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In the international measure of governmental accountability, Australia is slipping to outside the top ten. Mind you, we’re ahead of the US, so, could be worse. Aussie, Aussie, etc.
This week, Transparency International released its annual global corruption index which suggests that Australia has failed to improve on transparency and accountability, ranking at 13th place for the second year running, down from 8th place in 2012.
The annual index ranks countries based on their perceived levels of corruption. This year, New Zealand and Denmark were awarded the top spots whilst North Korea, South Sudan and Somalia, South-Sudan occupy the bottom three places.
Transparency board member AJ Brown has expressed concerns for Australia:
“We have every reason to be concerned that next year, unless we start to take some concrete steps to build international confidence, then this may just have been a little step on a continued way down.”
Not surprisingly, Transparency International found a significant link between corruption and inequality, “which feed off each other to create a vicious circle between corruption, unequal distribution of power in society, and unequal distribution of wealth.”
It found that the lower-ranked countries are “plagued by untrustworthy and badly functioning public institutions like the police and judiciary.”
“Even where anti-corruption laws are on the books, in practice they’re often skirted or ignored. People frequently face situations of bribery and extortion, rely on basic services that have been undermined by the misappropriation of funds, and confront official indifference when seeking redress from authorities that are on the take.”
Higher-ranked countries had “greater press freedom, access to information about public expenditure, stronger standards of integrity for public officials, and independent judicial systems.”
Australia’s failure to introduce a federal corruption watchdog and protect whistleblowers, and our introduction of hundreds of laws which remove legal safeguards and protections have been identified as key reasons for our recent fall in the rankings.
The Prime Minister has dismissed the need of a federal corruption watchdog, despite an overwhelming majority of the public supporting the idea.
Sections 70 and 79 of the Crimes Act 1914 (Cth) make it a criminal offence to expose corruption and abuses in government agencies, and the criminalisation of whistleblowers was significantly expanded by the passing of the Border Force Act 2015 (Cth). Hundreds of doctors protested against these new laws, vowing to stay committed exposing abuses against clients held in off-shore immigration detention centres.
Australian Medical Association President Brian Owler expressed deep dissatisfaction with section 42 of the Border Force Act, which “puts most doctors in these circumstances in a very difficult situation if they have to face two years imprisonment for speaking out, or be quiet and let people suffer. That’s not appropriate.”
And new metadata retention laws has been used to target journalists who expose abuses in government, and to pursue and prosecute their confidential sources.
These are just a few of many laws which help keep a lid on government corruption, adding to hundreds of laws which remove legal safeguards and protections, thereby allowing state agents such as police to commit abuses with impunity. For example, since late 2014, ASIO officers have enjoyed immunity from both civil and criminal prosecution for acts carried out in the course of “special intelligence operations.” Officers now enjoy immunity even if they carry out raids on the innocent and commit acts of brutality.
It seems our government is increasingly intent on removing transparency, accountability and our civil rights.