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The stench of political corruption: the pressing need for a Federal ICAC

By Benny Bongster

Political corruption. It smells. Its rancidness is stronger than the stink of mutton left to stew for days under the glaring Australian sun. The foul odour of corruption envelops our corporate sphere, our body politic, and far too many of our social institutions.

We can smell it and we are left flailing in our attempts to unearth it, to fully expose it, or even to clearly prove it.

There is a curious aroma around the diminution of the ABC. The Orwellian Newspeak of obvious cuts transforming themselves into anything but obvious cuts can in no way hide a naked truth that is apparent to all. All we have to do is identify who most stands to benefit because any effort to minimise the ability of the public broadcaster to vigorously inquire into the back-room deals done by government is corrupt.

There is a curious aroma in Queensland around the ability of mining companies to garner the greater share of underground water resources. There is no smell at all emanating from the empty water bores starting to dot the agricultural landscape of Queensland. All we have to do is identify who most stands to benefit when political legislators and favoured industries collude.

There is a curious aroma around the national Submarine Building Program. Our ship-building industry, our workers, our ability to retain important technological and engineering skill sets, and our very economy needs this program to be implemented here in Australia. All we have to do is identify who most stands to benefit when a veil of secrecy descends around important ADF procurement tenders.

There is a curious aroma around the federally funded ‘unemployment industry’. Our Job Network system, apparently tasked with placing unemployed Australians into sustainable work, gouges billions of dollars out of the federal government budget and consistently delivers nothing more than a damning level of under-performance. This failure to deliver is not questioned at the highest political level. All we have to do is identify who, which individuals and organisations, most stand to benefit from this funding largesse.

There is a curious aroma around Royal Commissions being used as weapons of political revenge. The bastardisation of the Royal Commission process, and the wasting of funds on politically motivated commissions, diminishes the capability of genuine Royal Commissions such as the current one into Institutionalised Child Sexual Abuse to effectively pursue and expose the reprehensible activities of some human beings. All we have to do is identify who most stands to benefit.

Any organisation set up by human beings will have an element of corruption within it. The very fact that the federal government has singled out and applied the blowtorch to only the union movement, and has avoided close scrutiny of the political, corporate, and financial industry spheres is in itself … a questionable and likely act of corruption.

The first thing we have to do, when we look at the decisions our politicians make, is to identify who most stands to benefit from those decisions.

Establish a Federal ICAC. Now!


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  1. Matters Not

    A Federal ICAC will be a ‘watcher’ of enormous power. Who will be appointed to ‘watch’ the ‘watcher’?

    While I support the establishment of a Federal ICAC (sort of), decisions about which ‘burrow’ this Federal ICAC will explore will have to be made by some ‘thing’ or some ‘body’. Are we going to let a Federal ICAC decide the ‘avenue’ to explore as well as doing that exploration?

    Are we simply going to let an unelected, appointed body have greater ‘primacy’ than the Parliament and or the Judiciary?

    Again I ask who will ‘watch’ the ‘watcher’?

    Perhaps the head of this new ICAC will be a ‘prominent and well regarded jurist’ like Dyson Haydon? Or maybe a sinecure for a retired George Brandis?


  2. Phil

    No argument from me on the urgent need for a federal ICAC. The longer the corruption festers the more of the body politic and the body corporate becomes infected until a point of no return is breached.

    Matters Not – agree with your point but it’s also a likely stalling tactic – the time has come to ‘cross the Rubicon’ by facing down endemic corruption in institutional, corporate and political Australia.

  3. Matters Not

    Phil, thanks for your comment re;

    agree with your point but it’s also a likely stalling tactic

    Phil I was hoping to make the ‘point’ that there’s numbers of significant ‘points’ that require clarification. I agree that it’s time to cross the ‘intellectual’ Rubicon and face down endemic corruption in institutional, corporate and political Australia..

    But the best way to proceed, for me at least, remains a problem at all sorts of levels – particularly the philosophical and political ones.

