The New Corruption
Tim Dunlop has some interesting thoughts on a factoid reported by Kevin Drum that Australians are less likely to pay bribes than inhabitants of any other country. (the Finns, though, are said to be the least corrupt).
The closest I’ve ever come to paying a bribe is once when I had to collect a very heavy consignment of household goods from the Sydney wharves and a friendly wharfie forklifted the stuff onto our truck in return for a very modest backhander. (Even in this notorious milieu, I wouldn’t have known what to do if my Dad hadn’t been with me).
Although it’s not relevant, I can’t record resisting that on the same visit I saw a squashed Ferrari. One of a consignment of six it had been accidentally dropped from a great height, compressing its already low-slung profile to a height of about a metre.
In part, my limited acquaintance with bribery reflects the fact that I grew up mostly in Canberra. Until about a decade ago, federal politics in Australia was corruption-free to an amazing extent. Ministers of both parties lost their jobs over minor breaches of customs regulations, and the idea of bribing a public servant was pretty much unthinkable.
Things deteriorated in the later years of the Hawke-Keating government as it became expected that government ministers and senior public servants would move on to high-paying corporate jobs. It didn’t take long for people to work out that a few well-placed favors given out in office could be repaid with interest subsequently, and we’ve recently seen instances of blatant corruption at the ministerial and senior public service levels. (I won’t risk the first blog defamation case by naming names – Australian readers will know who I mean, and others wan’t care).
All of this has been accelerated by reforms (I don’t bother putting scare quotes around this much-abused word any more) which have grafted a US-style patronage system onto a Westminster system of unconstrained executive government. The logical outcome is a system with all the ill-effects of patronage, but without any of the checks and balances. This hasn’t yet come to pass – there are too many old-style public servants, and ministers haven’t yet realised the full extent of their power – but things are getting worse every year.