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Tag Archives: corruption

Corruption, kickbacks and slush funds – see ICAC

It’s not hard to work out Tony’s game plan for the next election. He is going to run hard on union corruption and their connection to Labor.

Heydon ruling himself unbiased in the eyes of a reasonable person has laid the ground work. Why did they try, unsuccessfully, to smear this honourable man? What have Labor and the unions got to hide?

When he released his 1800-page interim report in December last year, Mr Heydon said the 87-page third volume needed to remain secret to “protect the physical well-being of those witnesses [appearing at the commission] and their families. This is unfortunate, because the confidential volume reveals grave threats to the power and authority of the Australian state“.

If it is a secret one wonders why he makes such a public comment on it. Don’t you just stamp it confidential without such hyperbolic description? And if it is so explosive, why has nothing been done about it for 9 months?

Tony Abbott offered a personal briefing to Jacqui Lambie on its contents to try and secure her vote for the re-establishment of the “tough cop on the beat” ABCC. Is this information being suppressed to be used as a political bargaining chip, to be revealed at a time deemed appropriate by the government?

On the advice of the Federal Executive Council, in October last year the term of the TURC was extended for a year with the report to be tabled by December 31 2015. Could this be pertinent to the talk of a March election?

It was also requested that the following paragraph be inserted into the Letters Patent:

“(ia) any criminal or otherwise unlawful act or omission undertaken for the purpose of facilitating or concealing any conduct or matter mentioned in paragraphs (g) to (i);”

One would assume they felt it necessary to have that included so I wonder about its implications.

In 1989, Justice Heydon conducted an inquiry for the NSW Liberal Government into the “Duties and Fiduciary Obligations of Officials of Industrial Unions of Employers and Employees”.

In February 2014 Tony Abbott announced “the establishment of a Royal Commission to inquire into alleged financial irregularities associated with the affairs of trade unions.”

Heydon’s 1989 report called for improvements in the governance of trade unions, and for union officials to be equated with company directors, and overseen by the corporate regulator — now ASIC.

In March 2013 Tony Abbott introduced a private members bill to amend legislation on registered organisations such as trade unions.

“There is a need for comparable penalties for comparable offences whether the offenders are union officials or company officials,” Mr Abbott told the lower house. “Commit the same crime, face the same punishment.”

Liberal Party policy going into the election bore a strong resemblance to Heydon’s recommendations from decades ago.

This attack on unions and Labor has been in the planning for a long time. No doubt there has been some corruption in unions but to tar all of them for the actions of a few individuals is unwarranted. The unions themselves want to, and have, prosecuted corrupt officials. It was their civil action that saw Kathy Jackson found guilty, ably supported by Wixxy’s incredible body of evidence – the RC had nothing to do with it.

So far, four people have been arrested by the TURC Police Taskforces and a total of 26 people have been referred to the following 11 agencies:  Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions, NSW Director of Public Prosecutions, SA Director of Public Prosecutions, QLD Director of Public Prosecutions, VIC Director of Public Prosecutions, WA Direction of Public Prosecutions, Australian Securities and Investment Commission, Fair Work Building Inspectorate, Fair Work Commission, Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, and the Australian Information Commissioner.

Wouldn’t it have been more sensible to give the information to the bodies that can prosecute in the first place and save the $61 million?

But it is a useful distraction from what has been going on at ICAC.

In nine months, 11 Liberal politicians resigned, stepped down or moved to the crossbench. Two Labor politicians have been expelled from the party.

In Operation Credo, the ICAC is investigating allegations that persons with an interest in Australian Water Holdings Pty Ltd (AWH) obtained a financial benefit through adversely affecting the official functions of Sydney Water Corporation (SWC) by: including expenses incurred in other business pursuits in claims made on SWC for work on the North West Growth Centre; drawing from funds allocated for other purposes; and preventing SWC from ascertaining the true financial position, including the level of the executives’ remuneration.