  4. stephentardrew

    ICAC needs to have apolitical foundations with a set of rules and obligations based in law yet flexible enough to investigate people and bodies exploiting the margins of what are lax or bad laws. It should have a select committee of community representatives with a capacity to call on academic expertise. There should be no representatives with political, union, banking or business ties. It should have a multi representative board, ideally three sitting presidents, elected at the end of each political term. We must get past the two party system in which parties form a coalition against the best interest and wishes of the people. Bipartisanship is of itself a danger and must be constrained so that politicians, as a whole, do not unite in their own best interest which they obviously do.

  5. Terry2

    You know there is something rotten when the conservatives start to scream ‘no investigation into the finance industry and banks’ as soon as a Royal Commission is suggested.

    The Business Council of Australia says it would cost millions to have a Royal Commission ( don’t they remember the RC into ‘pink batts’). Kate Carnell calls it a distraction and could undermine our international financial credentials – perhaps, Kate, a Royal Commission would be seen internationally as Australia being an open and transparent society with a commitment to the rule of law.; not such a bad thing.

    It’s worth remembering that most crime today is facilitated by banks, either knowingly or without adequate enquiry : massive amounts of money are exported to tax free havens and in some cases to terrorist groups . This is possible only with the facilitation and complicity of the banks – how else do you transfer a million dollars to Panama ?

  6. sandrasearle

    Matters Not, you say ‘who will watch over a federal ICAC. Good question.
    As I see it, the organization must be completely free of any political affiliation what so ever. Anyone who is being appointed, must be completely A-political. Now how hard would it be to find these good people is the next question as it would need for them to have a very good moral compass who will work for the good of democracy and the betterment of our society in general.

  7. Kaye Lee

    I understand what you are saying about who watches the watchers but to let that stop us from taking action implies that there is no-one of integrity left in Australia.

    A federal ICAC would not have primacy over the judiciary – one would hope they would act both in concert and as watchdogs on each other.

  8. Matters Not

    implies that there is no-one of integrity left in Australia.

    Not really. Regardless of the level of integrity, there is still the issue of ‘priorities’; who decides same and on what basis. For example, how does one choose between the need for investigation into the banking industry, the supply of illicit drugs, under the table political donations, etc and etc? Clearly they can’t do ‘everything’. Choices will have to be made.

    While there are no easy options even for people with the highest integrity, this does not mean we do nothing. At some stage, in a democracy, the citizens must be involved. And direct involvement through some ‘mechanism’ should not be ruled out.

    As for people without some type of political affiliation, I just question as why they haven’t? Surely those who have sat back and simply watched what happened in recent years might not be the best to be involved.

  9. Jaquix

    The RC into the banking and financial services industry announced yesterday is a good start. The “Federal ICAC” is another one of top priority. If Labor can pop that one into the mix somehow before the election, they will collect a lot of swinging voters Im sure. Maybe they are saving that one til later (?) because opposition to it might unite the warring factions in the LNP at the moment. Great article Benny Bongster, and I’m sure you could add a Part II with even more instances of stench making activities.

  10. Kaye Lee

    Every day there is an even greater stench….

    “Take Wilson Parking for instance, the company recently embroiled in the Panama Papers imbroglio and whose shareholders include Hong Kong’s prominent Kwok brothers. Wilson Security, a subsidiary, also does the guarding at the Nauru and Manus Island detention centres.

    In the wake of the Panama Papers, Fairfax Media and University of NSW accounting academic Jeff Knapp looked into Wilson Parking and found that, like its multinational peers, it enjoys billion dollar revenue but alas makes a lamentably small profit, on which it is subsequently taxed.

    The company had failed to comply with the Corporations Act and get its financial statements in on time for the past 18 years and we discovered accounting irregularities in the latest 2015 group financial statements. Wilson Parking has also left incorrect details about its ultimate holding company in ASIC’s registers for 12 years. And to top it off, Wilson Security has missing annual financial reports with ASIC.

