Today’s on-line edition of the Sydney Morning Herald includes an article titled No fish too small, says Greiner in defence of ICAC, in which the former Premier of NSW Mr. Nick Greiner argues that the role of ICAC is to investigate all corruption, not just the big issues. Mr. Greiner is quoted in the SMH article as saying of the role of ICAC that:
”I think it’s a bit easy to say that they shouldn’t investigate small things. It’s about trying to change culture and attitude. It’s not whether this is a venal or mortal sin.”
On this point I agree with Mr. Greiner. Public service corruption (which is wide spread and goes largely unchecked) needs to be identified and clamped down on at all levels. The public sector is a huge drain on the resources of our nation and the actions of its officers impact on our basic freedoms, every day of our lives, all the more so if you happen to be Indigenous, a refugee or poor.
In my post The educational haves vs. Wilcannia Central School I noted that when I contacted the office of the NSW Minister for Education to Ms. Verity Firth MLA for a comment about Wilcannia Central School I was told politely, but firmly, to go and “shove my question up your arse”. The comment, or more precisely question, I wanted to pose to the Minister was:
Should the actions of the Principal of Wilcannia Central School in suspending large numbers of Indigenous students contrary to departmental policy be referred to ICAC for investigation?
“Shove your question up your arse” was the response from the Minister’s staff. Well, I guess the public service is awash with the puerile. Though disappointed with the Minister’s response, I wasn’t shocked or even surprised.
Given that Mr. Noel Beddoe, the man tasked with investigating the claims made about Wilcannia Central School, wrote to the NSW Ombudsman alleging that the school(though it should be the school principal) acted contrary to departmental policy in the way it handled it’s suspensions of Indigenous and other students, I thought my question to the Education Minister fair.
So what can ICAC investigate? Corrupt conduct in the NSW public sector. What is corrupt conduct? This is a little more difficult to answer, made more so because not even the AFP seems to know what constitutes corrupt conduct. However, for those of us who live in NSW the Independent Commission Against Corruption Act 1988 (NSW) defines corruption as being a deliberate or intentional wrongdoing, not negligence or a mistake. It has to involve or affect a NSW public official or public sector organisation.
If Mr. Beddoe’s concerns regarding the suspensions of Indigenous and other students from Wilcannia Central School are eventually confirmed by the NSW Ombudsman, my question to the Minister for Education will remain the same:
Should the actions of the Principal of Wilcannia Central School in suspending large numbers of Indigenous Students contrary to departmental policy be referred to ICAC for investigation?
This isn’t a trivial issue. Wilcannia is a town with an overwhelming Indigenous population and few jobs. There is a scheme afoot to provide job opportunities in the town for those who complete their schooling to Year 12. If the actions of the Principal of Wilcannia Central School result in even one Indigenous pupil being denied the opportunity for employment in the town, it is corruption that has adversely affected someone’s life. And it’s not just someone; it is someone who falls into the most disadvantaged category. An Indigenous person living in a remote community and every single someone is a human being!
The lack of triviality extends beyond the loss of employment opportunities. The Gillard Government seems hell-bent on extending the income management provisions refined in the recent Commonwealth invasion and occupation of the Northern Territory’s Indigenous Communities to other Indigenous Communities and indeed to the wider community. If this happens, the Indigenous victims of the alleged corruption of the Principal of Wilcannia Central School will be forced into a life of poverty and government supervision!
Australia, one of the world’s great Democracies! Now that is a scary thought.