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Australian Ethics Booster Resigns

A New South Wales politician once noted for promoting government ethics is forced out for providing `jobs for the boys'

WHEN he came into office in 1988, New South Wales premier Nick Greiner vowed to rid the state of corruption. As part of the process, his Liberal Party government set some of the toughest ethical standards in Australia.

Now Mr. Greiner has been forced out of office for reverting to the old policy of "jobs for the boys."

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Greiner, a member of Parliament for 12 years and a graduate of the Harvard Business School, resigned yesterday. Five days earlier, the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), a government body Greiner set up, found that he had engaged in a corrupt act - appointing a former parliamentarian to a high paying public-service job without going through the normal process.

The Greiner downfall shows how much community standards have changed here. In the past, says Michael Jackson, an associate professor at the University of Sydney, Australian politicians have not set a high premium on getting procedures in place and "strictly following them."

Ironically, Greiner is credited with reforming the system. "This is the cleanest government in my 19 years in Parliament," says John Hatton, an independent member of parliament.

"What's more, [Greiner's] honesty is above reproach," says Gerard Henderson, executive director of the Sydney Institute. Greiner is also credited with bringing solid business methods to the public sector.

Unfortunately, Greiner's political common sense appeared to desert him in April when he agreed to an arrangement with Terry Metherell, a member of Parliament who in October 1991 had switched from Greiner's party to become an independent. On April 10, Dr. Metherell resigned his seat and on the same day was offered a $82,500 per year position with the state Environmental Protection Authority.

The arrangement had been approved by the minister for the environment, Tim Moore, and Greiner. But contrary to the civil- service requirements, there were no job interviews and no one else was considered for the position.

Since Metherell had represented a traditional Liberal seat, his resignation would have given Greiner's minority government an extra seat in Parliament after a by-election. But there was a public outcry after the deal was announced. To stifle criticism, Greiner agreed to refer the affair to ICAC.

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Greiner set up ICAC in 1988 to try to root out corruption. Mr. Jackson notes it has been especially successful in finding and redressing institutional corruption.

ICAC has a very broad definition of corruption which includes any conduct "that adversely affects, or that could adversely affect, either directly or indirectly, the exercise of official functions by any public official." Its commissioner, Ian Temby, calls politicians "the most important role models."

Greiner styled himself as one of those role models and said he was willing to refer the charges to ICAC because he believed in his innocence. As he noted in an April 28 speech, "if what ... I did was corrupt, then in my judgment every political appointment that has ever been made in this State was corrupt." However, in the end he and Mr. Moore agreed to resign in order to prevent a vote of no confidence in their government. The new premier is John Fahey, Greiner's minister for industrial relations.

The Greiner resignation will help the national prospects of the Liberal Party. John Hewson, leader of the Liberals in Canberra, notes three months of bad press has hurt his party. Now the Liberals have to rebuild in New South Wales, he says, before the next state election in 1995 and next federal election in 1993.

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