23 January 2015

When away from the South West Pacific, Australians and New Zealanders affect a camaraderie and familial connection.  At home we know we are different. That difference entrenches the Tasman divide.  The young men comprising the expeditionary forces at Gallipoli may have had similar life experiences, but the equivalent generation today probably has less in common than when the Australian colonies decided to federate in 1901 and agreed that New Zealand could choose to be part of the new commonwealth.

The composition of both societies has fractured far beyond the homogeneity of 19th century migration, although even then the substantially greater proportion of the Australian population with Irish roots gave a different shape to social foundations.  That may well be reflected in the way that larrikinism is inherent in the spirit of Australia.  New Zealanders like to think they are made of better stuff.  Many family trees have limbs on both sides of the Tasman Sea but those involved  seem largely uninterested in promoting the constitutional option of union.

The commitment to good government may be an indicator of difference.  The Transparency International  CPI has always assessed the public sector in Australia as more corrupt than in New Zealand. And some states are seen as worse than others.  Parts of the New South Wales public sector have been badly corrupted from time to time.  The establishment of the Independent Commission Against Corruption – ICAC – set up 25 years ago is a direct consequence.  Four years ago the then Opposition in the NSW Parliament saw graft in many parts of State administration. It campaigned to reinforce controls and harden public sector defences.

This week the New South Wales Parliamentary Research Unit published a 50 page Briefing Paper on measures promised by the coalition government of Premier Barry O’Farrell, legislation that eventuated, and the effectiveness of those measures.  Integrity in government: issues and developments in New South Wales, 2011 -2015 is a useful read.

It explores stresses on democracy in NSW,  challenges to integrity, and each of the solutions promoted over the last four years – of controls on political lobbying,  establishing codes of conduct for Ministers and MPs, introducing more transparency in political donations, strengthening the ethical expectations of public servants, enacting protections for whistle-blowers, reinvigorating the anti corruption agency (ICAC), controlling government advertising and so on.

The paper is a non partisan account of what was proposed and the outcomes delivered. It is a resource for NSW parliamentarians; not government self-promotion.  As a snapshot of the last four years  it is a tale of how the good intentions of a party in opposition are blunted by the reality of politics when the party gets into government.  What can be inferred from the Briefing Paper is that in the NSW setting , a claim to “Integrity in Government” may be overstated.

New Zealanders may be different from their cousins in NSW. The report however plots developments which are pertinent here  – where similar concerns may have precipitated New Zealand’s loss in December of the long held recognition by Transparency International  as the country having the least corrupt public sector.