The government’s unrelenting attacks on the Australian Human Rights Commission and its president Gillian Triggs have undermined Australia’s international reputation for transparency and left it in an embarrassing 13th place in the latest Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index. The index is assembled by the global anti-corruption body from eight independent indices by multilateral bodies like the World Bank, NGOs and media sources like the Economist Intelligence Unit.
In 2012, when Labor was in office, Australia was ranked equal seventh, with a score of 85. Since then, our score has fallen to 79, meaning we are now equal 13th. Denmark and New Zealand remain the top-ranked countries; Australia is ahead of the United States (74) and France (69) but behind countries like Switzerland (86), the UK (81) and Germany (81).
In a damning assessment of Australia, the report placed us on its “Watch List” and remarked:
“Australia remains outside the top 10 countries on the index for the third consecutive year. Australia’s performance is marred by the recent foreign bribery scandals and threats to independent institutions. Following the report of the Australia Human Rights Commission (AHRC), which documents evidence of profound physical and sexual abuse in asylum seeker detention centres, the AHRC president’s credibility and integrity was unrelentingly attacked. Such intimidation undermines the independence of institutions like the AHRC, which are critical to functioning democracy.”
Triggs has been the target of a constant campaign by government ministers and MPs, in league with News Corp outlets, to undermine her, and Attorney-General George Brandis pushed her to resign in 2014 with the offer of another job. The AHRC has compiled evidence of extensive sexual assaults and child abuse, along with other human rights abuses, in the Department of Immigration’s offshore detention facilities under both Labor and the Coalition, which the Department has persistently sought to cover up.
The Transparency International report is difficult for the government to dismiss as the government has paid millions of dollars to TI to use its expertise on corruption in other countries. In 2015, TI was given nearly $7 million by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to build capacity for transparency in Asia-Pacific countries as part of the government’s wider anti-corruption efforts in its aid program. TI was also awarded four contracts worth around $8 million for programs in Africa, Latin America and Asia under Tony Abbott.
Australian business has done little to burnish Australia’s anti-corruption credentials, either, from BHP in Cambodia and its medals deal with China for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, to numerous allegations of corruption involving CIMIC (the old Leighton Holdings) in the Middle East, to Rio Tinto’s problems in China and the Simandou iron ore project in Guinea. As well Sundance Resources and the Snowy Mountain Engineering Company are involved in corruption claims in the Congo and Sri Lanka respectively. Tabcorp is being investigated by the Australian Federal Police for allegedly being involved in bribing the family of the Cambodian Prime Minister at a time when the company was investigating getting a gaming licence in that country; WorleyParsons has joined Leighton Holding’s offshore arm and dozens of foreign multinationals facing allegations that they used corrupt agents to win government contracts in oil producing nations — not to mention the broader matter of Unaoil, unearthed by Fairfax Media and The Huffington Post.
We like to think of ourselves as pretty clean compared to the rest of the world. The truth is uglier.