In Western Australian the anti-corruption watchdog has unearthed some startling revelations of undue influence by disgraced former Premier Brian Burke. But is anybody lifting up rocks to shed light on the creepy crawlies that lie beneath in other states?

It’s surely not mere coincidence that the states which have standing anti-corruption watchdogs — WA, Queensland and NSW — are the states where dodgy behind-the-scenes deal making and influence peddling has come to light.

In an interview on Four Corners former director of the Queensland Criminal Justice Commission, Mark Le Grand made this point about the idea that corruption is contained within state boundaries:

Police corruption results from policing, it’s neither state-based, nor federal-based. It’s the result of the temptations and risks of policing, so I think it’s a nonsense to talk about it being a state phenomenon and not a federal phenomenon.

Stephen Bartos, director of the National Institute for Governance at the University of Canberra, says similar temptations exist in the political sphere but there’s a great reluctance on the part of party hardheads to set up independent watchdogs that could unearth politically embarrassing material.

The anti-corruption bodies in Queensland, WA and NSW came about only because of intense political crises that forced governments to act, he said.

“Governments don’t naturally feel included to set up things like the independent commission against corruption in NSW — they only do it when they’re forced to by a crisis. But once they exist they’re hard to shut down again. Once they’re in existence they have an ongoing role.”

But according to Bartos in the other states “we’re not finding it because nobody is trying to unearth it” — and there’s no equivalent on a Commonwealth level either. Meanwhile, he said, Tasmania is a hot bed of scandals and they don’t have an anti-corruption commission.

“Is every other state and territory immune from corruption? Clearly not. In other states and territories the role of corruption commissions is performed by a mix of auditors and ombudsmen both of whom have some degree of independence and investigative powers.”

But not enough. Investigative journalist Bob Bottom said Victoria was the most graphic illustration of political reticence when it comes to anti-corruption watchdogs that could actually bring corruption to light.

“There was a gangland war in which 28 people were murdered and there was a move to set up an anti-corruption body. Instead the Government gave Royal Commission type powers to the police commissioner.”

Bottom said the WA revelations only came out with the powers for the Crime and Corruption Commission and in states where there isn’t an independent scrutiny mechanism it’s less likely that corruption will emerge and more likely it’ll be covered up.

Former National Crime Authority head and Crikey legal commentator Peter Faris has also been a strong advocate for a standing anti-corruption body in Victoria and other states that lack them. 

“The idea the official corruption stops at the border is nonsense. We’re not hearing much about political corruption in Victoria because nobody is investigating it. There’s nobody minding the shop,” he said. 

Peter Fray

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