Please tell this government that fighting corruption is a strategy to boost economic growth

Parliament House

26 March 2022

By Serena Lillywhite, CEO
Originally published in The Canberra Times

In an election year, this month’s early Federal Budget will be put under an intense spotlight.

Yet even before a dollar has been committed to the 2023 Budget, our political leaders may have hampered the growth of the economy by failing to do more to tackle corruption.

Corruption has economic consequences.

Research by the International Monetary Fund found that a rise or fall in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) has a corresponding impact on a country’s economic performance.

As Australia’s CPI score has plummeted over the past decade – earlier this year Australia recorded its worst ever result – this may have had a significant impact on our budget bottom line.

Recent analysis by the University of Melbourne’s Fellow in Historical Studies, Tony Ward, revealed that if Australia had the same CPI score as we did in 2012, we would enjoy GDP per capita growth of 2.2% over the next few years instead of Treasury’s forecast 1.6%.

This extra 0.5% growth would generate an extra 60,000 jobs a year.

Professor Ward’s analysis suggests Australia’s 12-point decline in Transparency International’s corruption score is costing the Australian economy some 0.5% of GDP, or $10 billion a year.

It’s an economic impact that has a profound, if not visible, impact on our lives.

It is revenue that could have gone towards greater flood mitigation measures or a more generous disaster preparedness and recovery program.

This lost income could have given the government more options in offsetting the rising cost of living spearheaded by soaring petrol and food prices in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Corruption is not a victimless crime.

Corruption leads to public resources being wasted on political games, and short-term private interests being put before the long-term needs of the Australian people. Corruption leads to bad decisions, bad policies, and bad outcomes.​ It threatens the stability of our democracy, undermines people’s trust in government, and costs us dearly.

The upcoming Federal Budget and indeed federal election come at a critical time for Australia.

We need steady economic managers to handle multiple crises confronting Australia: climate change, geopolitical insecurity, the health and economic costs of the covid pandemic, and a housing crisis.

By ‘steady economic manager’ I mean people who act with the utmost integrity, transparency and accountability to put the public’s best interest first.

Our dramatic fall in our global corruption ranking underscores the urgent need for integrity reforms. We need: a national integrity commission with the full powers of a royal commission; greater controls over money in politics, lobbying and political donations; higher standards for politicians through a parliamentary code of conduct; and effective controls against money laundering and foreign bribery.

And we need to prioritise these reforms as a matter of urgency.

Greater transparency, accountability and integrity mean less wasted public funds, better targeted infrastructure, more services for those who need them, protection of our natural environment and political decisions that serve the people.

A number of political commentators have also highlighted that Australia’s failure to act on key issues has worked to weaken our democratic system.

This weakening is at a time when our leaders are keen to draw the contrast between the merits of liberal democracy against other autocratic and authoritarian regimes.

If Australia had taken action on integrity reforms this past decade, we would not only have boosted our economy and increased our international standing, but also we would stand on firmer ground when we take to the international stage as a champion of the liberal democratic system.

The Federal Budget is an important time in politics. It’s not just numbers on a balance sheet. What we decide to spend our money on signals what we consider to be important priorities. The Treasurer’s speech will outline what this government believes most worthy of public investment.

Will it be funding for a long-ago promised national integrity commission to reverse our downward slide into corruption?

Will it be further funding for the national audit office to ensure not a single dollar more in community grants is wasted?

Will there be any investment to restore Australians’ declining faith in our system of government?

When the Treasurer hands down an early Federal Budget on March 29, he will need to demonstrate that good economic managers act on corruption.

Photo by Josh Withers on Unsplash