bumi discount”, in addition to the government’s bumi quota for new properties.

In the religious sphere, Islam is widely considered the official religion of Malaysia, even though it accounts for just 61% of the population. In practice, this means people of other faiths are faced with discrimination and stringent restrictions.




Read more:
Malaysia takes a turn to the right, and many of its people are worried


For example, it is a legal offence for anyone to proselytise Muslims, but not the other way around. In fact, there is no legal mechanism for a Muslim to leave Islam. If one is born an ethnic Malay, the constitution defines that person as Muslim. As a result, many Muslims, especially the younger ones, believe Islam is superior to all other religions.

In February, the Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) government fell, just two years after wresting control of the country from the Barisan Nasional, which had ruled Malaysia since independence.

The new Perikatan Nasional (PN) government that came into power in March was unashamedly “Malay First”, with Ketuanan Melayu Islam at its core.

Malaysia’s new prime minister, Muhyiddin Yassin.
NAZRI RAPAAI / HANDOUT/ EPA

So, what’s this got to do with the Najib verdict?

The short answer is the Najib verdict will not be allowed by the PN government to be a catalyst for real reforms or a reset of the Malaysian political system.

As long as the governing system is built on the notion of racial and religious superiority and discrimination, Najib’s verdict will be seen by the Malay elite as a story of personal greed rather than a failure of the system that allowed Najib to carry out the 1MDB scam.

The Malay elite wants to keep the current system because it allows them to wield power in the name of Ketuanan Melayu Islam and reap the economic benefits.

More importantly, it allows the Malay elite to stay in power by divide-and-rule over Malaysia’s plural population. The divide-and-rule policy (or divide and conquer) was set up by the British colonial rulers to maintain their control. The policy ensured each ethnic and political group did not cooperate with other groups to challenge the British authorities.

Is it any wonder the Malay elites are still using the same methods today?

Najib Razak still has many supporters in Malaysia who believe in his innocence.
FAZRY ISMAIL/EPA

Another important point to remember is the current system ignores the basic rules of economics. By setting up a system based on racial preferences, market forces are often ignored in economic policies in the name of “Malay share”.

Thus, anyone questioning shady deals involving the government are told to shut up as the normal rules do not apply to what is often referred to as the “Malay agenda”.

Najib was able to hide the 1MDB scandal for so many years precisely because nobody dared to question him. He claimed 1MDB was a Malaysian sovereign wealth fund and everyone in government understood it to mean a way of supporting the “Malay agenda”.

Khazanah Nasional, the real sovereign wealth fund, is tasked with ensuring the Malay stake in the economy, so it is not unreasonable for people to assume 1MDB was doing the same.

Najib’s guilty verdict will not bring even an iota of change to the country’s political and economic system. What is needed in Malaysia is the abandonment of the racist Ketuanan Melayu Islam ideology.




Read more:
Najib Razak: how Malaysia’s disgraced former leader is using supermarkets, mopeds and selfies to rebrand himself


The Conversation


James Chin, Professor of Asian Studies, University of Tasmania

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

With prizes, food, housing and cash, Putin rigged Russia’s most recent vote



Russian President Vladimir Putin at a polling station to cast his ballot in a nationwide vote on constitutional reforms in Moscow on July 1, 2020.
Alexey Druzhinin/SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images)

Regina Smyth, Indiana University

When Russians voted in early July on 200 constitutional amendments, officials rigged the election to create the illusion that President Vladimir Putin remains a popular and powerful leader after 20 years in office.

In reality, he increasingly relies on manipulation and state repression to maintain his presidency. Most Russians know that, and the world is catching up.

At the center of the changes were new rules to allow Putin to evade term limits and serve two additional terms, extending his tenure until 2036. According to official results, Putin’s regime secured an astounding victory, winning 78% support for the constitutional reform, with 64% turnout. The Kremlin hailed the national vote as confirmation of popular trust in Putin.

The vote was purely symbolic. The law governing constitutional change does not require a popular vote. By March 2020, the national legislature, Constitutional Court and Russia’s 85 regional legislatures had voted to enact the proposed amendments.