The Commission is also investigating whether public officials and others were involved in the falsification of a cabinet minute relating to a public private partnership proposal made by AWH intended to mislead the NSW Government Budget Cabinet Committee and obtain a benefit for AWH, and other related matters.

In Operation Spicer, the ICAC is investigating allegations that certain members of parliament and others corruptly solicited, received and concealed payments from various sources in return for certain members of parliament and others favouring the interests of those responsible for the payments. It is also alleged that certain members of parliament and others solicited and failed to disclose political donations from companies, including prohibited donors, contrary to the Election Funding, Expenditure and Disclosures Act 1981.

In both of these matters, the Commission is also investigating the circumstances in which false allegations of corruption were made against senior SWC executives.

Liberal Party fundraising bodies keep coming up.

In the lead-up to the 2011 state election, the Free Enterprise Foundation donated $700,000 to the New South Wales Liberal Party. ICAC counsel-assisting Geoffrey Watson SC told the inquiry “prohibited donations were made to the Free Enterprise Foundation, then remade to the Liberal Party. The Liberal Party then simply disclosed a donation from the Free Enterprise Foundation, thereby disguising the true source of the money”. ICAC alleged the attempts to disguise illicit donations was well known by senior Liberal Party figures, including the party’s acting New South Wales director, Simon McInnes, and Paul Nicolaou, who formerly headed the New South Wales Liberal Party’s main fundraising organisation.

Eightbyfive was an alleged slush fund set up by Tim Koelma, a former senior policy advisor to former New South Wales Liberal energy minister Chris Hartcher. The fund received $183,342 from AWH while Arthur Sinodinos was serving as deputy chairman or chairman which Koelma said was for consulting work he did for Nick Di Girolamo.

Joe Hockey’s North Sydney Forum was also put under scrutiny in the article disclosing that members could pay for access to the Treasurer.  During the three years AWH was a member of the forum, the company’s chief executive was Liberal fund-raiser and former lobbyist Nick Di Girolamo, whose gift of a $3000 bottle of Penfolds Grange Hermitage to Barry O’Farrell shortly after his March 2011 election win led to his resignation as premier.

North Sydney Forum deputy chairman Robert Orrell said he was “sure” Mr Di Girolamo – a close friend of Eddie Obeid jnr, who was employed by AWH – had attended private boardroom meetings with Mr Hockey.

There were also emails revealed by ICAC revealing that, in March 2011, while the Coalition was in opposition, Peta Credlin used a major donor to the Liberal Party, Brickworks, as part of Tony Abbott’s campaign against the carbon tax.

Brickworks was one of the largest corporate donors to the Liberal Party, giving $384,000 in a nine-month period from July 2010 to April 2011.

The ICAC has heard that Brickworks used the Free Enterprise Foundation, a shadowy Canberra-based organisation, to channel $125,000 in illicit donations to the NSW Liberals for the March 2011 state election.

One of the previously suppressed emails reveals that, on March 1, 2011, Mr Nicolaou sent Ms Credlin an email titled “Re Carbon Tax” advising that Brickworks was “a very good supporter of the Party.”

Mr Nicolaou attached an earlier message from the company’s managing director, Lindsay Partridge, which read: “Paul, Tell Tony to stick to his guns on no carbon tax.”

Coincidentally, Bronwyn Bishop was also referred to in the same volume of exhibits.

She was a director of the Dame Pattie Menzies Foundation Trust, which received $11,000 from the Free Enterprise Foundation on December 9, 2010, which it then directed to the NSW branch of the party for use in the 2011 state election.

The previous day, Mr Partridge sent a cheque for $125,000 to the Free Enterprise Foundation with a note that read: “We trust this donation will provide assistance with the 2011 NSW State election campaign.”

In July 2010,  Mr Nicolaou, who was getting a 6 per cent cut of all donations he collected, emailed Simon McInnes, the finance director of the NSW Liberal Party boasting: “Please note! Another $50k for us via Free Enterprise Foundation from Brickworks.”

Only a minute earlier, Mr Partridge had sent an email saying: “Paul, via the diversionary organisation there is $50k for NSW, $250k in total.”

