Saturday, October 24, 2020
Politics

Corruption can flourish unless we know who is meeting with whom

Corruption can flourish unless we know who is meeting with whom
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When it comes to who’s courting whom federally the public is in the dark because there aren’t even basic anti-corruption measures in place.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Prime Minister Scott Morrison (Image: AAP/Dean Lewins)

The revelation that New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian met with two convicted criminals at the behest of partner Daryl Maguire — after they had been knocked back for meetings by more junior ministers — is another staggering example of her misjudgement, and further evidence that she not merely turned a blind eye to but enabled the sordid activities of her spiv boyfriend.

It also again demonstrates how far ahead NSW is of the Commonwealth in terms of basic transparency and accountability.

The exposure of Maguire’s misconduct in 2018, renewed investigations into him since, the revelation of his relationship with Berejiklian and attempts to exploit his connection to her, has already demonstrated yet again the importance of a genuinely independent and unfettered anti-corruption body that can conduct public investigations and make findings of corruption.

As Crikey noted yesterday, the contrast with the pathetically weak federal integrity body offered — but never acted upon — by Scott Morrison couldn’t be more extreme. The prime minister’s body couldn’t investigate Maguire, couldn’t conduct a public investigation and couldn’t find his conduct corrupt — if it existed, which the government has shown no signs of seeking to achieve.

There’s another key transparency tool that the Morrison government refuses to consider: meetings diaries for ministers.

We knew something stank about Berejiklian’s meeting with the two publicans with criminal records back in 2018 when the release of her meetings diary for October 2017 confirmed she’d met with them and Maguire, who apparently no one suspected was her boyfriend at that point.

NSW has been publishing ministerial meetings diaries since 2014, when it followed Queensland in making available details of who premiers and ministers met with. The ACT now also publishes ministerial diaries.

New Zealand has ministerial meeting diaries. The UK government was forced by courts to publish diaries in 2015. Regional governments there do too.

Federal ministers (and shadow ministers), however, can meet anyone they like without any fear of the meeting being revealed. Who they meet with while on taxpayer-funded business is kept a secret.

It’s another example of how, when it comes to federal politics, the basic mechanisms to prevent corruption are entirely absent and we’re operating in the dark in trying to identify who is trying to meet ministers to bend regulations to suit their business interests.

NSW also has far more rigorous political donations laws. Property developers and gaming interests are banned from donating, there’s a (currently $6600) cap on donations; donations above $1000 must be reported and donors can’t hide behind the claim they’re “buying” seats at fundraisers in order not to report.

While transparency and integrity measures haven’t stopped corruption in NSW, they have made it easier to detect and gather evidence of it. The Commonwealth, however, has a pro-corruption institutional environment in which corrupt ministers and business interests keen to game regulatory outcomes can flourish.

As for Berejiklian, even without damning evidence from Maguire today and tomorrow, her credibility is permanently damaged by her meeting with Gino Scutti and Nicholas Tinning. They are men who successive gaming ministers had refused to meet.

This is the insidious style of NSW politics: when ministers do the right thing and avoid being lobbied inappropriately, they can be short-circuited by someone exploiting a connection elsewhere. In this case, with the premier.

The group Berejiklian met with failed to get the outcome they wanted. Maguire, it seems, failed at every scheme he tried. At least we had some visibility of his efforts.

How many shonks and spivs are exploiting their connections in Canberra to try to influence Morrison and his ministers — or, for that matter, Labor’s Anthony Albanese and his team? We have no idea.

How can we more effectively fight corruption? Let us know your thoughts by writing to [email protected]. Please include your full name to be considered for publication in Crikey’s Your Say section

Peter Fray

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