Jun 29, 2017

Rundle: you want a federal ICAC? Here’s how.

This is one of the tightest and most anti-democratic parliamentary systems on the planet. It's time to fix it.

Guy Rundle — Correspondent-at-large

Guy Rundle


"There’s a growing political movement for anti-corruption," someone said at an event your correspondent was speaking at last week. Really? In Australia? Where exactly is it? Where are the street marches and public rallies, the organisations, the pressure? Far from being seen as pressing, the issue is treated by many Australians with a type of fatalism. The manifold evidence is that the political system is riddled with active and passive corruption, from party donations for presumed policy shifts to outright payments to individual MPs and all points in between. The Greens and some crossbenchers have advocated for a federal ICAC, or corruption tribunal. The major parties will not go near it.

With good reason, in terms of their own survival. Every time someone starts a state ICAC, state governments fall, and MPs go to prison. There are backbenchers, ministers and shadows who are pissing razor blades at the possibility that either Turnbull or Shorten will weaken -- or strengthen, depending on your view -- and establish one. But such people can rest easy. There’s little chance of it. The truth is that the Australian political system can tick over indefinitely with very little regard to the stated wishes of its populace, so long as those stated wishes run against the interests of politicians as a group. The Australian federal system reproduces a system as resilient against real reform as a cockroach against nuclear war.

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22 thoughts on “Rundle: you want a federal ICAC? Here’s how.

  1. drsmithy

    A significant factor I think you haven’t touched on here is the historically woeful level of education in Australia about civics and citizenship.

    Also, I can’t agree with your apparent distaste for compulsory voting. IMHO it’s one of the few shining lights in our political process.

    1. AR

      Anyone who doubts that need only look at the UK & US.

    2. Curtis Wilkinson

      I agree, a possible answer is a type of national(not military) service at a certain age though at 18 the idea would have repulsed me, but a practical involvement in the idea of service and mixing of the classes really appeals to this older fella..

  2. jmendelssohn

    Those of us with long memories, especially if we’re from NSW, have a certain nostalgic pleasure for hung parliaments. We remember it was John Hatton and his sturdy band of fellow independents who forced a reluctant NSW government to hold the Wood Royal Commission which led to the reformation of the NSW Police Force.

  3. graybul

    “An absence of bans on political donations allows major parties to ignore the electorate entirely and cater to powerful moneyed interests.” One among many explanations of how . . . . our political (leadership?) expresses contempt for electorate.

    Once again Guy, you add a little more light. Around time of next election, electorate needs reminded of your words. For there can be no future, without change that reflects, demands, peoples needs be met.

    1. Damien

      That’d be the will of “the people” including:

      Most mechanics who’ll routinely charge you for work they haven’t done or do not require…
      Most pharmacy staff/owners who will happily sell you products that don’t actually do what they claim…
      Most landlords who’ll happily take your money whilst ignoring essential maintenance…
      Most real estate agents, “financial advisers” and “mortgage brokers” who will happily send you into financial ruin for a fat commission…
      Most accountants who will eagerly assist you with expoiting every possible financial loophole to ensure minimal contribution to the tax base…
      Most builders and tradespeople who will happily overcharge you a huge “margin” for easily sourced products…
      Most consumers, who knowingly buy products manufactured under highly dubious/slavelike conditions here or overseas and happily steal music, movies and TV series if they can get away with it…

      Hmmm…so most of our politicans are self-interested and corrupt are they? Surprising to hear given how “the people” they represent are purer than the driven snow…

      1. graybul

        So true Damien . . . but ‘behaviour’ of the people; lays no claim to leadership nor ‘swears’ to serve . . .

  4. Damien

    “The MPs within it are helped immensely by the clueless left-liberal discourse”.

    I’m not sure how writing an entire article suggesting “fixes” before concluding that they are unrealistic and sure to never be implemented is in any way less “clueless” or fatalistic.

    The main reason corruption is more obvious now is because 24 hour news coverage by the “clueless” press gallery makes it more visible to the general public (aka: “the people”) – most of whom would act equally corruptly if they could get away with it…

    But I’m sure that endless calls for a vague “revolution” from Razer and Rundle are far more constructive contributions to the discourse.