Yet, the president insisted on a show of popular support and national unity to endorse the legal process.

The Kremlin’s goal was to make Putin’s 2024 reelection appear inevitable. Given the stakes, the outcome was never in doubt – but it did little to resolve uncertainty over Russia’s future.

Declining social support

Why hold a vote if a vote isn’t needed?

As a scholar of Russian electoral competition, I see the constitutional vote as a first step in an effort to prolong Putin’s 20-year tenure as the national leader. The Kremlin’s success defined the legal path to reelection and the strategy for securing an electoral majority in the face of popular opposition.

Protesters in line at the presidential administration in Moscow, waiting to deliver statements that they don’t accept the results of the constitutional amendment vote, July 4, 2020.
Sefa Karacan/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Its effect on societal attitudes is less clear. A recent poll by the independent polling organization the Levada Center showed that while 52% of respondents supported Putin’s reelection, 44% opposed. At the same time, 59% want to introduce a 70-year-old age cap for presidential candidates. This change would bar the 68-year-old president from running again.

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The government’s disorganized and weak response to COVID-19 highlighted the inefficient and corrupt system and produced an unprecedented drop in Putin’s public approval ratings.

Growing signs of popular discontent in Russia suggest this polling data underestimates demand for change. Local protest against pollution, trash incineration and state reforms continue to grow across the Federation. Focus group data reveals that ordinary Russians are concerned about state repression and civil rights violations.

In the leadup to the constitutional vote, internet influencers read the public mood and refused payments for their endorsement, fearing a backlash from followers and advertisers.

A new Putin majority

Declining popular support highlights the difficulty of building a new voting coalition. Manufacturing a demonstration of national unity was the first step in reinventing Putin’s links to core supporters in the runup to the next national election cycle.

By 2012, Putin’s first coalition, forged in the economic recovery of the early 2000s, was eroded by chronic economic stagnation punctuated by crisis.

In the mid-2010s, Putin’s new majority was based on aggressive foreign policy actions. That coalition declined, as conflicts in Ukraine and Syria dragged on, and public support for expensive foreign policy adventures decreased.

The constitutional vote marks Putin’s third attempt to reconstruct electoral support rooted in patriotism, conservative values and state paternalism that echoes the Soviet era.

Fixing the vote

The constitutional reform campaign focused on state benefits rather than the Putin presidency.

Putin offered something for everyone in the 200 amendments.

As an antidote to unpopular pension reforms, a new provision guarantees pensioners annual adjustments linked to inflation. Other amendments codified existing policies guaranteeing housing and a minimum wage. New clauses codify Putin’s version of conservative values, with measures that add a reference to God, a prohibition against same-sex marriage and support for patriotic education. Other provisions take aim at corruption, by prohibiting state officials from holding offshore accounts.

A massive PR campaign framed starkly different appeals to different voter groups. For those concerned with international security, ads depicted apocalyptic visions of Russia’s future after a NATO invasion. For younger voters, appeals depicted happy families voting to support a bright future.

State television featured supportive cultural icons and artists, including Patriarch Kirill, who is the head of the Russian Orthodox Church. Putin himself argued that participation was a patriotic duty. No one mentioned the controversial loophole that would allow Putin to run again.

The campaign foretold the outcome: The regime would stop at nothing to secure success. Officials coerced employees of government agencies and large businesses to turn out. Voters were offered prizes, food and chances to win new housing and cash for participating.

Ostensibly in response to COVID-19, the Electoral Commission altered voting procedures to evade observation, developing a flawed online voting system and creating mobile polling stations in parks, airports and outside apartment blocks. There is overwhelming evidence that the Kremlin resorted to falsification to produce the desired outcome.

Most Russians understand that the manufactured outcome does not accurately reflect attitudes about Putin’s reelection.

Limits of disinformation

There is growing evidence that the public is no longer persuaded by disinformation and political theater such as the rigged constitutional vote. Trust in state media, the president and the government are declining precipitously.

