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It's International Anti-Corruption Day: How does Australia measure up?



Ahead of International Anti-Corruption Day on 9 December, Transparency International released its latest annual Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI). The CPI allocates countries a score from 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean) based on the perceived extent of public sector corruption as measured by a number of data sources (13 in 2013)—principally surveys of corruption and business experts. Australia’s score dropped from 85 in 2012 to 81 in 2013, and its ranking from seventh to ninth out of 177 countries.

A number of high-profile matters may have contributed to Australia’s public sector being perceived as more corrupt than previously, including:
It is important to note that the CPI measures perceived, not actual, corruption. The methodology has also been questioned by some for reliance on expert opinion (for an overview, see ‘Is Transparency International’s measure of corruption still valid?’). However, head of Transparency International Australia, Michael Ahrens told SBS that many companies take the CPI into account when assessing business opportunities; the way Australia is perceived can affect their willingness to invest or do business in Australia. Further, Australia received a poor report in October 2012 for its enforcement of the OECD’s Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions. It fared better in an assessment of its compliance with the criminalisation, law enforcement and international cooperation provisions of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption in June 2012, but has been slow to respond to some of the recommendations for improvement.

The previous Labor Government introduced a range of measures focused on better addressing corruption risks in Commonwealth law enforcement agencies, including:
  • expanding the number of agencies under jurisdiction of the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity (ACLEI) by including Customs (from 1 January 2011), the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre, CrimTrac and parts of the Department of Agriculture (from 1 July 2013)
  • introducing targeted integrity tests of Australian Federal Police, Customs and Australian Crime Commission officers and
  • reforms to address vulnerabilities at Australian airports, including tighter restriction on access to Customs airport control rooms and staff rosters, and new rules for processing passengers known to officers.
Customs also released a Blueprint for reform 2013–2018 in July 2013, under which a range of measures will be established to improve the integrity of the organisation, including the appointment of a Special Integrity Adviser reporting to the CEO, the introduction of anti-corruption impact assessments for major business changes and enhanced pre-employment screening. The Blueprint was informed by the Customs Reform Board First Report, ACLEI’s interim report on its investigation of alleged corruption by Customs officers at Sydney International Airport and a capability review of Customs by the Australian Public Service Commissioner.

The Coalition supported the above measures when in opposition and in its Policy to Tackle Crime committed to a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to corruption in Commonwealth law enforcement and border protection agencies. On 27 November 2013, the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection announced the establishment of a new internal taskforce designed to complement reforms already underway by targeting ‘hard to detect’ corruption in Customs. The minister explained it will identify those who pose a significant risk to the agency through their behaviour, associations outside the workplace, or involvement in criminal activities, and also ‘significantly enhance the Service’s internal integrity intelligence capability by targeting hard to detect corruption and serious misconduct in cases where officers actively seek to conceal matters which may make their continued work as an ACBPS officer untenable’.

However, the new government has been quiet on what it might do about two reforms announced, but not completed, under the previous government. Public consultations on possible removal of the ‘facilitation payments’ defence to the foreign bribery offence concluded in February 2012, but no outcome was announced before the 2013 election. In September 2011, the Minister for Home Affairs announced the development and implementation of Australia’s first national anti-corruption plan. A discussion paper was released and consultations were led by the Attorney-General’s Department during 2011 and 2012, but a plan did not eventuate. If the government has plans for a more comprehensive approach to building integrity and combating corruption, International Anti-Corruption Day might be a good opportunity to make them known.