Karen Macnamara, member for Dobell has also had to front ICAC about discrepancies in her fundraising.

So if we want to talk about corruption, kickbacks and slush funds, let’s start with our politicians.

 

Think very carefully, Queensland

When Queensland goes to the polls next Saturday they will be voting for their future – the future of their freedom, their democracy, their environment, the Great Barrier Reef, and their children.

Because of Queensland’s chequered political history and the behaviour of the current government, all political parties were recently asked to acknowledge good governance obligations expressed in very simple terms; that is, to:

  • make all decisions and take all actions, including public appointments, in the public interest without regard to personal, party political or other immaterial considerations;
  • treat all people equally without permitting any person or corporation special access or influence; and
  • promptly and accurately inform the public of its reasons for all significant or potentially controversial decisions and actions

Bizarrely, the Liberal National Party alone refused to commit to those constraints or to explain its reasons though Newman, under pressure at the leader’s debate, seemed to change his mind (possibly).

It is effectively telling voters that, if it is elected, it will do as it pleases; in effect, it will continue the behaviour which marked its first term and led to its heavy losses in recent by-elections.

With its single house of Parliament and history of political malpractice, Queensland is especially vulnerable to the misuse of political power.

In an article titled “Queensland political ethics:  a perfect oxymoron”, Tony Fitzgerald recently said of the Newman government

“During its brief term in power, the present government treated the community with contempt. From behind a populist facade, it engaged in nepotism, sacked, stacked and otherwise reduced the effectiveness of parliamentary committees, subverted and weakened the state’s anti-corruption commission, made unprecedented attacks on the courts and the judiciary, appointed a totally unsuitable chief justice, reverted to selecting male judges almost exclusively and, from a position of lofty ignorance, dismissed its critics for their effrontery.”

The Q Forum has raised millions of dollars for the Queensland LNP and helped make the party the richest single political organisation in the country, according to the latest Australian Electoral Commission figures.

In July the LNP changed electoral disclosure laws to increase the threshold at which donations had to be declared, from $1,000 to $12,400.

The figure has since been inflation-adjusted to $12,800.

As a result, public disclosures of donations have become far less detailed.

Former Fitzgerald Inquiry special counsel Gary Crooke, who helped jail Queensland government ministers over corruption in the 1980s, described fundraising by charging for access to ministers as a “cancer” that kept coming back in politics and a betrayal of a fundamental public trust.

“They’re at it again with bells on, running these things where they are selling no more and no less than the community’s property that they hold in trust, in order to feather the coffers of a political party,” he said.

Mr Crooke, who also served as Queensland Integrity Commissioner, said such practices were “so unethical and so much in breach of fundamental duty that there should be a law prohibiting it”.

Now we have the bizarre situation of Campbell Newman (and others) suing Alan Jones for his allegations that Newman lied to him about the New Hope mine before the last election.

The decision to allow Acland to mine another 3m tonnes of coal a year was announced on the Friday before Christmas.

New Hope and its parent company, Washington H Soul Pattinson, donated more than $700,000 to the LNP at a state and federal level between 2011 and 2013.

Asked if New Hope’s donations influenced the government’s approval, Newman said: “I will not be commenting on Alan Jones.”

Asked by Guardian Australia if LNP officials had indicated whether the party’s donations had risen since it raised the secrecy threshold, Newman replied that he had “no idea”.

Ian Walker took a donation from a board director of New Hope Coal before his election in 2012 and, as the minister for science, information technology, innovation and the arts, subsequently oversaw the department which cleared levels of air pollution from uncovered coal trains in Brisbane before the expansion of New Hope’s Acland mine.

The pollution study by Walker’s department was released to companies including New Hope a week before it was made public in 2013.

Clean Air Queensland’s organiser Michael Kane claimed the government study clearing the pollution levels by averaging emissions over 24 hours was “absolutely the wrong methodology.”

New Hope’s chairman, Robert Millner, was called before the Independent Commission Against Corruption (Icac) in NSW last year over a donations controversy involving another Washington H Soul Pattinson subsidiary of which he was chairman, Brickworks.

