Identifying and Preventing Gray Corruption in Australian Politics

  • Tim PrenzlerEmail author
  • Bricklyn Horne
  • Alex McKean


Corruption – “grand” or “gray” – is an international problem, and government is a high-risk domain. Research in the field has tended to focus on the more serious and damaging area of grand corruption, including clearly illegal acts such as bribery and embezzlement. However, there is also a growing body of research concerned with more minor and ambiguous areas of alleged misconduct – or “gray” corruption. These include gifts and benefits, misuse of entitlements, influence peddling through donations, excessive and wasteful expenditures, lies and false promises, cronyism, nepotism, and sinecures. Government in Australia presents as an instructive case of scandal and controversy in these areas, with a record of partial and unsatisfactory attempts to manage the challenge. A crisis point was reached during the recent Abbott-led federal government (September 2013 to September 2015), although the problem reached back to previous federal governments and crossed over into state and local government. The issues coalesced around the federal “expenses scandal” of 2014/2015, leading to a major review of parliamentarians’ entitlements, released in 2016. The present paper reviews these issues, drawing primarily on media accounts, focusing on the period of the Abbott government and the aftermath of the entitlements inquiry up to mid-2017. The chapter highlights key lessons for corruption prevention beyond Australia, including the need for much tighter rules and much better enforcement to ensure comprehensive integrity in government.


