By Peter Hehir
Is the NSW Government simply incompetent? Or is it corrupt? Is it a mix of both? Is WestConnex the handiwork of the seriously impaired or is it just plain old graft?
The Guardian’s Christopher Knaus states, “According to the most widely recognised measure of public-sector corruption – Transparency International’s corruption perception index (CPI) – Australia has slipped from its best ranking of seventh in 2012 to ninth in 2013, and has remained at 13th from 2015 onwards”.
The most recent CPI released last Tuesday showed Australia’s score still sitting at 77 out of a possible 100.
Knaus explains, “The score is derived from a range of 13 sources measuring corruption perceived by experts and business executives. It measures the use of public office for private gain, nepotism, bribery, the diversion of public money and state capture.
Donations report is “ugly reading”
“The resultant figure is also a reflection of the strength of integrity and anti-corruption systems, including the existence of adequate laws on financial disclosure, conflict of interest prevention and access to information.”
Australia’s integrity and transparency systems are routinely criticised, especially in relation to real-time disclosure of donations to political parties.
Transparency International’s managing director, Patricia Moreira, says, “Corruption chips away at democracy to produce a vicious cycle, where corruption undermines democratic institutions and, in turn, weak institutions are less able to control corruption”.
IndyMedia’s Diet Simon recently reported that, “It’s an open secret that the fossil fuel lobby has its tentacles embedded in politics, but rarely is this so obvious than through the donations made by coal, oil and gas interests to political parties”.
He comments that the most recently released data on political donations “makes for ugly reading”. Why? Fossil fuel companies and lobby groups donated $1,277,933 to major political parties in 2017-2018.
Simon continues, “You have to wonder what outcomes they [the fossil fuel companies] have in mind when donating, but it’s worth pointing out that many of the donors will enjoy some of the $12 billion handed out every year in tax breaks that encourage the production and consumption of fossil fuels.
“Several, like multinational corporation Chevron, have managed to pay $0 in company tax over the past four years, despite raking in billions of dollars in revenue.”
In another related matter, the Department of the Environment issued a draft regulation impact statement in 2016 which stated that, “the health costs to Australian cities of motor vehicle air pollution is estimated to be $3.9bn a year by 2020”. These health costs are not included in the business case for massive infrastructure projects like WestConnex.
Hansen Heidelberg Concrete is right behind the push to turn White Bay into concrete central, with the relocated Hansen batching plant, the bulk materials shipping wharf and handling yard, and the casting plant for the Western Harbour Tunnel concrete sections, all sited beside the cruise ship terminal.
From the perspective of the adjoining peninsula residents, it’s akin to the Adani coal mine and the now very real threat of extinction of the critically endangered black-throated finch.
Ben Smee revealed in a Guardian article that “… since 2000, 775 projects overlapping the finch’s shrinking habitat in North Queensland were referred to the Federal Government for assessment under the Environment Protection Biodiversity and Conversation Act. Only one was refused because of an unacceptable impact on the finch.”
“The irony,” according to Smee, “is that environmental laws designed to protect the finch have actually led to the bird’s decline. All of these projects proposed in the finch’s habitat were assessed independently, so the cumulative impact is not properly considered. It’s death by a thousand cuts.” The same criticism applies to WestConnex, the Iron Cove Tunnel, the Western Harbour Tunnel and the myriad developments planned for White Bay.
NSW laws overturned
One recent bright spot, however, in relation to keeping the bastards honest, was the decision to overturn NSW laws limiting the amount of money that could be spent by third parties during election campaigns.
Unions NSW secretary Mark Morey told Guardian Australia, “We’ve basically run this case twice now and both times the High Court has said that the legislation is trying to silence [the government’s] critics and is not valid”. The decision raises the prospect of a significant union campaign in the lead-up to the 23 March poll.
Never let it be said, however, that the NSW Government isn’t genuine when it comes to involving the community in really important decisions. Camperdown residents actually get to choose one of three possible colours for their temporary WestConnex acoustic shed!
So we should all be forever grateful to the NSW Government for their integrity, their sense of perspective and their generosity of spirit.