Why the ICAC finding is important – News Block

Corruption in Australia has a specific image. Money in brown paper bags. Bureaucrats in the making of developers. Politicians giving themselves and their peers lucrative opportunities. And the New South Wales Independent Anti-Corruption Commission (ICAC) has come forward with many of them in its time.

According to ICAC, Daryl Maguire fits the pattern: a scam MP, always looking for an opportunity to make money and unafraid of using his political connections, including his girlfriend, the treasurer and later prime minister, to exploit them. In one corrupt scheme after another, the former Wagga Wagga MP abused his office, public resources, code of conduct requirements and basic standards of integrity, albeit to little profit. It is the traditional “black” or “hard” corruption.

In contrast, Gladys Berejiklian gained nothing material from her corrupt conduct: intervening in taxpayer funding decisions; not reveal her conflict of interest; refusing to report Maguire’s apparent corruption to the ICAC. There were no brown paper bags, except for the ones she or Maguire brought home with groceries from their shared residence. There are no lucrative opportunities, no private money ready to flow if a result could be achieved.

However, he acted corruptly, allowing his affection for Maguire to influence public money allocation decisions, violating the ministerial code of conduct and failing to comply with his legal obligation to report corruption. His corrupt conduct was of the milder “gray” variety, but corruption nonetheless.

In reaching that conclusion, ICAC has relied in part on transcripts of messages between the two. Like any exchange between intimates, they are embarrassing reading. Only a strong public interest case justifies the publication of such material (one that has never existed in the case of Brittany Higgins, for example), necessitated by Berejiklian’s insistence on downplaying her relationship with Maguire before the ICAC. The footage demonstrates the depth of her relationship, and thus the former prime minister’s motivation for behaving as she did: caring for someone she described as “family”.

The minimization extends to many of his former colleagues, various journalists (beyond those of the aussie, who has a visceral hatred for the threat anti-corruption bodies pose to the Coalition), and even Labor Prime Minister Chris Minns. Voters might have been misled into thinking that yesterday he was talking about an ICAC finding against his own.

Part of that is the reluctance of major political parties to accept that subsidy decisions contrary to the public interest are corruption, not just the “nobody likes it, but we all do it” sport of pigs. Politicians have been slow to accept the fact that giving them the discretion to decide who receives taxpayer money inevitably leads to partisan decisions and amounts to an abuse of public office and the overriding of the public interest. As much as they decry opposition taunts, by the time politicians are in government, they crave the ability to make allocation decisions and resist attempts to impose scrutiny, accountability and public interest goals on the process.

Berejiklian, a renowned pork-barriller when in office, went the extra mile to criticize Maguire’s constituency, raising the Australian Clay Target Association’s now-notorious building proposal for consideration and interfering in the bureaucratic process of considering his ( lack of) merits. The fact that she did not disclose her conflict of interest (and she did not with another Maguire project she endorsed, the Riverina Conservatory of Music) was of less importance than her active facilitation of a proposal to spend taxpayer money on something that should never even have been considered.

But if your decision to interfere in grantmaking processes was motivated by love, politics, or (probably) both, it was corrupt conduct. One of the ICAC’s recommendations is that the NSW Parliament convince MPs and ministers that “the public power to appoint public office should be exercised for a public purpose, not for a private or political purpose. Furthermore, a public power cannot be exercised in relation to the location of a public establishment because it will help the re-election of a party member, rather than being the right place for it”.

ICAC made sure to find that Berejiklian also acted corruptly by failing in his legal duty to report Maguire’s corruption to ICAC. Some in the media think that Berejiklian “don’t dob ​​on her boyfriend” is a minor offense, overlooking not only that she was compelled to “dob”, boyfriend or not, but as prime minister of a state, one that for generations has been plagued with problems. with corruption at the highest levels, her duty as the highest ranking public official made reporting to the ICAC critical to good governance.

Corruption thrives in the dark, in the care of the partner and the exchange of favors, in silence so that the laughter continues, and in the care of the partner.

The findings rightly shift the poles of corruption away from the politically expedient threshold of criminal conduct toward abuse of public office and public money, and failure to meet basic integrity requirements. Is interfering in a grant award process to babysit your boyfriend as corrupt as taking a bribe from a developer? Yes, it is: waste costs taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars and loses worthwhile projects in favor of more politically expedient spending.

The federal National Anti-Corruption Commission that is about to open its doors has a similarly broad definition of corrupt conduct. It will examine violations of the public trust, abuse of office, misuse of information, or causing a public official to behave in a dishonest or biased manner (the conduct must also be serious or systemic).

The broader mandate is particularly important given that there are likely to be fewer traditional bribery-style corruption cases at the federal level, due to a lack of direct power in areas such as property, although the allegations against Stuart Robert, which he strongly denies, , could be an exception.

The Berejikliana sentence moves the debate on corruption to a delicate place for the main political parties, around how they make discretionary decisions about public resources. It’s no longer just about brown paper bags and envelopes stuffed with cash.

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