Fraud, including corruption (involving an abuse or misuse of public position), is and continues to be an endemic problem for all governments. There is no reason in principle or practice for the focus on foreign bribery to be at the cost of not addressing national, domestic corruption, however uncomfortable that might be to national politicians and public officials.

There are certain key views about fraud in and affecting the Commonwealth government that have recently been reviewed (Australian Institute of Criminology, Fraud Against the Commonwealth 2010-2013, Canberra, July 2015).

Over the 3 years between 2010 and 2013, there were at least 265,866 incidents of suspected fraud reported by Commonwealth entities.

  • Each year, substantially greater numbers of external fraud incidents were detected than suspected internal fraud incidents.
  • Fraud involving financial benefits was the most frequently reported category of external fraud.
  • Over the 3 years, the number of fraud-related corruption increased substantially from 37 incidents in 2010-2011 to 163 in 2012-2013.
  • While the cost of this fraud is hard to quantify and figures may vary, a conservative estimate is approximately $530m over 3 years, with increases from $119m in 2010-2011 to $204m in 2011-2012 to $207m in 2012-2013.
  • Over the 3 years, external fraud accounted for $521m while internal fraud amounted to $9.1m or 1.7% of the total reported fraud losses.
  • In relation to external fraud:
    • risks arise in connection with the provision of new benefits, the introduction of new taxes, procurement practices, government-funded programs and the use of consultants; and
    • the relationship between corruption and collusion between external actors and those public servants working within government.

The Resources Management Guide No 201 Preventing, Detecting and Dealing with Fraud, reflecting the 2011 Commonwealth Fraud Control Guidelines, require Commonwealth entities to investigate routine or minor instances of fraud. More serious instances are usually referred to the AFP.

Who investigates Government fraud at the Commonwealth level? In the first instance, the relevant entity conducts its own investigation. If the incident is more serious, the AFP is usually called in pursuant to a referral and if charges arise, they are conducted by the CDPP. More broadly, the Commonwealth Integrity Commissioner, supported by the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity, is responsible for preventing, detecting and investigating serious and systemic corruption issues in a limited number of prescribed Australian Government law enforcement agencies.

The Criminal Code contains extensive provisions dealing with offences involving Commonwealth public officials which are separate from the foreign bribery offence. Nevertheless, foreign bribery and corruption (involving public officials and private commercial interests) are but one shade of fraud in a general sense as the public invariably perceive it. To have proactive anti-corruption commissions at the State level, but nothing at the Commonwealth level is, to say the least, very puzzling. The public is rightly sceptical of politicians who are the first to cast accusations at opponents for impropriety, yet then duck and weave when anyone suggests a truly independent body be created to review allegations of improper or illegal conduct. The creation of such a body can only improve the public’s perception of politicians and the political process which ought to place trust, integrity and ethical conduct at the forefront of how our community leaders behave.