Opinion: NSW ICAC

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Liberal politician after liberal politician seem to be fronting, confessing and leaving in disgrace, after each and every visit to the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).

After 25 years in operation, our own anti-corruption agency has not instilled fear in those who have acted corruptly, yet we press on, unable or more accurately, unwilling as a state to overhaul, what many commentators have described as a “toothless tiger”.

The Hong Kong ICAC, widely regarded as the benchmark for all others, provides a framework for which NSW can amend and update our own approach, based on best practices and policy learning.

In comparing the NSW ICAC with that of Hong Kong, the comparison will indicate that the most successful way to prevent corruption is to properly resource ICAC, expand the operations to include the private sector and enforce, educate and prevent corruption, with a three-pronged strategy.

In 2008, the Hong Kong ICAC had more than 1200 staff working for it, with a budget equivalent to about $105.5 million or 0.3 percent of government spending. In contrast, in 2008, the NSW ICAC budget was $18.2 million and employed 116 full-time staff ­­— though this has increased to about $25 million because of continued public pressure.

In Hong Kong, both the private and public sector are covered, while in NSW, only the public sector is subject to ICAC investigations. As a consequence, corruption has festered to the point where the elite and influential regard themselves as untouchable.

In 2012, of the 3932 complaints received by the Hong Kong ICAC, 63 percent concerned the private sector, 30 percent related to government departments and 7 percent involved public bodies.

During the first 20 years of the ICAC in Hong Kong, it investigated 22828 cases and prosecuted 6261 people. Of these cases, 1355 were civil servants, 218 public corporations and the rest were from the private sector.

Corruption in other jurisdictions is rampant in the private sector, as these statistics clearly demonstrate; yet we in NSW continue to ignore it, and wonder why it continually leaches into our political system.

The current admissions at ICAC regarding high profile developers and well known business identities, clearly demonstrates that they will stop at nothing to garner support and peddle their own interests.

If these characters are willing to treat politicians and our political process with such distain and illegality, imagine the practices they implement behind closed doors in the safe confines of the private sector?

It is vital that we continue to develop a “zero-tolerance” culture for corruption; similar to that of Hong Kong, regardless of which sector it is identified in.

The Hong Kong ICAC fights corruption through a “three-pronged strategy” of effective law enforcement, education and prevention. Convenient drop-in centres, which allow the public to report corruption, are regarded as a centerpiece strategy. Local businesses are supported with code of ethics, and anti-corruption curriculum material is provided for teacher training in schools and universities.

Australia currently has low levels of corruption perception compared to other countries, however the revelations currently being exposed in NSW are not assisting our reputation.

It is time to update our ICAC in NSW, through properly resourcing it, expanding operations to include the private sector and enforcing, educating and preventing corruption on a larger scale to ensure history does not perpetually repeat itself. 


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