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Corruption is a regional issue: will Australia accept the challenge?

Sam Koim addresses Canberra conferenceSAM KOIM

Edited extracts of a speech to the Pacific challenges and Australian engagement forum at Parliament House, Canberra, 12 October 2015

AUSTRALIA and New Zealand are the only developed countries in the Pacific region, being surrounded by a cluster of developing and, to a certain extent, impoverished, island nations.

There are many issues countries in this region are concerned about and taking collective responsibility to address: issues such as climate change, natural disasters, gender based violence and the spread of disease.

Corruption is one such issue worthy of attention at the regional level.

It undermines economic performance and development, the rule of law, democracy and it causes social disorder.

The prevalence of corruption is the direct cause of pervasive poverty in our region. Some contend that poverty is the cause of corruption but I hold a contrary view.

I come from a country richly endowed with natural resources yet the majority of our people live in abject poverty. Corruption is the direct cause of poverty in my country and, I believe, many other Pacific Island countries.

The excess effects of corruption spread beyond domestic borders. They take the form of refugees, money laundering and other illicit activities. The digital world has changed the dynamics of the world map and our jurisdictional differences are becoming less of a barrier to those who wishing to conduct illicit financial transactions.

Pacific islands governments are plagued by corruption scandals.

Today, we are witnessing a growing trend that those in power use that power to enrich themselves and their cronies at the expense of the people.

When the anti-corruption institutions hold them to account, they refuse to submit. They use their power and state resources to subjugate anti-corruption measures and avoid scrutiny.

There are many stories from Papua New Guinea alone.

I cite the forgotten case of Woodlawn Capital, where Australian financial advisors of the Australian Investment Company (that did not have a trading license) were involved in diverting K100 million of PNG Motor Vehicle Insurance Ltd funds.

Then there was the revelation by Australian authorities that at least $200 million of PNG corruption proceeds are laundered to Australia every year.

And the recent finding of the Financial Action Task Force that Australia is becoming the hotspot property investment destination, including funds derived from illicit sources mostly in Asia Pacific countries.

The SBS Dateline television program in June revealed how Australian lawyers are involved in laundering corruption proceeds in Australia.

And the Sydney Morning Herald exposé a few days ago of an Australian oil company, the Australian branch of an international bank and Australian lawyers involvement in structuring a predatory loan arrangement.

These are all cases glaring at Australia for its attention and action.

In saying this, I am conscious of the fact that, in raising the temperature of anti-corruption in another country, you will inescapably feel the heat posed to your other interests.

But if a corruption free environment and good governance are the values and standards we want to see reflected in our neighbourhood, we should also live for and fight for their worth, even though it may come at a price.

A few may not like it, but the victimised majority will appreciate it. This I can vouch for based on my personal experience.

Australia has obligations under various international memberships and agreements. Australia can trumpet the robustness of its own domestic mechanisms but if that ‘robust’ system is not detecting and combating corruption and money laundering, then that system is a problem. Or is it just a case of lack of political will?

We need a regional leader to stand up and equitably respond to the prevalent corruption issues plaguing our region. The real test of leadership is action.

I believe that complicity in the threat of organised crimes such as corruption and money laundering has no place in the Australian society, hence my call.

So I rest with this – when does corruption in one country really become a matter for the regional leader?


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Paul Oates

There is an old Roman proverb that goes: "When your neighbour's house is on fire, it becomes your problem."

Philip G Kaupa

Sam has been hard behind the scenes fighting with a body of corrupt elites, not only the political leaders but also the ones mandated to uphold the rule of law.

If the big Kangaroo can participate invisibly in corrupt deals, our proud birds of paradise are no exception.

If the few are violent
Why is the majority silent?

Daniel Ipan Kumbon

Australia must play a leading role in fighting corruption in the region. It must not become another Cayman Islands or the Swiss Bank and a safe haven for crooks from island states.

The Australian government must blow the trumpet and reveal corrupt deals involving politicians and bureaucrats from PNG.

Help PNG police dump them where they belong - in prison like boat loads of asylum seekers are dumped on Manus Island.

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