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"Basic steps needed to rid this state of corruption" by John Hatton AOWHEN I announced my candidacy for the upper house at the state election in March, I said: "NSW is a corrupt state." That statement went unchallenged. The frightening reality is that there is a general acceptance that corruption is rife.
The police royal commission, which I helped set in motion, revealed endemic corruption, and 380 officers were charged, sacked or resigned. Crime was facilitated, appointment and promotion of police was fixed at the highest levels. Now corruption has moved into other institutions.
The public service is riddled with political appointees, who can be sacked and replaced without notice or reason. Yes Minister is rife. MPs emerge from a narrow, factionally based and ruthless, centralised preselection system. With less membership than a regional CWA, the NSW Labor Party controls the Parliament, the public service and state resources.
Parliament is merely a tool of the executive, a stage on which they can lie, spin, cheat, cover up, do favours for donors and the well-connected. The public service is a ''political party'' service; economic management is economic mismanagement. Crown land, public assets and heritage have become marketable products. Sale, lease and use rights of real estate feed the corrupt practices, along with flawed processes in planning, tendering, contracting and procurement.
In November I called for a royal commission on corruption of the NSW planning system. Though I'm 15 years retired, and have an unlisted phone number, that was no barrier to the expressions of anger, frustration and outrage about the loss of heritage, trashing of scenic areas, destruction of small business, CBDs and neighbourhoods that poured out.
There is no effective alternative for voters in the main parties. The pursuit of narrow agendas of the Liberal religious right, the misnamed National Party and the mafia-like and ruthless Labor Right do not augur well for the future of government of this state.
NSW is a state without vision, without direction, and closed to the wider public interest and those without money, connection or influence. Major shopping complexes are given exclusive rezoning away from city centres and enjoy instant capital gain and overwhelming market share. Captive small business tenants are locked into repressive leases. Ugly boxes of units create Lego environments, and without transport and adequate services they become social nightmares.
In my experience, political parties seek power, not change. In 22 years as an MP, I saw the Liberal premiers Robert Askin, Tom Lewis, Eric Willis, Nick Greiner and John Fahey and Labor premiers Neville Wran, Barrie Unsworth and Bob Carr. The more recent merry-go-round followed.
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Between 1991 and 1995, Clover Moore, Peter Macdonald and I held the balance of power. Fixed four-year term, constitutional independence of the judiciary, improved parliamentary procedures, changes to laws on defamation, freedom of information and other changes were achieved in a charter of reform. Greiner as premier and Carr as opposition leader were signatories. In the ensuing election with a Labor majority, Carr trashed the agreement.
The lesson is to enshrine in the state constitution the independence of the public service, the right of free speech, and the right of the opposition to free access to the public service at the highest levels. I have been working with the retired NSW auditor-general Tony Harris, and developed a plan to strengthen institutions. These aim to make the government system corruption-proof.
First, establish a Public Service Commission, answerable to the upper house, where the government traditionally is not in control. The commission would be free to appoint public servants on merit.
Second, compel key public servants to be personally responsible for efficiency, openness and accountability, and enshrine protections against their improper influence.
Third, make bipartisan appointments on merit to significant offices, like the Chief Justice, the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Independent Commission Against Corruption, the Police Commissioner and public service commissioners, to ensure impartiality as public watchdogs. Public examination of applicants by a bipartisan parliamentary committee (as in the US) is controversial, yet sound.
Fourth, the right of free speech should be enshrined in defamation law reform with a ''public figure'' test, and an emphasis on apology, the public interest and balance. Openness, accountability, freedom of speech and decentralisation of power all severely restrict the opportunity for corruption.
The upper house must play an active role in making structural change happen. Sound management will engender certainty and a level playing field where ethical, competitive business practice can thrive. Reduction in waste coming from sound management will mean stronger services in health, education and public transport.
Independents in both houses of parliament, free to vote on issues as they see fit but united on bedrock principles of honesty, openness, accountability and high standards of personal behaviour, are the answer. They can forge reform hinging on proper process in government, and not on vote-buying lollies for the electorate or promises of personal advancement.