Federal ministers had plenty of trouble on their minds when their officials agreed to buy land from a billionaire family to clear the way for a new airport in western Sydney.
One thing they were not thinking of, unfortunately, was the $29.8 million purchase price – more than 10 times the land value.
Now the scandal over that money makes ministers look like dunderheads and the officials look like fools. Or knaves. If the explanation is not incompetence, it is corruption.
Towards the end of the piece, Crowe continues:
It is about time Australia had a federal anti-corruption commission to answer these sorts of questions.
“If you had a body whose task was to uncover corruption in the broader sense, it would seize on all these events and would examine people to see why it was all those flaws occurred,” says Anthony Whealy QC, a former NSW Supreme Court judge and now the chairman of the Centre for Public Integrity.
Conduct does not have to be criminal to be corruption. After reading the audit report, Whealy says the breach of ethics in this case suggests there could have been impropriety, or even corruption on the part of the department.
“You need a body whose task is to detect and find corruption where it’s difficult to find,” he says. Again, history is a useful guide. It shows that audits and departmental reviews do not have the skills to find corruption. Only a dedicated commission can do that job properly.
The irony is the government had this reform on its agenda at the very time the airport land deal was done. Cabinet was due to consider a national integrity commission in June 2018. Turnbull wanted one and the Attorney-General, Christian Porter, had a proposal underway.
Then came the byelections, the leadership spill and a slowdown under Scott Morrison.
The integrity commission is now more than two years too late. The pandemic is not a good enough reason for further delay. By its own conduct, the government proves the commission is needed more than ever.
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