The Grattan Institute’s Commonwealth Orange Book report shows that while state governments have led the way on fighting corruption, the federal government had done “very little to improve the integrity of its processes in more than a decade”.
By international standards, Australia was about the middle of the pack on “trust”.
But only a quarter of Australians think “people in government can be trusted to do the right thing” – the lowest since the survey began in 1969.
The study said this was important because a loss of trust in political institutions can undermine democracy and make it harder to bring in reform.
A key concern among voters was governments looking after their own interests, or those of powerful groups, rather than the public interest.
Reform of the way parties are funded would go some way to addressing this.
The report noted public funding was only 32 per cent of political party funding in Australia at the 2016 election, while disclosed private funding made up 26 per cent and the remainder – more than two-fifths of the money received – was undisclosed.
“A high share of donations came from businesses in industries with the most to gain or lose from government decisions,” the report said.
Trust had also been eroded by the perception politicians receive personal gifts and benefits, such as corporate-funded travel and hospitality.
Weaknesses also remain in systems for investigating corruption and misconduct in the public sector and among politicians.
In particular, half the federal public sector is outside the jurisdiction of the Australian Public Service Commission, and no agency is responsible for investigating the conduct of politicians unless a report is made to the Australian Federal Police.
“There is no clear point of contact for members of the public or whistleblowers to report corruption or misconduct,” the report said.
Solutions recommended in the report included a commonwealth integrity commission, cap spending on election advertising, a $5000 threshold for real-time donation disclosure and publication of ministerial diaries.
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