By Joe Montero
A group of former judges, lawyers and integrity experts has just formed a new anti-corruption body called the Centre for Public Integrity. By doing so, they join in with the serious concern evident within the Australian community, over the rise of this cancer within the Australian political system and society.
Corruption is not just about brown paper bags under the table, awarding post career positions for giving a helping hand, and spending too much taxpayer’s money on oneself. A series of recent cases have shown that this is a real problem, crying out to be dealt with.
Even more insidious is soft corruption. coming from like pressure put on by lobbyists, mates networks, the dependency of political parties on financial contributions from wealthy benefactors, and wrong actions and lies told to achieve certain political ends.
The combination of hard and soft corruption has always been with us. The difference today is, the evidence suggests, that it is worse than it used to be.
Behind this is the hard reality that politics and economics have become less stable, and combined with a significant increase in the level of monopoly control over all spheres of big business. The merger of the state and private corporations has risen to a new level, and has been helped along, by the drive of privatisation, corporatisation and the escalating use of contracting out of government services.
Simply put, there are more opportunities for corrupt behaviour, and there are those only too happy to take advantage of it.
This comes together with the rise in government secrecy, despite the existence of transparency policies and freedom of information law. They are not working. The carrying out of corrupt business needs a cloak of secrecy to thrive in.
An extension of the rising secretiveness of government has been the lengths to which the political establishment is now prepared to go, in order to silence critics. Whistleblowers have become special targets.
A corrupt regime is afraid of its citizens, who have the potential of banding together and causing change. When there is a break in trust, as has happened, the fear of those who are benefiting rises.
Those who speak out are therefore made out as villains. Laws are put in place, which trample on the right to speak. Those seen as a threat to the cosy arrangement are spied on, at a level that was once considered unthinkable.
These are exactly are exactly the changes we are seeing in Australia.
Take the prosecution of Richard Boyle, the tax office employee who revealed how the tax office has been driving small businesses to the brink, and Witness K and Bernard colliery, who exposed illegal tapping of East Timor’s government over lucrative oil and gas reserves. They are other cases in line for the same.
Then there is the disgraceful treatment of Julian Assange. Australia’s ha taken part in the persecution of one of our own, just because he has exposed some inconvenient truths. Julian Assange is being used as an example, to send out a warning to others.
When those who speak out and are put on trial, reporting of what is going on is now made illegal – when the government wants it that way – and those who might dare report, are subject to possible imprisonment.
Everything is justified on the grounds of national security. This is not about national security. It is about protecting corrupt behaviour. It must be called out for what it is.
Let’s mention the scandal of the banks, and the Royal Commission that the Turnbull and Morrison governments worked so hard to prevent. The extent corrupt and anti-social behaviour was laid out, and it is already evident, the zeal put into prosecuting ordinary citizens will not be applied to the banks. The pattern is clear.
In a statement launching the Centre for Public Integrity, former Victorian court of appeal judge Stephen Charles said that this year’s federal election provided, “ample evidence of the power of money in our political system.”
“Reform of our political finance and lobbying regulations is urgently needed to stop undue influence of those with money to spend on donations and campaign,” he continued to say.
But anyone expecting change to come quickly from those who are benefiting from the way things are, are going to be seriously disappointed.
Change will only come about when the Australian community makes it happen. It will not come via appeals to the existing political establishment to do the right thing.
A willingness to act is spreading on various fronts. This is the answer. Communities are starting to come together to defend their rights. journalists are stepping up their efforts to ensure the right to report in the public interest. Australians are moving in to support those who are being persecuted.
The founding of the Centre for Public Integrity is another component of this emerging tide, which brings the possibility of Australia being made into a better place, where corruption in all its forms, can be held in check.