Members of a local electoral commission empty a ballot box at a polling station, July 1, 2020.
Alexander Nemenov/AFP via Getty Images

The realities of sustained economic stagnation and the Kremlin’s anemic response to COVID-19 stand in sharp contrast to its all-out approach to the symbolic national vote. It can rig a vote, but it can’t control a virus.

The Kremlin’s pandemic response raises doubts about its ability to fulfill new constitutional mandates. Widely publicized efforts to reform the Soviet-era health care system still left hospitals unprepared to manage the pandemic. The state proved incapable of delivering bonuses to first responders and medical workers. The Kremlin refused to use its substantial emergency fund to support entrepreneurs, families with children and the unemployed.

Given these realities, upcoming elections will test the illusion of a new pro-Putin majority defined by this rigged vote. And if the voters abandon Putin, the new Constitution provides a final path to remain in office: the unelected chairmanship of the powerful new State Council.The Conversation

Regina Smyth, Professor, Indiana University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

What Najib Razak’s corruption trial means for Malaysia – and the region



File 20190404 160930 1a1hfx6.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Former Prime Minister Najib Razak arriving in court in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday.
Fazry Ismail/EPA

James Chin, University of Tasmania

The corruption trial of Najib Tun Razak, the former prime minister of Malaysia, has finally begun following two postponements and an attempt on the opening day of the trial for a third. Many Malaysians were starting to wonder if Najib would ever get his day in court.

Najib’s lawyers have used every legal manoeuvre at their disposal to try to delay the trial as long as possible. These tactics verged on the ridiculous a month ago when Najib’s main lawyer claimed his pet dog had injured his wrist. The move worked – the former PM was granted another reprieve.

The trial over Najib’s role in a financial scam involving Malaysia’s 1MDB sovereign wealth fund will certainly not proceed smoothly, and the defence is sure to file new objections to higher courts to try to stop it again.

The reason Najib wants the trial delayed is simple: if he is found guilty, it will have a major impact on other upcoming trials.




Read more:
What’s next for Najib Razak, Malaysia’s disgraced former prime minister?


His wife is also charged with money-laundering in connection with the scandal. (She’s accused of splurging on designer clothes and handbags during million-dollar shopping trips.) If Najib is found guilty, this would undoubtedly strengthen the case against her. Several ministers who served under Najib have also been charged with corruption.

Najib himself also faces several other trials related to the 1MDB scandal. For the government, the current trial is by far the simplest and easiest to prosecute. It involves 42 million Malaysian ringgit (A$14.5 million) that made its way from SRC International, a former unit of 1MDB, to Najib’s personal account. All these transactions occurred in Malaysia, unlike the other cases, which involve international transactions and multiple jurisdictions. The paper trial for this trial is straightforward.

Najib has pleaded not guilty to all charges and claimed the money in his accounts did not come from SRC International.

If Najib is found guilty, he will automatically lose his seat in parliament and face possible jail time. Being an MP gives him the platform to influence politics and say anything he likes against the current government, led by his political rival, Mahathir bin Mohamad.

Najib is already working on his political comeback – part of the strategy is to maintain a high profile as an MP through social media.

Najib tried to bolster his image with video of him singing a Malay version of The Manhattans’ 1970s song, ‘Kiss and Say Goodbye’

How Malaysians are viewing the trial

Many Malaysians want the trial to proceed without any more interruptions, because it would show the accountability process is finally working in Malaysia. Najib and his government were ousted from power in last year’s election because voters wanted the PM (and his wife) to face trial over the corruption allegations. Previously, it was understood that if you held a high political office, you were likely to get away with corruption.

If Najib isn’t convicted, many will likely wonder if there was any point to the change in power. The new government knows this and must deliver a credible trial. There is no other political option.

If Najib and his expensive lawyers are able to continue delaying the trial, Malaysians may start to lose faith with the new administration. Mahathir has publicly pledged to jail Najib for corruption before he hands over power next year to party leader Anwar Ibrahim, and if he cannot deliver on this, it will damage his successor’s political capital.




