Bad Time for Corruption | Between the Lines


The Wrap with Richard Denniss

After more than a decade of work, it was incredible to wake up on 1 July and know that Australia finally had a federal anti-corruption watchdog in place.

The role of a think-tank is to make the radical seem reasonable, and one of the biggest challenges in explaining the impact of a think-tank is that it’s often hard to remember how the world used to be.

Suffice to say that a decade ago few believed Australia needed its own anti-corruption watchdog and even fewer believed a Federal Government would ever legislate and fund one. Believe it or not, once upon a time, one of the central arguments against a national anti-corruption watchdog was that while local and state governments might get caught up in things like property development scandals, Federal MPs focused on national policy so there wasn’t much scope for corruption at the Federal level!

Speaking of making the radical seem reasonable, over a year ago the Australia Institute was releasing research showing it was profits, not wages, that were driving Australia’s inflation. In a recent essay for The Monthly, I spell out the fight we have been having with the RBA, Treasury and a wide range of pro-business voices who were determined to blame workers, whose real wages were falling, for Australia’s current bout of inflation.

It’s likely Phillip Lowe will be replaced as RBA Governor in the next month or so, but what is less certain is whether the new Governor will continue to misdiagnose the cause of our problems and, as a result, prescribe the wrong medicine.

Spoiler alert: the essay ends with the OECD and most of the international economic institutions sharing the Australia Institute’s conclusions about what’s going on.

Read Richard Denniss’ article in The Monthly: The High Cost of Lowe Inflation 

Finally, we had another big win last week.

Last week the Federal Government’s ‘Green Wall Street’ crashed after a senate inquiry exposed its significant failings.

The so-called ‘Nature Repair Market’ was framed as a means to attract private investment to protect and regenerate Australia’s collapsing ecosystems because the Government can’t be expected to ‘foot the bill alone’. However it became increasingly clear during the inquiry that, not only does the market not stack up environmentally or economically, the legislation would have created a market for biodiversity offsets where it’s ok to destroy habitat if someone else saves some.

What could go wrong?

Well, as Climate & Energy Director Polly Hemming pointed out again and again, a lot. And in addition to all the problems with trying to create the rules for market trades in platypus protection, we also pointed out that the Government was relying on a flawed report by PwC to make the claim that the Nature Repair Market would ‘unlock $137 billion in financial flows’.

The Government didn’t appear to make any attempt to verify PwC’s report, nor carry out modelling of their own. But it was so confident in the numbers, this figure ended up in the explanatory memorandum of the bill. Yet even PwC walked back their claim in response to our critique, accepting it measures “indirect spending towards biodiversity” but the amount spent on “threatened species conservation, with clear outcomes, is likely much less”.

This extraordinary video from the Senate Inquiry shows just how broken parts of our public service have become and highlights the extent to which the private sector is shaping our policies.

The advantage of being a broad-based think-tank with a long-term focus is that, eventually, all the pieces fit together.

— Richard Denniss, Executive Director of the Australia Institute

Vale Dr Hugh Saddler, Leading Australian Energy Researcher & Founding Board Director of the Australia Institute

We would like to extend condolences at the sad passing on 29th June 2023 of Dr Hugh Saddler, a founding director of the Australia Institute and a titan of Australian energy research.

His contribution to climate policy cannot be overstated. He helped design our National Greenhouse gas accounts, the ACT’s innovative ‘reverse auction’ process for its 100% renewable energy & so much more.

Hugh will be remembered for his public-spirited research, his successful outreach and his influential advice to governments. He was a dear friend and colleague to many, and a mentor and teacher of countless young minds.

Read more about Dr Hugh Saddler, and his incredible contributions to shaping energy policy in his obituary in The Guardian.

The Big Stories

There’s a NACC for that

Australia finally has a National Anti-Corruption Commission!

Within days of being established, the NACC has already been flooded with reports, receiving over 300 referrals in the first week of operation.

While it’s not clear how many of these reports will “warrant a full investigation” according to NACC Commissioner Paul Brereton, the overwhelming support makes it clear the NACC  has already proved itself as an idea whose time has come.

The Australia Institute has supported a national anti-corruption body for a long time.

We congratulate the Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus for fulfilling their election promise to legislate a strong federal corruption watchdog in its first six months in office and to have it up and running as soon as possible.

We also want to acknowledge and congratulate Independent Member for Indi, Helen Haines (and her predecessor Cathy McGowan), Senator Larissa Waters and the Greens for their strong and consistent advocacy over many years, as well as other members of the crossbench who have been critical to keeping the pressure on both Coalition and Labor Governments.

We thank and congratulate the National Integrity Committee of retired Judges for their policy work, which created the blueprint for an effective corruption watchdog, and their tireless advocacy to fill the gaps in our federal integrity systems.

And lastly, we want to thank and congratulate you, our supporters, for helping to make this possible.

Polly Hemming on The Drum

Climate & Energy Director Polly Hemming appeared on The Drum where she discussed the overinflated role of the gas industry in Australia.

When it was put to Polly that Australia would never stop exporting gas because of how big an industry it was, Polly didn’t miss a beat.

