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Andrew KEENAN

Year of Award: 1989 Award State: New South Wales Emergency Services > Police
Multimedia > Print, Publishing And Journalism
The Donald Mackay Churchill Fellowship to study current methods of understanding, investigating and tackling corruption, with particular emphasis on organised crime's dependence on corruption and the role of investigative journalism in exposing corruption
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Andrew Keenan, an investigative journalist at the Sydney Morning Herald, was interested in how those involved in organised crime depended on corruption. In 1989 he was awarded a Donald MacKay sponsored Churchill Fellowship to explore this subject and to research the role of his profession in exposing it. He visited Hong Kong and the United States to observe current methods of investigating and tackling corruption in those countries.

Andrew discovered that Hong Kong was too different from Australia in politics, population and other ways to offer much relevant information. About the United States, he writes in his report, ‘It was unforgettable. The United States seems to encompass the best and worst of everything. The contrasts are stunning and educational.’

Corruption involves abuse of a public role or trust for the sake of a private benefit. Andrew emphasises that it is the illegal exercise of influence. Politics includes the range of activities that influence who gets what, when and how. These goods and services go from roads to intangible things like manipulation of circumstances so that they become favourable to profit-making for a particular person.

The problem with corruption is that it is one of those acts usually committed between two consenting adults in private, with no outward sign of anything having occurred. This is not to say it is a victimless crime, but this presents an obvious difficulty for anyone seeking to measure it.

The trip stimulated Andrew to ask questions still worth debating today, such as, is there more corruption in the United States, or simply more exposure of it?

Andrew observed that American journalists are far freer than Australian journalists to report details and name names without fear of defamation or contempt of court. He writes that ‘it is not impossible to sue for libel in the US.’ The onus of proof there is on the alleged aggrieved party, but in Australia the onus is on the media organisation or perpetrator of the alleged defamation to prove that no libel occurred.

Andrew argues that one of the best ways to restrict corruption is to provide efficient, fair and open government. A big difference he saw between the United States and Australia is that American society is more open than that in Australia. It is virtually an American maxim that everyone has an opinion and has the right to express it. What struck him was the willingness of American officials to speak out, often critically and without fear of sanction.

By comparison, ours seems clubby and British. There is no assumed right of the public here to know how it is being governed. Rather, there is an attitude of arrogance from governments of all colours. It is possible that this dates to colonial days when the ruling class ruled and the majority of the population was none the wiser nor had any right to know. The Americans, of course, rejected such colonial attitudes.

He noticed that the press is more representative of the public than here. It will not have escaped many readers’ notice that in the 25 years since Andrew Keenan’s travels, media ownership in this country has become increasingly under the control of a very small number of people. This does not diminish the relevance of findings like Andrew’s – pertinent to his time and remaining thought-provoking today when we are pondering issues like what sort of society do we want? Is our current model of media serving our democratic interests as it should – or is it serving the interests of a tiny powerful few?

Andrew concludes: '… organised crime cannot flourish without corruption. Likewise, corruption cannot flourish in an environment of openness and public accountability, which are key factors in any fair and efficient government. I believe also that it is crucial that the forms of accountability be public, rather than internal checks and balances.'

Excerpt from “Inspiring Australians” written by Penny Hanley (2015)

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