Academic journal article Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice

Public Sector Corruption and Its Control

Academic journal article Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice

Public Sector Corruption and Its Control

Article excerpt

Although Australia's reputation for integrity in government is now among the world's highest, corruption has afflicted Australian public life to varying degrees for the past two centuries. A few areas of government have been troubled with persistent and entrenched corruption for many years.

Some officials cannot control their greed while others find themselves in difficult situations and cut corners or take inducements. Fortunately, these are a small minority of our public officials. In a Transparency International survey, Australia ranked 12th out of 99 countries on a "corruption perception index". The dynamics, however, are universal - a simple formula proposes that discretion plus monopoly minus accountability equals corruption.

This paper provides a basic overview of corruption in Australia. It outlines its basic forms, explains why corruption occurs, and, most importantly, spells out what Australian governments and the private sector have done, and can do, to reduce the level of corruption in society.

Adam Graycar


Defining Corruption

Corruption, defined here as the exploitation of public office for personal gain, is a universal phenomenon. The practice, in one manifestation or another, is as old as government itself. Today, it thrives in the world's wealthiest nations, and in its poorest. It exists on every continent, across people of all nationalities and religions. Corruption can take many forms, including:

Bribery: where an official accepts money or some other consideration to engage in a particular course of action, or inaction.

Extortion: where an official demands money or some other consideration to engage in a particular course of action, or inaction.

Embezzlement: where an official misappropriates public assets for personal use.

Fraud: where an official makes a false claim for benefits for which he or she is not entitled, or in order to avoid liability for payment, such as tax or customs duty.

Conflict of interest: where an official stands to profit incidentally from an official act. This could involve a planning decision which has the effect of increasing the value of property owned by the official, or the awarding of a government contract to a company in which the official has a financial interest.

Closely related to corruption, but excluded from discussion here, is the abuse of power for institutional ends, where there is no explicit personal gain for the offender. This category includes, for example, the use of excessive force or fabrication of evidence by police (sometimes referred to as "noble cause" corruption), or discriminatory practices by public sector employers who are motivated by factors other than personal enrichment.

Corruption need not be limited to the public sector. Officers of large companies may use its resources for private purposes, and other private individuals may be party to the activities just described, as well as to conflicts of interest. Such "private corruption" will not be addressed here.

Australia's Experience

Australia has experienced its share of corruption, with roots extending back almost to the time of the First Fleet. Two centuries ago, during the earliest days of European settlement, officers of the New South Wales Corps monopolised the rum trade, and profited handsomely from the inflated price which they charged for the product (Evatt 1938). Over the following two centuries, a variety of public officials have been implicated in numerous scandals, from corruption in the conduct of local government to irregularities in government purchasing of everything from land to defence equipment (Grabosky 1989).

While Australia's performance by world standards has been relatively good, our record is far from unblemished. Australians who have been imprisoned over the past two decades for offences relating to corrupt practices include:

A former Premier and a former Deputy Premier of Western Australia. …

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