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Lessons for Indian-Australians from the ICAC findings against Gladys Berejiklian

New migrants who may be used to the systems of delay and corruption in own-culture, must become aware of the strong and far-reaching justice system of new-culture

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The Independent Commission Against Corruption ICAC has today found that former premier Gladys Berejiklian and former Wagga Wagga MP Daryl Maguire both engaged in serious corrupt conduct.

ICAC ruled that by not disclosing her close personal relation with Maguire, Berejiklian was in a position of conflict of interest between public duty and private interest. By exercising her official functions in relation to a $5.5 million award to the Australian Clay Target Association (ACTA) in Maguire’s electorate in 2016 and 2017, she had breached public trust.

Amongst other findings, it was pointed out that Berejiklian engaged in serious corrupt conduct by refusing to discharge her duty under Section 11 of the ICAC Act to notify the commission of her suspicion that Maguire had engaged in activities which concerned, or might have concerned, corrupt conduct. “It undermined the high standards of probity that are sought to be achieved by the ministerial code which, as premier, Ms Berejiklian substantially administered,” ICAC ruled.

Gladys Berejiklian

The NSW ICAC was established in 1988 as an independent organisation to protect the public interest, prevent breaches of public trust, and guide the conduct of public officials in the NSW public sector. It works on an annual budget of $30 million and during its 35-year existence the premier who created ICAC, Nick Greiner, fell on his own sword. In 1992, he was forced to resign when ICAC raised concerns of creating a new job to sideline one of his own party’s political adversaries.

Former Labor ministers Eddie Obeid and Ian MacDonald were found to have acted corruptly by agreeing in 2008 to create a mining tenement over the Obeid family’s farm in the Bylong Valley. The decision delivered the Obeids $30 million with the promise of at least $30 million more.

There have been ICAC investigations at Wollongong Council – in a sex-for-development scandal, amongst other investigations.

As Indian-Australians, we do marvel at the system where a government funded corruption watchdog can claim the scalps of two serving state Premiers and force them to resign. In India, we are well aware of how deep corruption is entrenched in the system. In fact, according to Transparency International (TI), India ranks a high 85th amongst 180 countries, in its 2022 Corruption Perception Index report. Some blame corruption to have started in the times of colonial rule, where the British administration enacted the Official Secrets Act 1923 in which the political and administration class, largely made up of British officers, made it an offence for a public official to disclose state information to the population at large. This then started the culture of bribe and graft from those wanting to access this information to seek a political or economic advantage. This continued post Independence, when the Permit Raj was the governance modus operandi, meaning one had to have a government permit to do business, and continued when India liberalised in 1991. Corruption was so entrenched that the former Indian Prime Minister supposedly said that corruption is a way of life.

The problem, which many observers say, is that corruption in politics is endemic. In India’s general elections of 2019, as many as 233 (about 43%) out of 539 winners had pending criminal cases registered against them, with the legal system slow to prosecute either because of the long backlog in the system or political interference.

This is a far cry from the manner in which the justice system works in Australia. New migrants who may be used to the systems of delay and corruption in their country of origin, need to aware of the strong and far-reaching justice system which is difficult to hide from. Be it a speeding ticket or other misdemeanours, the adherence to law and order is an important aspect of settling into a new country. The corruption findings by ICAC against two Premiers of New South Wales, should be a lesson for us all.

Pawan Luthra
Pawan Luthra
Pawan is the publisher of Indian Link and is one of Indian Link's founders. He writes the Editorial section.

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