    It is no small irony that Wilson has its security guards stationed at court houses and the Australian Taxation Office.

    A financial analysis on over 14 years of records shows the company’s income tax paid is around 1.6 per cent of its revenue. In this, it is typical of multinationals, like Pfizer and VW, operating in Australia.”

    And this company continues to be awarded government contracts

  11. Glenn K

    a great thing about a Federal ICAC is a “go to” point for whistleblowers across all industries and institutions…

  12. Matters Not

    And this company continues to be awarded government contracts

    Indeed! Perhaps it’s down to ignorance of Ministers and perhaps across government (wilful or otherwise). Seems to me, corporations that pay little or no tax should be identified; named and shamed if you like. A good place to start might be across government itself. And that might begin with Cabinet Submissions.

    I’ve only browsed the Cabinet Handbook on the preparation of submissions which says in part:


    25. The principle of collective responsibility can only operate effectively if all members of the Cabinet are well informed and well advised (including by their departmental officials) about the decisions they are being asked to make. Timely and thoughtful consultation is the only way to ensure that there are no surprises and each minister has the opportunity to inform the discussion, bringing to the table his or her portfolio knowledge and political judgement.

    26. Ministers bringing forward submissions are responsible for ensuring comprehensive consultation across Government. A key purpose of early consultation in the development of proposals is to ensure that differences between ministers are resolved in advance of the Cabinet’s consideration or, if resolution is not possible, differences are identified and set out in such a way as to facilitate informed decision-making.

    Cabinet submissions might include a heading such as Tax Status which would allow/enforce the Taxation Office to provide some type of commentary on the ‘good’ (or otherwise) status of companies mentioned in Cabinet Submissions. There is a need to know, broadly defined. (It’s just a thought.)

  13. Kaye Lee

    The OECD report slamming our inaction on foreign bribery cases specifically said suppression orders are hindering investigations into corruption and criminality. They named the Securency case as a case in point.

    The Coalition’s attempt to roll back Labor’s FOFA legislation is also now looking pretty ill-advised.

    The day after Turnbull talked tough at a Westpac do, “an exposure draft of the Government’s amendments to life insurance commissions was sent out and it severely undermines his new message.

    The draft is a blatant attempt to allow banks and life insurance companies to keep paying big commissions for the sale of life policies.

    The evidence of tax avoidance, bribery and corruption by corporations and the wealthy has simply become too great: the Coalition must distance itself from them all lose credibility, especially while trying to run an election on the bad behaviour of unions, or rather one of them, the CFMEU.

    What’s more, the trade union royal commission revealed plenty of bad behaviour by companies as well as unions.”

  14. diannaart

    Excellent article, I wish it was just in an imaginary world far, far away…

  15. paul walter

    Gordon the Welfare Ibis, of First Dog fame would be pleased to see his old confederate Benny up in lights at AIM.

    I watched Glen Lazarus pile into this one a few days ago at a presser involving Senate Indies and he put the thing so clearly as to an ICAC against a degraded Star Chamber only fixated only hammering down unions; not because of “corruption”, but because they occasionally can protect working people against the far greater corruption of capitalism itself.

    It seemed an epiphany, yet the esoterica seem to rise far above the consciousnesses of Lazarus’ two friends, Xenophon and Leyonjhelm..

  16. stephengb

    I can see the Coalition announcing an ICAC, before Labor and destroying Labor’s chance of winning this election all together.

    I am not saying that a Coalition ICAC would have any real teeth, (Labor make a toothless ICAC too) but its the Party who announces it first is going to be the winner takes all. Out of the LNP and the ALP.

    Its down to who gets desperate enough and that point is going to be in the last month.

    This is Gunfight at the ICAC coral – or playing ICAC chicken.


  17. Kyran

    It seems odd that the Labor Party have a web site detailing their opponents extravagances

    and yet argue against the need for a Federal ICAC. Mr Wingate’s recent article on the need for fiduciary accountability has a similar theme.

