Even the most naïve among us would recognise Prime Minister Abbott’s motivation for establishing the royal commissions into Trade Unions and the Home Insulation Program. He wanted to inflict lasting damage on the legacy of his political opponents – Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd were to be trophies for his political mantelpiece.
Unfortunately for Mr Abbott, it hasn’t worked out the way he planned.
Royal commissions? What royal commissions? The only show in town is the New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC). Having already claimed two premiers and numerous ministers and backbenchers, ICAC shows no signs of slowing the political bloodletting.
In the wings, there is a deafening roar from social media calling for the establishment of a federal ICAC. Not because the public wants cheap entertainment, but because the revelations in NSW confirm what many have long suspected: entrenched unethical and illegal behaviour is festering in our the nation’s political shadowlands.
Growing up in Queensland under the deeply tainted Bjelke-Petersen government, the revelations from ICAC seem all too familiar. The Fitzgerald Inquiry (1987-89) revealed millions of dollars flowing into the National Party from local and overseas investors, with these amounts apparently being used to facilitate government decisions.
For the Bjelke-Peterson government, the Fitzgerald Inquiry was a runaway train – just as NSW’s ICAC is for the sitting Liberal government. The Liberal casualties alone could field a cricket team, with the tantalising prospect of more to come. Recently-revealed documents show the money trail extends beyond the NSW borders to the federal Liberal party, right up to the Prime Minister’s door. Only the most blinkered among us are not surprised.
Victoria has its own version of ICAC – The Independent Broad-Based Anti-Corruption Commission (IBAC), a body so insipid that it’s almost guaranteed to find nothing, unless the perpetrators offer a full personal confession. The government is secure in the notion it has a watchdog – but unfortunately for the public it is one that is constrained from looking in dark places.
Calls for a federal ICAC have so far gone unheeded by politicians and some elements of the mainstream media. The argument is that existing processes and procedures are more than capable of detecting and investigating corruption when required. In other words, it’s not necessary.
I think we’ve all been shocked at the revelations that have come out in NSW ICAC… I don’t believe the same case has yet existed to demonstrate these problems are prevalent in the national political debate in Australia.
Unfortunately the opposition leader has completely missed the point. Proving that something doesn’t exist is not the same as having no proof that it does. Just compare Victoria’s IBAC with New South Wales’ ICAC to understand the difference investigative powers can make.
If there is an existing federal process, could somebody explain why blatant abuse of power and process has repeatedly escaped investigation?
The James Ashby affair, for example, vindicates the curiosity of citizen journalists to ask the questions that the mainstream media would not. Senior Liberal party figures have now been implicated following Ashby’s paid interview with Channel 9’s 60 Minutes. Labor MP Michael Danby has asked for the matter to be investigated by the Federal DPP.
Not before time.
Only through the powers of a royal commission will the public ever know the extent of the sordid deals, influence peddling and potentially corrupt behaviour that infiltrate our parliament. Leaving matters such as the Ashby Affair unresolved simply erodes public confidence in the political and legal process. If there is a case to answer, let’s deal with it and move on.
Perhaps one day we could also get to the bottom of Tony Abbott’s slush fund ‘Australians for Honest Politics’, and understand the extent of our Prime Minister’s questionable activities in relation to the Australian Electoral Commission. With the passage of time, this seems less rather than more likely – because pursuing it would appear tantamount to a witch-hunt.
On this note, there is a danger that a federal ICAC could become a vehicle for pursuing political witchhunts, much like Abbott’s royal commissions. This can be avoided, however, if the federal body is designed correctly and does not result in an excuse for inaction.
An astounding 98% of respondents to a Sydney Morning Herald poll indicated support for a federal ICAC. Clearly, NSW’s ICAC has shaken public confidence in democracy.
The genie is out of the bottle.
Can our political representatives see past their own short term political fortunes to act for the good of the nation?
Time – or the genie – will tell.