Read more:
Now that Malaysia has a new government, the real work begins reforming the country


Najib may even try to delay his trials until after the next election, due in 2023, so he can continue to mount his political comeback.

Far more important for Malaysia, however, is the issue of political immunity. No previous leader has ever been charged with corruption and it is vitally important the rule of law is applied here for future generations.

This has regional implications, as well. Many activists in countries such as Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand see the Najib trial as a benchmark for tackling corruption in their own countries.

In many Southeast Asian countries, a culture of impunity persists at the highest levels of government. There is a belief among many political leaders that once they leave office, the sins they committed while in power will not lead to jail. It is as if this is one of the benefits of being elected to office.

In the coming days, expect more delay tactics by Najib’s defence team. The case might even be halted again due to a legal challenge on a point of law.

But given the stakes involved, I have no doubt the new Malaysian Attorney-General, Tommy Thomas, will make sure Najib’s trial goes ahead. Malaysia as a nation cannot have closure over the 1MDB affair until he is called to answer for his alleged crimes.The Conversation

James Chin, Director, Asia Institute Tasmania, University of Tasmania

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The proposed National Integrity Commission is a watered-down version of a federal ICAC


Yee-Fui Ng, Monash University

The federal government has announced it will establish a Commonwealth Integrity Commission. This new commission will be the peak body to detect and investigate corrupt and criminal behaviour by Commonwealth employees.

This announcement followed mounting pressure from Labor, the Greens and independent MPs, who argued that a national integrity commission was vital to rebuild trust in Australian democracy.




Read more:
Government agrees to national anti-corruption body – with strict limits


On November 26, independent MP Cathy McGowan introduced a private member’s bill for the introduction of a national integrity commission, further increasing the pressure on the government.

All Australian states have anti-corruption commissions, and the federal government is lagging behind in this area.

Why do we need this commission?

The case for a national integrity commission is strong.

Australia has fallen steadily in Transparency International’s global corruption index, from eighth place in 2012 to 13th this year.

More alarming is the fact that one in 20 Australian public servants said in a survey last year that they had seen a colleague acting in a corrupt manner. This figure has doubled in the past three years.

Moreover, a Griffith University survey has found strong public support for a national integrity commission, with two-thirds (67%) of Australians in favour of one.

What will the commission look like?

The commission will be an independent statutory agency led by a commissioner and two deputy commissioners. It will have two divisions: a public sector division and a law enforcement integrity division.

The Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity will be reconstituted as the law enforcement integrity division with an expanded jurisdiction. But its jurisdiction will be limited to certain departments and agencies dealing with law enforcement and those that have coercive powers, such as the Australian Securities and Investments Commission.

The public sector integrity division has a broader coverage. It includes public service departments and agencies, parliamentary departments, statutory agencies, Commonwealth companies and corporations, Commonwealth service providers and any subcontractors they engage, as well as parliamentarians and their staff.

Is the proposed model adequate?

The proposed model is a watered-down version of an anti-corruption commission, with limited powers.

The Commonwealth Integrity Commission will have the power to conduct public hearings only through its law enforcement division.

Conversely, the public sector integrity division with the broader remit will not have the power to make public findings of corruption. Instead, it will be tasked with investigating and referring potential criminal conduct to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions.

This is a far more limited jurisdiction compared to its equivalent state counterparts, such as the New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), which has the ability to conduct public hearings and make findings of corruption in the public sector.

Although it is envisaged that the Commonwealth Integrity Commission will play a role in preventing corruption, this model lacks a dedicated corruption prevention division. This is a pro-integrity function that monitors major corruption risks across all sectors.




Read more:
Australians think our politicians are corrupt, but where is the evidence?


There are also other activities that do not amount to corruption, but nevertheless show an undue influence on government. Ideally, a federal anti-corruption commission should sit alongside a broader package of reforms that impose stronger rules on lobbying and political donations, as well as a code of conduct for MPs, policed by an independent commissioner.