    Odd also that neither party pays any particular attention to cost benefit analysis through Infrastructure Australia as a minimum requirement for spends exceeding $100mil unless it suits their immediate argument.

    Anyone who has participated in their own business (or business/social/sporting/schooling committee’s) will be familiar with governance procedure. The standards I’ve seen adopted in all of these instances far exceed any set for our ‘leaders’.

    The argument for self governance (and self assessment when the self governance fails) is fundamentally and fatally flawed. Why is this, therefore, the only model our ‘leaders’ will accept?
    It’s funny, in all the wrong ways, that the foul, rancid odour is merely a ‘curious smell’ by the time it gets up to the ivory tower.
    Thank you, Mr Bongster. Take care

  18. Mike Broome

    Trickle down economics insults the public by micturating down our backs and telling us it’s raining!

    “You take your money elsewhere, to another country, in order to escape the rules and laws of the society in which you operate.” In so doing, you rob your own society of cash for hospitals, schools, roads…

  19. Sir ScotchMistery

    I have a few minor points, but even though they don’t reflect on the supposed “powers” of a federal ICAC, they do reflect on its usefulness.

    Queensland, post Fitzgerald, has what is now called the Crime and Corruption Commission, (CCC for short). Prior we had a Crime and Misconduct Commission (CMC) and before that, the original body, we had a the CJC – The Criminal Justice Commission.

    A good idea at the beginning, well resourced, well driven and well staffed.

    Under the LNP government of Campbell Newman it was emasculated by its driving/oversight committee the Parliamentary Crime and Corruption Committee, when that body, appropriately led by an independent member of the house, Liz Cunningham, was sacked en-masse by Newman and his boy wonder mate Jarrod Bleijie, another LNP twat, skilled as a conveyancer, but stuff all good at the law.

    An example of just how bad, his choice for top judge became the chief supreme court judge, and almost brought the entire judiciary into disrepute. That “choice” now sits as a member of QCAT, normally staffed by the elderly lawyers/barristers with nothing to do.

    The committee was completely stuffed for over a year as the LNP’s single most corrupt member, Jeff Seeney, argued for the right to sit on the committee again, as chair, and the ALP for over a year, stonewalled. It’s only a few weeks really since it actually got back its direction and its balls.

    The question is how do you as a politician control the single most important part of your entire process when it comes to corruption? You don’t fund them.

    The Federal ICAC has to be bullet-proof in this single respect. It cannot be hamstrung by the government of the day just stopping funding. Find a fix for that, and you will be on a winner.

    Another very little point in support of Turnbull’s ABCC is that it’s a great idea, but rather than the Australian Building and Construction Commission, call it the All Business Corruption Commission, and here are my reasons:

    Unions are Businesses
    Funding bodies from outside the parliament are registered organisations (businesses)
    Banks are businesses
    Businesses are businesses
    Many QANGOs are businesses (Wheat Board, Securency, et al
    Political Parties are businesses

    Net result, everyone gets what they want, in a single stroke of the pen.

  20. paul walter

    It is good that you have a good and accurate memory, Sir Scotch Mistery.

  21. Jaquix

    Sir Scotch Mistery, great idea, and thats more or less what some of the cross benches and others have been going for. However this would not suit Turnbull’s political purpose, so would be roundly defeated, if anyone dares move amendments. Ms Cash has already ruled out any amendments that she doesnt like the look of. Great that this fiasco-in-the-making for Turnbull and Co., is getting an airing, and looks like biting him on the bum really. Even “clearing out the feral senate” doesnt look like its going to work for him. Never been such an exciting time …….

  22. Sir ScotchMistery

    This last 2 days is the first time in a year I have actually felt a change in the general mood. The first time I thought that we may lose the LNP dickwads.

    Unfortunately, we’ll get ALP, but they are definitely less worse.

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