Spotlight on money in politics

23 January 2020

Transparency International’s landmark annual report, the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), is the most widely used indicator of corruption worldwide. It assesses the level of public sector corruption in each of the world’s 180 countries according to data sources from expert independent institutions.

This year’s report has put Australia in 12thplace, scoring 77 points on the 100-point scale. Since 2012, Australia has slid 8 points in Transparency International’s global corruption ranking.

‘Transparency International is not giving Australia a gold star for effort. Australia’s rank on the corruption scale has increased a notch (from 13 to 12) only because the United Kingdom and Canada fell down’ said Transparency International Australia CEO Serena Lillywhite.

‘More revealing is the longer-term trend: since 2012, Australia has slipped 8 points, and that is a cause for concern.

‘This latest global report also points a finger squarely at the corrosive influence of money in politics. The murkier the political donations trail, the more corrupt a country is perceived to be. The more politicians consult with their friends and cronies rather than the broader public to inform their decisions, the more corrupt a country is perceived to be.

‘This further evidence confirms what Transparency International Australia and the majority of Australians have been saying for years: to stop corruption we need greater transparency and stronger rules around political donations, lobbying, and the revolving door between public office and company payroll. A healthy democracy requires transparency and accountability over who funds our politicians, who is trying to influence policy decisions and why.

‘Politicians who oppose transparency are running out of excuses.

‘Transparency International’s research highlights three essential characteristics that the world’s ‘cleanest’ countries have in common: a robust rule of law, independent oversight institutions, and a public with no tolerance for corruption.

‘In other words, loud Australians help keep our government honest.’

‘While Australia still ranks among the world’s most corruption-free countries, for a number of years the very institutions that keep us honest have been sorely tested.

‘Raids on the media, prosecution of whistleblowers, stacking independent institutions like the Administrative Appeals Tribunal with former politicians, defunding organisations like the Freedom of Information Commissioner, and attacks on people’s rights to protest – these all degrade the very institutions and expressions that provide important checks against the abuse of power and misuse of public funds.

‘To safeguard and strengthen our democracy we must value and strengthen the very institutions and people who hold the powerful to account. Whether they be journalists, whistleblowers, public servants or the general public, loud Australians make our democracy stronger.

‘Transparency International’s global recommendations to end corruption and restore trust in politics are also highly relevant to Australia:

  • Manage conflicts of interest, including by stopping the ‘revolving door’ that allows politicians and senior public servants to jump from public office to company payroll, and vice versa, far too quickly. We need longer cooling-off periods, and they must be enforced.
  • Control political financing, including by having political parties properly (real time) disclose sources of income.
  • Strengthen electoral integrity, including by preventing and sanctioning vote-buying and misinformation campaigns.
  • Regulate lobbying activities, including by making lobbying transparent.
  • Tackling preferential treatment, including by ensuring public funds are not allocated according to personal connections or biased towards special interest groups, for political purpose at the expense of the overall public good.
  • Empower citizens, by protecting civil liberties and political rights, including protecting citizen activists, whistleblowers and journalists in monitoring and exposing corruption.
  • Reinforce checks and balances, including by promoting the separation of powers, and strengthening judicial independence.

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