Australia's commitment to the Anti Bribery Convention could be derailed, according to Transparency International, unless the nation - and other countries party to the convention - picks up the slack and improves enforcement measures to eliminate foreign bribery.
The 1997 OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions was once hailed as a landmark success in the corruption fight, but Transparency International's latest progress report into the convention finds the commitment is basically toothless, with very few signatories actually carrying out effective enforcement.
Just 4 of the 36 countries party to the Anti-Bribery Convention were found to be active enforcers or anti-bribery measures, according to the report. Eleven countries are carrying out moderate enforcement, while the remaining 21 countries - including Australia - are carrying out little to no enforcement at all.
In particular, Australia's scorecard on anti-bribery measures was found to have some significant short fallings. Although a Royal Commission was established in 2005 to investigate alleged illegal oil-for-food related payments made to Iraq by the Australian Wheat Board, the report found that there have been no foreign bribery prosecutions in Australia in the last two years, and very few investigations are currently in progress.
Australia's accounting and auditing requirement laws were satisfactory, but not deep or detailed enough in practice to pick up bribery without a tip-off.
The report authors Fritz Heimann and Gillian Dell claim the present situation is dangerous because it is unstable and without improved enforcement the level of international commitment is likely to deteriorate.
"There are already signs of backsliding, with some government efforts to curtail the ability of investigative magistrates to bring cases, shorten statutes of limitations, and extend immunities from prosecution," write the report authors.
"The risk of backsliding has grown more acute during a time of worldwide recession when competition for decreasing numbers of orders has intensified greatly."
The authors recommend Australia increases financial penalties for bribery for corporations and individuals - and that companies with operations in high risk and less developed companies introduce externally monitored bribery hotlines.