This would form an interlocking political integrity system that would keep politicians honest.

The government is taking submissions on the proposed model for the Commonwealth Integrity Commission.

It is commendable that the government is finally taking action on anti-corruption measures. However, it is important to get the model right. The proposed model is an improvement on the status quo of patchwork regulation, but does not go far enough to properly investigate corruption in federal government.The Conversation

Yee-Fui Ng, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Government agrees to national anti-corruption body – with strict limits


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The government has given in to pressure to set up a new Commonwealth
Integrity Commission
but its operation would be strictly
circumscribed, without the ability to hold public hearings into
allegations of corruption against politicians.

While the new organisation would be the lead body in Australia’s
multi-agency anti-corruption framework, Scott Morrison stressed the
government had learned the lessons of “failed experiments” at state
level.

“I have no interest in establishing kangaroo courts that, frankly,
have been used, sadly, too often for the pursuit of political,
commercial or bureaucratic agendas in the public space”, he told a
joint news conference with Attorney-General Christian Porter.

The announcement comes after crossbench pressure in the final sitting
of parliament for a new federal anti-corruption body, which had
earlier been promised by the opposition. Morrison said the government
had been working on the issue since January.




Read more:
View from The Hill: Day One of minority government sees battle over national integrity commission


Opposition leader Bill Shorten slammed the proposed body as “not a
fair dinkum anti-corruption commission”. It would be limited in scope
and power and have no transparency.

Also – given it would not be able to investigate matters
retrospectively – “Mr Morrison should explain to the Australian people
why he wants to set up a national anti-corruption commission which
curiously exempts himself and the current government from any
scrutiny”.

Morrison and Porter said in a statement that the CIC, an independent
statutory agency, would be headed by a commissioner and two deputy
commissioners, and have public sector and law enforcement integrity
divisions.

“The public sector integrity division will cover departments, agencies
and their staff, parliamentarians, and their staff, staff of federal
judicial officers, and subject to consultation judicial officers
themselves, as well as contractors.”

The Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity would be
reconstituted as the law enforcement integrity division. It would have
an expanded jurisdiction to also include the Australian Competition
and Consumer Commission, the Australian Prudential Regulation
Authority, the Australian Securities and Investment, the Australian
Taxation Office, and the whole of the Agriculture Department.

Both divisions would investigate allegations of criminal corruption.
The criminal law would be amended to add new corruption offences.

The CIC would have the power to conduct public hearings only through
its law enforcement division.

The public sector integrity division would not be able to make public
findings but would investigate potential criminal conduct and refer
matters to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions.

The government outline of its proposed operation says “it will only
investigate criminal offences, and will not make findings of
corruption at large.

“It will not make findings of corruption (or other criminal
offending). Findings of corruption will be a matter for the courts to
determine, according to the relevant criminal offence. This addresses
one of the key flaws in various state anti-corruption bodies, being
that findings of corruption can be made at large without having to
follow fundamental justice processes.”

The CIC’s investigatory role is to “complement” the work of the
Australian federal Police. “The AFP will retain its role in
investigating criminal corruption outside of the public sector, and
could cooperate with or take over investigations on referral by the
CIC where appropriate”.

The public sector division “will focus on the investigation of serious
or systemic corrupt conduct, rather than looking into issues of
misconduct or non-compliance under various codes of conduct”.

Independent Andrew Wilkie said the proposal was “fundamentally flawed
and entirely unacceptable.”

“For example the public sector integrity division, which will
investigate parliamentarians and their staff, can only investigate a
specific set of criminal offences and can’t make findings of
corruption, which is just bizarre.

“Moreover an MP can only be referred by a particular agency and
there’s no way for the public to refer someone – and there’ll be no
public hearings at all meaning the Commission will operate behind
closed doors”.

Crossbencher Kerryn Phelps tweeted “I can’t speak for the entire
crossbench but I certainly won’t be supporting any proposal that fails
to result in adequate transparency and proper investigative powers”.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Australians think our politicians are corrupt, but where is the evidence?



