Clean so far, but beware corruption

While South Australians share national concerns about corruption in political and public life, they think better of unions, the public service and the media than the rest of the country.

A national survey of perceptions of corruption is one of the focal points of a public lecture by Professor Adam Graycar, Professor of Public Policy and Director of the Research School of Social Sciences at the Australian National University. He will present Corrupting Public Policy at 6pm on Thursday, November 15 at Flinders University Victoria Square.

Globally, the World Bank has estimated that bribery costs about $1 trillion per year, while about $40 billion per year is looted by corrupt political leaders.

Professor Graycar warned corruption and its effect on public policies are not confined to developing countries, although corruption has a different dynamic in richer countries.

He notes that not all corruption is the same – it varies in different places and impacts differently.  South Australia is fortunate not to have been afflicted by major corruption scandals that have featured in most other Australian states in recent decades.

“We must not assume, because South Australia is one of the least corrupt places, that we can be complacent.  Apparently minor acts of corruption inflict damaging wounds in places that expect high standards of integrity,” Professor Graycar said.

“Where corruption exists it usually has a deleterious effect on the tone of government, the delivery of services and the distribution and quality of infrastructure.”

And perceptions do matter, Professor Graycar said.

“While Australia ranks as one of the 10 least corrupt countries in the world, perceptions that corruption is increasing can do harm to our international standing, and to community confidence,” he said.

“Countering corruption is a significant challenge for government, and the best approaches are education, prevention, and as a last resort, criminalisation. The key lies overwhelmingly in good governance.

“Poor governance creates opportunities for corruption when cultures allow sloppy behaviour, where dumb decision making is accepted, and where poor legislation allows discretion to people who do not have the skills to administer intelligently. The challenge in South Australia is to make sure public administration rises above these features.”

In common with the rest of the country, 43 per cent of South Australians believe that the level of corruption has increased in recent years, although virtually no-one reported experience of a public official wanting a bribe.

The institutions perceived nationally to be the least corrupt and enjoying most public confidence were the armed forces, the public service and the police.

Those deemed to be most corrupt were the media, trade unions and political parties.

Even so, South Australians were more positive than those interstate – 25 per cent of South Australians thought the unions were corrupt, compared to 39 per cent in the rest of Australia. South Australians also express more confidence in the public service – 63 per cent locally as against 55 per cent nationally.

But if people did observe or suspect corruption, the survey found that half would not know where to report it.

The lecture is presented by Flinders Institute of Public Policy and Management.

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