What to do in case of irrelevant government
The deliberate corrosion of public service

The erosion of Australia’s political integrity

Michael Pascoe, Gladys Berejiklian and Darryl Maguire - "Political corruption has evolved to the extent of politicians claiming it doesn’t matter and voters expect it"

| The New Daily

SYDNEY - Evolution happens. Sometimes it’s fast, turbo-charged by an asteroid; sometimes it’s at the speed of dripping water wearing a channel through rock, but it happens.

Right now we are witnessing a high-speed evolution of political integrity in Australia.

In fairly short order, we’ve gone from a premier grabbing bags of cash and selling knighthoods, to a premier resigning over what might be a matter of diving into the pork barrel to do a mate a favour.

The journey from premier Sir Robert Askin to premier Gladys Berejiklian represents a tide in the affairs of politics that is gaining momentum.

For the moment, the flood is crashing up against a resolute wall shielding the Morrison government’s lack of integrity and its unprecedented exploitation of public money for the benefit of the Liberal and National parties – but that wall can’t last.

The disparity between what is expected of New South Wales politicians and what federal politicians flaunt is one of the three core issues driving the rise of the independents’ movement towards the next election.

Ms Berejiklian’s defenders are able to claim it is unfair for her to be expected to resign from a state Coalition government when the federal coalition government:

- welcomes onto its benches a politician who has accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars from donors he either can’t or won’t name

- plunders taxpayers’ funds in a way at least as flagrant as the matters being investigated by the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption, and on a vastly larger scale

Ms Berejiklian’s critics – and fair-minded people –agree that it is unfair, but unfair to Australian citizens not to Ms Berejiklian.

If anything, the federal government should be held to higher standards than the states.

I want to be clear that this, like all the myriad opinion pieces rushed into print and broadcast since Friday, is written in ignorance of what ICAC knows about the ‘Daz and Glad’ affair.

I, like the opinion writers, do not know exactly what led ICAC to issue its Friday media release.

But such ignorance hasn’t stopped all manner of people voicing strong opinions for and against Ms Berejiklian, and for and against ICAC.

What is publicly known about the several million dollars given to Wagga’s Australian Clay Target Association has been best summarised by the ABC’s Paul Farrell in this article.

From Farrell’s article and the ICAC media release, we can safely expect the public hearings and ICAC’s findings will explore what precisely is the nature of ‘public trust’ that may or may not have been breached by Ms Berejiklian.

ICAC’s work will be a fine public service. We urgently need it as corruption also evolves. We can fall as well as rise.

From premier Rob Askin’s days of cash bundles, NSW moved to premier Neville Wran who, at best, turned a blind eye to obvious corruption.

It took Nick Greiner as Premier to make the big leap of establishing ICAC, and an ICAC with teeth at that.

Although Mr Greiner was damaged by ICAC – and subsequently cleared – he has continued to defend it from its detractors.

ICAC (and the Wood Royal Commission, substantially instigated by independent MP John Hatton) dragged NSW out of the sewer, lifting standards and cleaning out much of the corruption from both sides of politics.

It is the threat of ICAC, as much as what it actually does, that has enabled progress.

Now we have the potential to lift standards again after they have fallen over the past three years – providing ICAC isn’t nobbled.

Political corruption has evolved to the extent of politicians claiming that it doesn’t matter, and voters expect it.

That’s effectively what Ms Berejiklian said in 2020 when caught with her fingers in the shredder and what finance minister Simon Birmingham said three months ago defending a highly dubious car park approval scheme.

“It’s what electorates expect,” said Birmingham.

The federal government’s exploitation of taxpayers’ money for political party purposes has blown out into the billions and the government now boasts about the Treasury being looted.

“We must be always alert to the misuse of power,” warned Tony Harris, former NSW auditor-general, in an ABC interview after Ms Berejiklian resigned.

“The first issue we need in the social contract between voters and government is that we can trust government to do the right thing. The second issue is that they do the right thing as best they can.”

Using taxpayers’ money to buy votes to ensure re-election is not the right thing.

Using taxpayers’ money to do a favour for a little mate is not the right thing.

It is argued that Operation Keppel - the investigation into former NSW member of parliament and premier Berejiklian’s ex boyfriend, Darryl Maguire - has made the Morrison government even more opposed to a real national integrity commission.

But the absence of a federal ICAC will be even more invidious if the NSW ICAC’s investigation of Ms Berejiklian ends up defining what the ‘public trust’ is, making clear what is a government’s social contract with the people.

Federal Labor has committed to a genuine federal ICAC – one of Labor’s few points of strong policy differentiation.

An Australian election is pending and, if the result is close, Independents could again hold the balance of power.

Independent MP Helen Haines has her Australian Federal Integrity Commission bill ready for another go.

If more independents are elected, it will be on an integrity platform.

The ‘Daz and Glad’ show in ICAC has kicked on longer than I expected last year, but it is still relatively small beer.

Daryl Maguire was merely grifting on the edges of a much bigger game.

There is much to be done. Our political standards have a long way to evolve yet.


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