Australia has fallen from the top 10 of least corrupt countries in the world.
It is now ranked 13th, down six positions since 2012, according to the latest Corruption Perception Index by Transparency International which scores and ranks 168 countries on how corrupt the public sector is perceived to be.
Australia has consistently ranked in the top 10 least corrupt but slipped to 13 this year, with its score down to 80, considerably below the 87 and 88 it was getting in 2010 and 2011.
Transparency International says not one single country, anywhere in the world, is corruption-free. “The scale of the issue is huge,” it says. “Sixty-eight per cent of countries worldwide have a serious corruption problem. Half of the G20 are among them.”
For Australia, says Flinders University corruption expert Adam Graycar, the latest results raise concerns that anti-corruption agency and royal commission investigations are tarnishing the country’s image.
And then there are charges are pending relating to alleged bribing of foreign officials to gain banknote contracts for Securency and Note Printing Australia, subsidiaries of the Reserve Bank.
“There is unease in the community about corruption in public life,” says Professor Graycar.
He says activities such as the investigations of the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption and the Victorian IBAC, the Trade Union Royal Commission and the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse show that much in Australia’s public life is well below the standard that we should expect.
“The more one does to expose corruption, the more corruption is perceived as a problem, so in some ways the successes of investigations have tainted Australia in this exercise,” he says.
“While the Index is about perceptions because corruption is almost impossible to measure, many countries rely on this perception index to help shape anti-corruption policy.”
However, Professor Graycar does not see the creation of a single federal anti-corruption agency as an answer.
“Of the twelve countries that rank above Australia only one, Singapore has a national anti-corruption agency,” he says.
“Progress will come with a blend of values and compliance mechanisms and strong leadership that makes corruption recognisable as such, and unacceptable in all aspects of public life.”