“It is a huge industry, it doesn’t bring much to the Australian economy though. If anything, it costs the Australian economy.

It’s not a big employer

❌ It doesn’t pay much tax

❌ It doesn’t pay much in royalties, and 

❌ The profits go offshore.”

SA Ready to Give Harmful Ads the Boot

South Australians are sick and tired of ads for gambling, alcohol and fossil fuels getting in the way when they’re trying to watch sport, our research has found, with a majority supporting banning gambling, alcohol and fossil fuel advertising during sporting events and in sporting broadcasts in the state.

Our research shows three in four South Australians (77%) agree that gambling advertising should be banned in sport, two in three (64%) agree that alcohol advertising should be banned and one in two (51%) agree that fossil fuel advertising should be banned.

While this research is concentrated on South Australia, momentum is building towards a ban on harmful advertising in sports across Australia. The only question now is when that ban will come into effect and how rigorous it will be.

Talking Up the Murray Darling

The Murray Darling Basin Plan, a Government initiative to coordinate water use across multiple states and the ACT, has been in place since 2012. 

But now, 11 years later and with less than a year until its projected finish date, the $13 billion dollar plan is well off track, leaving states and towns high and dry.

Kate McBride, Parliamentary Liason Officer and resident Australia Institute bushie, has taken to the road with the Murray Darling Conservation Alliance, as part of the Life or Death for the Murray Darling panel, speaking to people across Australia about their concerns and answering their questions.

Her final stop is in Melbourne, Friday 7 July, with a livestream of the event available.

The Quote

“When people say this is about changing Australian identity, it’s not. It’s about location; we are located here together, we are born here, we arrive here, we die here and we must coexist in a peaceful way.

The fundamental message that many elders planted in the Uluru Statement is that . . . the country needs peace, and the country cannot be at peace until we meet; the Uluru Statement is the beginning of that.”

— Professor Megan Davis on a Voice to Parliament in her Quarterly Essay: Voice of Reason on Recognition and Renewal

We were delighted to host a brilliant discussion on the Voice with Professor Megan Davis in conversation with Professor Mark Kenny.

Only on Australia Institute TV. You can watch it here.

The Win

Success! Green Wall Street Delayed Indefinitely

The reporting date for the Senate inquiry into the Nature Repair Market Bill has been indefinitely delayed, and the Australia Institute played a key part.

Originally instigated by a self-initiated PwC report, the Nature Repair Market Bill proposed outsourcing the environmental protection and restoration of Australia’s collapsing ecosystems to the private sector, on the absurd basis that the Government “couldn’t afford” to do the job.

Richard Denniss appeared at the Senate Committee hearing on the Nature Repair Market to present our submission.

After the days hearings it was clear there was no evidence that the market would successfully protect and restore our ecosystems more efficiently than with government regulation, government grants or direct public provision.

In response to the Australia Institute’s submission critiquing the PwC report, which the entire Nature Repair Market Bill appeared to be premised, PwC walked back their own report.

It’s a big step forward in the fight against greenwashing and ineffective climate policy.

The Bin

APPEA Submission to the Senate Inquiry into greenwashing

The Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association’s submission to the senate inquiry into greenwashing is the most perfect demonstration of why we need a Senate Inquiry into greenwashing.

As Polly Hemming wrote, “APPEA is sad activists don’t face the same level of accountability that fossil fuel companies face. They’re right – activists are intimidated, fined & jailed.”

Meanwhile the CEOs of fossil fuel companies are given the red carpet treatment in Australia.

Compare the pair.

What’s On

No New Coal and Gas Forum | 6:30pm Tuesday, 11 July 2023

Join us at St Kilda Town Hall for this special event, to find out about Australia’s plans for vast new export coal mines and gas fields, despite calls by the International Energy Agency, United Nations as well as scientists and civil society organisations from Australia and around the world to stop all new investment in fossil fuels.

6:30pm Tuesday, 11 July 2023, St Kilda Town Hall 

Free, RSVP Essential 

National Manufacturing Summit | 2-3 August 2023

The National Manufacturing Summit gathers leading representatives from all the major stakeholders in Australia’s manufacturing sector—business, unions, universities, the financial sector, suppliers, and government—to discuss the sector’s prospects, and identify promising, pragmatic policy measures designed to support an industrial turnaround.

With the theme of ‘Manufacturing the Energy Revolution: Industrial Opportunities from Renewable Energy’, the aim of the Summit is to leverage the opportunities currently available in the manufacturing sector, and translate these into action.

Wednesday 2 & Thursday 3 August 2023, Old Parliament House Canberra

Buy Tickets Now 

The Carmichael Lecture | 6pm Wednesday, 16 August 2023

The Laurie Carmichael Lecture will be held at 6pm Wednesday August 16, at RMIT University in Melbourne.

Sharan Burrow, former General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (2010-2022) and President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (2000–2010) will speak on ‘Global Worker Solidarity for a Peaceful, Sustainable World, ’ and then answer audience questions, facilitated by ACTU Assistant Secretary Joseph Mitchell.

6pm Wednesday, 16 August 2023, RMIT University Melbourne 

Free, RSVP essential 

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