    1. gerald butler

      I think if a leader ran with a federal Icac,etc they could very well win an election on it. The temptation is there for someone to grasp.

  5. FIZZA's Foil

    You provided the solution to we mere mortals having an ICAC. Even if some might have hold their nose in the ballot booth, a sufficiently high vote The Greens will see it happen.

    There is an added bonus too, we might actually see some serious policies to tackle climate change.

  6. Will

    “There are backbenchers, ministers and shadows who are pissing razor blades at the possibility that either Turnbull or Shorten will weaken — or strengthen, depending on your view — and establish one.”

    That’s no doubt very true. But how about giving them all a hall pass for anything done in the past, and say five years to get their houses in order, before launching a federal ICAC? I’m not sure how you’d sell such a gradual process with grandfathering provisions to the public, but I think you could sell it to politicians, as they must know it’s only a matter of time before something so truly outrageous comes to light that creating a federal ICAC becomes unavoidable. Better a soft ICAC than a hard ICAC?

  7. Marcus Ogden

    In defence of some of the elements of the “quintuple lock” –
    1. Preferential voting is surely more democratic than first-past-the-post
    2. Compulsory voting frees candidates, especially those with limited resources, from having to devote effort to “getting out the vote”
    3. Matched public funding per primary vote is arguably a more democratic source of campaign funding for emerging parties than having to go cap in hand to vested interests

  8. klewso

    I reckon too many voters aren’t all that interested in politics and vote like Daredevil – blind and on instinct.
    Personally I’d love to have a “Burke and Hare(?)” (or is Lewis&Clarke?
    Duckworth-Lewis? Hare-Clarke?) – like Tasmania?
    What’s the good of 10% of us voting for say the Greens – to have less than .75% of the seats in legislative house?
    Ending up with a second choice/grade parliament?

    1. AR

      Whereas currently we have Burke & Wills, lost & clueless and dying of starvation in a land of plenty.

  9. AR

    The chances of the Greens being the circuit breaker while the tacking & trimming Black Wiggle is leader are significantly less than zero – it’s almost as if you had him in mind with the references to hanging on for that gold plated pension & the life time travel card.
    However I can’t agree that Oz is t he most sclerotic of the democracies – take a bow UK & USA and, for almost entirely opposite reasons the fossilised managerial systems of the Continent.
    Look how Germany managed to chew up & spit out the Grunen – by allowing them into government.
    The only reason our exhaustive preference system doesn’t chuck more of the time servers, apparatchiks & men-without-navels out is because the electorate is both ignorant of their power to do so and too lazy to be arsed finding out.
    Or even listening long enough to have it explained to them in words of fewer than two syllable with pictures & sock puppets.

    1. drsmithy

      The problem with the preference system is that votes for non-major-parties almost inevitably exhaust and fall through to a major party anyway.

      We need OPV across the board.

  10. campidg

    Reading these responses is depressing. Cynicism of the system or cynicism of the people are hardly mindsets that will foster any progress. The system hasn’t failed so completely that it no longer maintains minimum standards of income level, health care and (most) education to name a few significant areas, but is showing signs of back-sliding. My feeling is better leadership is needed before any change in the system is made, or before people become more engaged regardless of the system. Leadership that pushes through the managerialism and incrementalism.

    1. Hoojakafoopy

      Your faith in ‘leadership’ is more depressing to me than hope in systemic changes. Greater representation through multi-member electorates would be a good start, although I’d prefer we abandon representation altogether for direct democracy, with members of a citizen’s assembly drawn at random from the roll to serve a fixed term. Do away with professional politicians & political parties altogether.

      1. campidg

        I hear what you are saying about leadership but someone has to step up and say: “This is what we have to do, this is why we have to do it and this is how we are going to do it.”. It takes being relentless and cutting through the cyinicism. Someone has to have a clear program for change, an ability to engage people, to gather support, to carry out the program, to cut through the dross from a corupted and failing media etc etc. Does such a person/people exist? We had better hope so. I’m not ready to give up, not by a long shot.
        Totally agree on your final points.

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