Monday, January 03, 2011

Australian corruption

New Zealanders and Australians like to think that we're very similar in outlook - and to some extent, they're right. We share a practical, egalitarian culture, and have a strong social interest in fairness. But there are also differences. And today, we've just been handed a great, steaming reminder of those differences, with the news that former New South Wales Ports Minister Joe Tripodi handed a half-billion dollar contract to his brother's construction company. His defence? "It was within the rules" - New South Wales' Cabinet guidelines being so loosely drafted that they only prohibit conflicts of interest involving partners and children. Again, I'm reminded that whenever a politician says "it was within the rules", what they're really saying is "screw you, suckers!"

(It is apparently unproblematic that the company in question is also one of the state Labor Party's largest donors - again something which would cause eyebrows to be raised and serious questions to be asked in New Zealand).

I don't think I'd want to risk saying that this sort of thing never happens here. But I think it is fair to say that the public regard it absolutely unacceptable, that our politicians know this, and so it is a very rare occurrence. Whereas in Australia, it seems to be a regular one. We've had one MP prosecuted for corruption in office. Five Ministers have been jailed for corruption in Queensland alone, and more in New South Wales and Western Australia. And yet their politicians still don't seem to have got the message that their way of doing business with business is illegal, and that in office they must serve the public, not themselves.