Corruption Gray corruption Corruption prevention Australia Entitlements 


  1. Albrechtson, J. (2015). It’s the arrogance that stinks to voters. The Australian, 12.Google Scholar
  2. Alexander, C. (2014). Porkies: The biggest broken promises in Australian politics. Accessed 21 Aug 2016.
  3. ANAO. (2015a). Administration of travel entitlements provided to parliamentarians: Department of Finance. Canberra: Australian National Audit Office.Google Scholar
  4. ANAO. (2015b). The Award of funding under the Safer Streets Program. Canberra: Australian National Audit Office.Google Scholar
  5. Anderson, F. (2013). Ethics: When to lay claim and when to lay low. Financial Review, 8.Google Scholar
  6. Aston, H. (2014). Anti-crime funding given to coalition seats. Sydney Morning Herald, 9.Google Scholar
  7. Aston, H. (2015). Grants for CCTV networks not fully documented (p. 7). Sydney Morning Herald.Google Scholar
  8. Aston, H. (2016). Joyce chartered chopper for 120km journey. The Age, 4.Google Scholar
  9. Atkin, M., & Salmon, G. (2015). Concerns raised over medical companies buying influence with Tasmanian health agency staff. Accessed 7 Dec 2015.
  10. Atkins, D. (2013). Tradition of jobs for mates continues. Courier Mail, 16.Google Scholar
  11. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. (2016). Promise tracker. Accessed 5 Feb 2017.
  12. Australian Electoral Commission. (2017a). Costs of elections and referendums. Accessed 8 May 2017.
  13. Australian Electoral Commission. (2017b). Current funding rate. Accessed 8 May 2017.
  14. Barnes, T. (2015). Misusing entitlements. Accessed 4 Dec 2015.
  15. Bartlett, L. (2015). Gifts and gaffes of 2015. Sunday Times, 18.Google Scholar
  16. Battersby, L. (2016). NBN needs extra $20b of public cash to finish rollout. The Age, 3.Google Scholar
  17. Bean, C. (2012). Are we keeping the bastards honest? Perceptions of corruption, integrity and influence on politics. In J. Pietsch & H. Aarons (Eds.), Australia: Identity, fear and governance in the 21st Century (pp. 95–106). Canberra: ANU E Press.Google Scholar
  18. Beaumont, A. (2015). Polls have Labor increasing lead to near 53–47. Accessed 29 Jan 2016.
  19. Bolt, A. (2015). Shameless bishop deserves sack. Cairns Post, 12.Google Scholar
  20. Brenton, S. (2012). Ministers and scandals. In K. Dowding & C. Lewis (Eds.), Ministerial careers and accountability in the Australian Commonwealth Government (pp. 135–152). Canberra: ANU Press.Google Scholar
  21. Brown, A. J. (2013). Towards ‘ideal’ whistleblowing legislation? Some lessons from recent Australian experience. E-Journal of International and Comparative Labour Studies, 2(3), 153–182.Google Scholar
  22. CAANZ. (2017). Australian consumer law review. Canberra: Consumer Affairs Australia and New Zealand.Google Scholar
  23. Cheer, L. (2014). Teacher says PM’s daughter should never have received $60,000 school benefit. Accessed 18 July 2015.
  24. Coghill, K. (2016). Federal donation rules dangerously weak. Australian Financial Review, 35.Google Scholar
  25. Conde, J., Tune, D., Jenkins, H., Nelson, B., & Bardo Nicholls, L. (2016). An independent parliamentary entitlements system: Review. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.Google Scholar
  26. Cornish, D., & Clarke, R. (2003). Opportunities, precipitators and criminal decisions. Crime Prevention Studies, 16, 41–96.Google Scholar
  27. Criminal Justice Commission. (1992). Report of an investigation into possible misuse of parliamentary travel entitlements by members of the 1986–1989 Queensland Legislative Assembly. Brisbane: Author.Google Scholar
  28. Devic, A. (2013). Gifts for cops: Registers shows perks. Herald Sun, 21.Google Scholar
  29. Dowling, J. (2013). No more free lunch. Herald Sun, 9.Google Scholar
  30. Dunlop, C. (2016). $1m bill for six months. Centralian Advocate, 9.Google Scholar
  31. Editorial (2015). Political donations system needs reform. The Age, 16.Google Scholar
  32. Electoral Commission Queensland. (2017). Accessed 8 July 2017.
  33. Graycar, A. (2014). Awareness of corruption in the community and public service: A Victorian study. Australian Journal of Public Administration, 73(2), 271–281.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Graycar, A. (2015). Corruption: Classification and analysis. Policy and Society, 34(2), 87–96.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Graycar, A., & Prenzler, T. (2013). Understanding and preventing corruption. London: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Hall, B. (2013). MPs repay $20K in just weeks. Sydney Morning Herald, 15.Google Scholar