File 20180821 30593 idbm42.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Former NSW minister Ian Macdonald (left) and union boss John Maitland are just two of the prominent figures who have been swept up in anti-corruption investigations at the state level.
Joel Carrett/AAP

Yee-Fui Ng, Monash University

A recent survey by Griffith University has found Australians’ trust in government is sliding. Trust and confidence in government fell in the last year to 46% at the federal and state levels.

There are also serious concerns about officials and politicians using their positions to benefit themselves or their families (62%), or favouring businesses and individuals in return for political donations or support (56%).

Worse still, there has been a 9% increase since 2016 in perceptions that federal members of parliament are corrupt (85% saying “some” are corrupt, 18% responding that “most/all” are corrupt).

What has caused the loss of public trust?

There is a public perception that a small elite is reaping large benefits in Australian society in terms of political influence and its flow-on dividends.

In Australia, the “game of mates” is flourishing. There’s now a revolving door in politics with many politicians, advisers and senior government officials leaving the public sector to become well-paid lobbyists.

Add to that the appointments of political “mates” to commissions, tribunals and cushy ambassadorships and the blatant misuse of parliamentary entitlements such as helicopter trips on taxpayer funds.

Political parties are also accepting millions of dollars in donations from lobbyists and others interested in influencing policy outcomes.

All of this adds to the perception that the system is rigged – and not in favour of the person on the street.

So, there is evidence of corruption in Australia?

The question is whether the perception of corruption is matched by reality.

Australia has fallen steadily in Transparency International’s global corruption index, from 8th place in 2012 to 13th this year. But even so, Australia is the 13th-least corrupt country in the world, which is still a respectable ranking.

More alarming is the fact that one in 20 Australian public servants said in a survey last year that they had seen a colleague acting in a corrupt manner. This figure has doubled in the past three years.

In the 1980s, there were incidences of large-scale corruption that rocked the country, culminating in the Fitzgerald Inquiry in Queensland and the WA Inc Royal Commission in Western Australia. These scandals led to the resignations and imprisonments of various former ministers and officials.

Although we have not sunk to such depths since then, state anti-corruption commissions, such as the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption, have uncovered various instances of corruption in recent years. The NSW ICAC’s inquiries have led to the resignations of several politicians, as well as the conviction of former MP Eric Obeid.

Another classic case of corruption exposed by the ICAC led to the downfall of former Newcastle lord mayor, Jeff McCloy. McCloy famously bragged that politicians treated him like a “walking ATM” and admitted to giving two MPs envelopes of cash amounting to AU$10,000.

There is also a question about what we don’t know. Many more politicians may be getting away with corrupt activities because Australia doesn’t have a federal anti-corruption body.

Do we need a federal anti-corruption commission?

In one word: yes.

All states have anti-corruption bodies that have brought to light many indiscretions by politicians that would have otherwise remained hidden. The federal government is lagging behind in this crucial area.

At the federal level, there is no transparency in backroom dealings by those in power, coupled with lax rules that can be abused. In these circumstances, corruption can take root without us knowing about it. An anti-corruption agency would be a powerful deterrent against improper behaviour.

There is strong public support for a federal anti-corruption body in the Griffith University survey, with two-thirds (67%) of Australians in favour of this.

The Labor Party has pledged to introduce a federal integrity commission if it wins the next election.

There are also other activities that do not amount to corruption, but nevertheless shows an undue influence on government. Ideally, a federal anti-corruption commission should sit alongside a broader package of reforms that impose stronger rules on lobbying and political donations, as well as a code of conduct for MPs, policed by an independent commissioner.

This would form an interlocking political integrity system that would keep the politicians honest.

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The Conversation

Our faith in government has been eroded by a lack of transparency and the perception that those in power are enjoying unfair benefits. Creating robust institutions, rules and processes that can act as checks and balances on governmental power is key to a vibrant democracy – and will be the first step towards rebuilding public trust.

Yee-Fui Ng, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, Monash University

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