Australia has failed to improve on its record low ranking in a global measure of government corruption, prompting renewed calls for a powerful federal integrity commission to be established “without delay and political wrangling.”
The most widely recognized measure of public-sector corruption, Transparency International’s corruption perception index (CPI), released yesterday, ranked Australia 13th least corrupt in the world.
Australia scored 77 from a possible 100, placing it just above Hong Kong, Iceland and Austria. New Zealand was the second-least corrupt nation in the world, just behind Denmark, which scored 88.
The score represents an equal record low for Australia, which has been unable to improve its anti-corruption and integrity efforts enough to reverse a slide that began in 2014. Australia has slipped from its best ranking of seventh in 2012 to ninth in 2013, and has remained at 13th from 2015 onward.
Data reviewed in the index is derived from a range of 13 sources measuring corruption perceived by experts and business executives. It measures the use of public office for private gain, nepotism, bribery, the diversion of public money and state capture.
The scores are an average of nine indicators, including the Bertelsmann Foundation’s sustainable governance index, the Economist Intelligence Unit’s country ratings and the Global Insight country risk ratings.
The score is also a reflection of the strength of integrity and anti-corruption systems, including “the existence of adequate laws on financial disclosure, conflict of interest prevention and access to information,” Berlin-based Transparency said.
Australia’s integrity and transparency systems have faced routine criticism for their weakness. Donations are not disclosed in real-time and failures in transparency face little to no punishment.
There is no consequence for breaching federal lobbying rules and the freedom of information regime is undermined by delays, costs and record rates of refusals.
The report’s release has put renewed pressure on the federal government to introduce a strong and effective integrity commission.
Transparency International Australia CEO Serena Lillywhite said a well-equipped commission with a broad remit must be a priority.
“Now is the time, without delay and political wrangling, for our federal parliament to come together and create a well-resourced, nationally coordinated pro-integrity framework, with an emphasis on prevention alongside strong investigative powers,” Lillywhite said.
Australia is far from alone in failing to make progress. Of the 180 countries considered by Transparency International, only 20 have made significant progress in improving their CPI scores in recent years.
More than two-thirds scored below 50 and the average score was 43. More than two-thirds of countries evaluated scored below 50.
Others in the top 10 were Finland, Singapore, Sweden and Switzerland, all in third place with a score of 85, followed by Norway (84), the Netherlands (82), Canada and Luxembourg with 81 and Germany and Britain with 80.
With a score of 71, the US lost four points over 2017 and dropped out of the top 20 nations for the first time since 2011, placing 22nd.
“A four-point drop in the CPI score is a red flag and comes at a time when the US is experiencing threats to its system of checks and balance, as well as an erosion of ethical norms at the highest levels of power,” Transparency said.
“If this trend continues, it would indicate a serious corruption problem in a country that has taken a lead on the issue globally —this is a bipartisan issue that requires a bipartisan solution,” it said.
In the Asia-Pacific region, Taiwan’s score was 63, the same as 2017, but its ranking improved from 34th to 31st.
The regional average score was 44, while North Korea was the worst performer, scoring just 14.
Somalia was rated the most corrupt with a score of 10, followed by Syria, South Sudan, Yemen, Sudan, Guinea Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, Afghanistan and Libya.
In a cross-analysis of its survey with global democracy data, Transparency said a link could be drawn between corruption and the health of a democracy.
Full democracies scored an average of 75 on the corruption index, flawed democracies averaged 49 and autocratic regimes averaged 30, it said.
Transparency International managing director Patricia Moreira told a news conference in Berlin that the emergence of leaders with “authoritarian or populist tendencies” had given new urgency to the need for reforms.
“Corruption chips away at democracy to produce a vicious cycle, where corruption undermines democratic institutions and, in turn, weak institutions are less able to control corruption,” Moreira said.
“With many democratic institutions under threat across the globe — often by leaders with authoritarian or populist tendencies — we need to do more to strengthen checks and balances and protect citizens’ rights,” she said.
Additional reporting by staff writer and AP
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