  37. Hall, L. (2014). Student ‘acted in public interest. Sydney Morning Herald, 13.Google Scholar
  38. Hannam, P. (2016). AGL pleads guilty to 11 political donation disclosure law breaches. Sydney Morning Herald, 11.Google Scholar
  39. Hannan, L. (2011). Regrets? Maybe just a few. Sydney Morning Herald, 6.Google Scholar
  40. Hare, J. (2015). Crisis? What crisis? Salary packages of VCs rising. The Australian, 30.Google Scholar
  41. Hare, J. (2016). Sharp rise in salaries for selected VCs. The Australian (p. 30).Google Scholar
  42. Hudson, P. (2014a). Let’s ground ex-pollies flying high on gravy plane. The Australian, 10.Google Scholar
  43. Hudson, P. (2014b). Abbott right to ground MPs’ gravy plane. The Australian, 10.Google Scholar
  44. Hunady, J. (2017). Individual and institutional determinants of corruption in the EU countries. Economics and Politics, 34(1), 139–157.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. ICAC. (2013). Investigation into the conduct of Ian Macdonald, Ronald Medich and others. Sydney: Independent Commission Against Corruption.Google Scholar
  46. ICAC. (2014). Investigation into the conduct of a Railcorp manager and a Housing NSW employee. Sydney: Independent Commission Against Corruption.Google Scholar
  47. ICAC. (2016). Investigation into NSW Liberal Party electoral funding for the 2011 state election campaign and other matters. Sydney: Independent Commission Against Corruption.Google Scholar
  48. Integrity Commission. (2014). An investigation into allegations of nepotism and conflict of interest by senior health managers. Hobart: Author.Google Scholar
  49. Integrity Commission. (2015). An own motion investigation into policies, practices and procedures relating to receiving and declaring of gifts and benefits in the Tasmanian State Service. Hobart: Author.Google Scholar
  50. Iser, R. (2013). Flying high: Labor ministers racked up millions in VIP travel. Accessed 5 March 2017.
  51. Jackson, E. (2016). Haigh: Cambodia refugee deal a gross waste of money. Accessed 5 March 2017.
  52. Kemp, M. (2016). Fat cats cash grab. Advertiser, 1.Google Scholar
  53. Killoran, M. (2015). Cashing in on council bonus. Courier Mail, 19.Google Scholar
  54. Killoran, M. (2016). Pension tension. Courier Mail, 21.Google Scholar
  55. Kirkpatric, F. (2013). Prime minister can’t ride out expenses scandal. The Examiner, 19.Google Scholar
  56. Knott, M. (2015). Government defends cost of higher education ads. Canberra Times, A004.Google Scholar
  57. Konald, C. (2007). Perceived corruption, public opinion, and social influence in Senegal. Cape Town: The Institute for Democracy in South Africa.Google Scholar
  58. Koziol, M. (2017). No child will live in poverty? Sydney Morning Herald, 12.Google Scholar
  59. Leslie, T. (2016). Political donations: Here’s what the latest data doesn't tell us. Accessed 5 March 2017.
  60. Lewis, R. (2015). Chopper cuts down a high-rolling lifestyle. The Australian, 4.Google Scholar
  61. Maiden, S. (2014). Axe the tax, or we’ll vote you out, PM told. The Advertiser, 2.Google Scholar
  62. Maiden, S. (2015). Hockey joins the double dippers. Daily Telegraph, 3.Google Scholar
  63. Marszalek, J. (2014). They’re no oil paintings. Herald Sun, 5.Google Scholar
  64. Masters, A., & Graycar, A. (2015). Media reporting of corruption: Policy implications. Crime, Law & Social Change, 64(2), 153–175.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Matthewson, P. (2015). Bishop has resigned, but the entitlements war isn’t over yet. Accessed 5 March 2017.
  66. McAllister, I. (2014). Corruption and confidence in Australian political institutions. Australian Journal of Political Science, 49(2), 174–185.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Medhora, S. (2015). .Cory Bernardi defends using taxpayers’ money to attend anti-abortion event. Accessed 4 Dec 2015.
  68. Meers, D. (2015). MPs’ plane stupidity. Courier Mail, 15.Google Scholar
  69. Merritt, C. (2016). Extraordinary tactics to nail whistleblowers moves us into dangerous era of secrecy. The Australian, 23.Google Scholar
  70. Nadin, M. (2012). Hockey tolls bell on age of entitlement. The Australian, 2–4.Google Scholar
  71. Needham, K. (2013). Readers help expose dubious claims. Sun Herald, 4.Google Scholar
  72. (2013). $7000 for a ping pong table just the tip of the local council spending iceberg. Accessed 6 March 2017.
  73. Nickless, R. (2014). Academic brings action against Abbott in unfair dismissal case over daughter's $60,000 scholarship. The Age, 8.Google Scholar
  74. Norrington, B. (2014). Vintage ‘gift’ could leave a bitter taste. The Australian, 1.Google Scholar
