Federal corruption commission will not stop the rorts

While “fixing” each of these problems would be a step in the right direction, there is much more to be done.

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What is fundamentally missing from government and public administration in Australia today is accountability for budget expenditure – the $636 billion of Australian government expenditure projected for 2021-22 (in the 2022-23 budget papers).

Politicians typically want to talk about expenditure while taxpayers want to hear how spending affects their lives. This is arguably what the Public Service Act (1999) intended in requiring that the Australian Public Service serves “the Government, the Parliament, and the Australian public”.

Much of the “fix” encouraging our politicians to concentrate on what they do best – developing policy in the community and building coalitions for implementation, while allowing the public service to do what it does best, namely advising on the conversion of political and policy objectives into successful programs on the ground and on the required connections across government to integrate all relevant parts of government.

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A prerequisite for an optimal public service is the creation of some distance between government and its public administration arm, replacing the prevailing command and control modus operandi of recent governments with one of “collaboration”. Under the Albanian
government this could be developed around a foundation of new respect between ministers and public servants that our new prime minister has pointed to.

Unfortunately this laxity in accounting to the Australian people for the primary task of government – ​​a fundamental form of corruption in itself – encourages further corruption down the line.

Once our politicians discover that they are not really accountable for public expenditure in the main game of government it is a short step to further fiddling the public through restricted tenders, mates given plum jobs, valueless overseas travel, choosing friendly consultants for key policy advisory jobs , and feeding the past politicians’ network to ensure room for themselves when they move on.

However, we must be cognizant of the recent reminder by British philosopher ACGrayling that there is no more important foundation to democracy than an informed public. Embedding a culture of accountability and transparency in politics would do more to diminish “corruption” than any integrity commission.

Indeed, properly pursued, it should diminish the activities of the proposed national integrity commission. So while a national integrity commission may be part of the answer it is certainly neither the complete answer nor the most important part of it.

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