It’s the ultimate conflict of interest: governments accused of corruption in Australia can stop funding the very organisations tasked with investigating said corruption.
Such is the funding model for integrity bodies across the country. And it’s a conflict our governments appear to have no problem abusing.
Take Victoria. The ombudsman Deborah Glass has accused the Andrews government of not providing enough funding for the integrity watchdog to perform its core duties — something she says could be perceived to be undermining the agency.
Glass so happens to be investigating alleged branch stacking by Victorian Labor MPs and a former Andrews minister Adem Somyurek.
Get Crikey FREE to your inbox every weekday morning with the Crikey Worm.
But she’s not the first watchdog in the state to raise funding concerns. Robert Redlich QC, commissioner of Victoria’s Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC), said in July that a shortage of resources could hamper its ability to complete a growing list of tasks — one of which is another investigation into the branch-stacking scandal.
And it’s not just Victoria seemingly trying stamp out accountability from the source.
As Crikey reported in October, the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) pleaded with Premier Gladys Berejiklian for extra funding — at the same time it was investigating her secret relationship with former MP Daryl Maguire.
She was not forthcoming. The commission warned that if it did not receive more money it would be forced to reduce the organisation to its smallest size in its 30-year history.
Also in October, the federal government slashed $14 million from the budget of the Australian National Audit Office, the agency that has uncovered some of the biggest corruption scandals this year, including sports rorts and the Leppington Triangle deal.
Starving a watchdog meant to investigate your government’s misconduct undermines the independence of that organisation. That’s something the NSW government knows well, with a report by Auditor-General Margaret Crawford last month finding the current funding model threatened the ability of agencies to do their job.
But with scandal after scandal emerging, thanks largely to the work of the agencies, surely that’s the point?