28 July 2009

N.S.W is not New Jersey; Why is that?

There's been a bit in the Australian press in amazement about goings
on in New Jersey. Here's Adam Graycar, who used to run the
Australian Institute of Criminology here, giving his take on the
US system compared with the Australian one. It's pretty superficial,
but cross-cultural studies are revealing, so here goes:

MARK COLVIN: It's a story with the all the hallmarks of a script
of the Sopranos; a massive corruption scandal in New York's
hinterlands of New Jersey and Brooklyn.

Three mayors, a member of the New Jersey Governor's cabinet,
two state assemblymen and five rabbis are among the 44 people
arrested in a huge police round-up.

Most of them are accused of taking big backhanders to help
developers get their building projects through.

Professor Adam Graycar used to run the Australian Institute
of Criminology, but now he's living in New Jersey as Dean of the
School of Criminal Justice at Rutgers University. He's back in
Australia where he's taking a seminar at the United States Studies
Centre at Sydney University.

You must also be wishing you were back in New Jersey again?

ADAM GRAYCAR: Well, I can read it on the net, but nevertheless
it's like another day in New Jersey.

MARK COLVIN: But you run an institute for the study of corruption.
Just tell us the story here, what's been going on?

ADAM GRAYCAR: We do that… I work in the criminal justice school.
Corruption is a very important area of study; it's an important area
of criminality.

When I set the institute up I wanted to work internationally - World
Bank, United Nations and the local media gave me stick and they
said why don't you study local things there's enough happening.

MARK COLVIN: In New Jersey, in the city in which I teach five of the
last seven mayors have gone to jail…have been indicted or gone to
jail for corruption. Numerous governors and others have done
things that you wouldn't even read about in novels.

MARK COLVIN: Some of this is absolutely lurid. Some of it actually
involves the sale of human kidneys.

ADAM GRAYCAR: There are two elements to this story today. One
part of it is, you know, good straight honest corruption; you pay the
local mayor a bag full of money so that you can get a building
approval through.

But a lot of the money that was being handled was laundered also
by a group of rabbis it appears. One of whom was deeply involved
in selling kidneys, getting donors to contribute their kidneys for a
small amount of money, selling them for a large amount of money
and laundering the money.

MARK COLVIN: Were people taking money for themselves or for
the Democratic Party, or what?

ADAM GRAYCAR: I've only just started to read the charge sheets.
It's a bigger issue than that. Very often money comes as campaign
contributions below the radar, but a lot of it does go into private

The Mayor of a town called Hoboken, which is just on the waterfront
opposite Manhattan, was arrested today. He'd been in the job for 23
days and he had more than $25,000 in bribes, and this was the third

MARK COLVIN: In that 23 days?

ADAM GRAYCAR: That he'd taken. And the FBI had wire tapped him
according the charge sheet and he said we know who's with us and
we'll, you know, grind into the ground those who aren't. So it appears
- and this is the cultural thing - many people have gone into politics
so that they could get their hands on the loot.

MARK COLVIN: Could this happen here in Australia? Could… it seems
to be a sting operation. Would Australia law allow this?

ADAM GRAYCAR: Ah, it's not the sort of thing that I think Australian
law enforcement officials would get themselves involved in.

I'm here at the United States Studies Centre trying to look at some of
comparisons. And I tell people story after story about New Jersey and
of course not all of America is like New Jersey. But there are parts of
Pennsylvania and New York and, where things have happened and I
keep saying - could his have happened here? And the answer, I think,
is no, for many reasons.

MARK COLVIN: You mean the corruption couldn't have happened or
the operation against it couldn't have happened.

ADAM GRAYCAR: The corruption would not have happened. I don't
know enough about the local law as to whether a sting operation
could take place. Some of the sting operations in the United States
have set up fictitious situations and that is, yeah, ethically, you
know, quite challengeable.

MARK COLVIN: So what is about the culture there?

ADAM GRAYCAR: I think there are two significant differences. One,
the American system of government, or the many systems of
government, doesn't really have any responsibility fixed in any place.
Municipalities do a lot of stuff. There's local government, there's
county government, there's state government, there's federal
government. The rules are so complex and things change all the
time and so the lower down you go the easier it is to be below the
radar. And secondly, there is no generally accepted culture of
integrity. There are individuals with integrity, but the very thought
of having something like a corruption commission, an ICAC
[Independent Commission Against Corruption], giving it teeth,
just wouldn't work there because people don't see it.

And thirdly, I suppose, people are rewarded for getting ahead,
and if you cut a corner or two to get ahead, well, it shows that
you've got a bit of wherewithal.

MARK COLVIN: Is it an area where there's actually too much
democracy. I mean, we know that in some municipalities in
America even the dog catcher is elected. Is the fact that there
isn't a permanent public service to the level that we have it,
is that part of it?

ADAM GRAYCAR: The public service in… where I work is
generally despised. It's regarded as low grade people who
can't do anything else and there in it for security. People don't
go into public service as they do in Europe, in the United
Kingdom and Australia, you know, to do good work and
who've done well.

But it's more than that. It's the complexity of the situation
and a culture where people feel you've got to get ahead.
And there are so many rules.

When you read the history of New Jersey, what you read today
is no different to what you read a decade ago and two decades
ago and three decades ago. And numerous politicians have come
in saying - I'm going to clean it up, this is not acceptable. And
within a year, two years, you know, they're indicted as well.

MARK COLVIN: In the meantime can we watch old editions of
the Sopranos as if they were a documentary?

ADAM GRAYCAR: (laughs) I've never worked out whether the
movies follow real life or real life follows the movies.

MARK COLVIN: Thank you very much Professor Adam Graycar.

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