  75. Orr, G. (2016). Party finance law in Australia: Innovation and enervation. Electoral Law Journal, 15(1), 58–70.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Overington, C. (2017). Ignorance no excuse when you’re the chairman. The Australia, 5.Google Scholar
  77. Owens, J. (2014). Brandis orders library ladder. The Australian, 1–4.Google Scholar
  78. Packham, B., & Kelly, J. (2013). Abbott defends his travel bills. The Australian, 1.Google Scholar
  79. Parker, G. (2007). Pratt fined record $36m for price fix. The West Australian, 1.Google Scholar
  80. Peatling, S. (2016a). MPs caught short over taxpayer cash for campaigns. The Age, 13.Google Scholar
  81. Peatling, S. (2016b). MPs using perks to pay mortgages. The Age, 21.Google Scholar
  82. Prenzler, T., Beckley, A., & Bronitt, S. (2013). Police gifts and benefits scandals: Addressing deficits in policy, leadership and enforcement. International Journal of Police Science and Management, 15(4), 294–304.Google Scholar
  83. Remuneration, T. (2017). Implementing the recommendations of the independent parliamentary entitlements system review. Canberra: Author.Google Scholar
  84. Richter, W., & Burke, F. (2007). Combating corruption, encouraging ethics. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.Google Scholar
  85. Roberts, L. (2015). MP defends cost to set up new offices. Northern Daily Leader, 1.Google Scholar
  86. Robertson, J., & Swan, J. (2013). Big bucks for MPs’ Bollywood adventure. Sydney Morning Herald, 5.Google Scholar
  87. Roy Morgan. (2016). Roy Morgan Image of Professions Survey 2016. Accessed 20 July 2017.
  88. Shepherd, T. (2015). MPs queue for shot at Speaker’s big salary. Advertiser, 6.Google Scholar
  89. Smith, M. (2015). MP expenses throw up a few surprises. Mercury, 59.Google Scholar
  90. Staff Writers (2016). The 10 most outrageous things pollies have spent our money on. Accessed 3 March 2016.
  91. Stone, G. (2013). Expense bills causing controversy. Examiner, 4.Google Scholar
  92. Strathearn, P. (2015). Busy office a costly business in federal politics. Murray Valley Standard, 1.Google Scholar
  93. Sutton, C. (2013). City of Sydney Council plants world's most expensive hedge project. Accessed 5 March 2017.
  94. Swan, J. (2013). ‘Minister for books’ will have to do without shelf company for a while. Canberra Times, A004.Google Scholar
  95. Swan, J., Bachelard, M. & Hurst, D. (2013). PM slips up on wedding claim. Sydney Morning Herald, 1.Google Scholar
  96. Swan, J., & Visentin, L. (2013). Offside: Joyce bills public for NRL games. Canberra Times, A4.Google Scholar
  97. Sweet, M. (2013). What does $895 buy when it comes to Liberal Party health policy? Accessed 4 Dec 2015.
  98. TI Australia. (2016). Anti-corruption agencies in Australia. Accessed 3 Dec 2016.
  99. TI Australia. (2017). Global Corruption Barometer 2017: Results for Australia. Melbourne: Transparency International.Google Scholar
  100. Transparency International. (2016). Corruption Perceptions Index, 2016. Accessed 30 Aug 2017.
  101. Truex, R. (2010). Corruption, attitudes and education: Survey evidence from Nepal. World Development, 39(7), 1133–1142.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  102. Uhlmann, C. (2017). Here are some facts Bob Carr forgot to mention. The Australian, 14.Google Scholar
  103. United Nations. (1996). International Code of Conduct for Public Officials. Geneva: Author.Google Scholar
  104. United Nations. (2003). United Nations Convention against Corruption. Vienna: United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.Google Scholar
  105. Uren, D. (2016). Coalition wins hands down on pork-barrelling. The Australian, 6.Google Scholar
  106. Waterford, J. (2015). Putting in the golden slipper. Canberra Times, A017.Google Scholar
  107. Whinnett, E. (2015a). Poor poll position. Herald Sun, 8.Google Scholar
  108. Whinnett, E. (2015b). Bishop, Abbott and how it all ended. Herald Sun, 34.Google Scholar
  109. Wright, T. (2014). Abbott’s raft of broken promises. Canberra Times, A004.Google Scholar
  110. Young, S. (2013). Australian politics 101: Take the money and run. The Age, 44.Google Scholar
  111. Zhang, Y., & Lavena, C. (Eds.). (2015). Government anti-corruption strategies: A Cross-cultural perspective. Boca Raton: CRC Press.Google Scholar

Legal Cases

  1. Slipper v Magistrates Court of the ACT and Turner and Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions [2014] ACTSC 85 (9 May 2014).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of the Sunshine CoastSippy DownsAustralia

Personalised recommendations