Jones has also attacked the government over the energy minister, Mark McArdle, and the environment minister, Andrew Powell, accepting entertainment from New Hope in its corporate box at a Wallabies rugby game in Brisbane in 2013.

But what can we expect when the head of corporate affairs for a mining company has been in charge of developing policy on the environment for Queensland’s ruling Liberal National Party (LNP) since 2012.

James Mackay also worked full-time for the LNP during the 2012 election, while he was being paid $10,000 a month by the company, QCoal.

Mr Mackay has chaired the LNP’s state environment and heritage protection committee, which develops policy for discussion at the party’s annual conference, since being voted on to the committee in 2012.

Shortly after coming to power in 2012 the LNP introduced a bill to remove “green tape” or what it considered to be unnecessary or superfluous environmental regulation.

Queensland Premier Campbell Newman said at the time that the state was “in the coal business” and if people wanted new schools and hospitals they had to accept that the state needed royalties from coal mining.

QCoal boss Mr Wallin gave $120,000 to the party in two donations just before the 2012 state election.

Campbell Newman is trying to tell us that mining will boost employment.  In 2013-14 it did not even rate in the top ten employers by industry with about a quarter of the number of people employed in health care and social assistance.

The mining lobby keeps telling us about the great contribution it makes to the Australian economy. There is a lot of exaggeration in this and often much worse.

  • As Ross Gittins in the SMH and others point out mining accounts for about 10% of our national production, but only 2% of employment. The large increase in mining investment in recent years has mainly been to purchase equipment from overseas.
  • About 80% of our very profitable mining industry is foreign owned. BHP/Biliton is 76% foreign owned, RioTinto 83% and Xstrata 100%. This means that 80% of mining profits accrue to foreign shareholders and not to Australians. In this situation it is important for the owners of the minerals; we Australians, that we get some worthwhile return either in taxes or royalties.
  • State governments do receive royalties from mining companies for the exploitation of our national resources, but they hand a lot back to the mining companies. According to the Australia Institute, the states gave the mining companies $3.2 billion in concessions last year – mainly in providing railway infrastructure and freight discounts. In Queensland, these concessions or subsidies were equivalent to about 60% of the royalties the Queensland government received.
  • Michael West in the SMH on 27 April 2014 points out that Australia’s largest coal miner, Glencore/Xstrata paid no company tax at all over the last three years despite an income of $15 billion.  According to West it achieved this remarkable result of paying no company tax by paying 9% interest on $3.4 billion in loans from overseas associates.  This 9% incidentally was about double the interest it would have had to pay in the open market or from a bank. Having paid 9% on these borrowings to load up its “costs” in Australia it then lent money to ‘related parties’ interest-free. We are not told who these related parties were. But there is more. Apparently there has been a large increase in Glencore’s coal sales to ‘related companies’ from 27% to 46%. This would seem to indicate transfer pricing to shift income to lower tax countries. In this regard Michael West reported on the complex Glencore company structure. ‘The Glencore structure is now run as a series of business units controlled by one company [Glencore/Xstrata Plc) which is incorporated in the UK, listed on the London and other stock exchanges, with its registered office in Jersey (a tax haven) and its headquarters in Baar, Switzerland. It is probably all legal but is it right?

Indian-based company Adani has a large mine proposal at Carmichael in the Gallilee Basin and needs to build a rail line 388 kilometres to Abbott Point port where the coal will be exported.  Campbell Newman has offered $300 million of taxpayer funds to build the railway despite Adani having trouble finding finance for its mining operation with most financiers saying it is not commercially viable.

Adani plans to export 100 million tonnes a year of coal to India and provide 2400 jobs.

Adani’s chief executive Sandeep Mahta estimates their coal plant generates more than $6 billion in royalties for the Queensland Government in its first decade of operation.

Reef tourism generates over 60,000 jobs and $6 billion a year in revenue to the Queensland economy.

If you agree with Campbell that the coal business is your future and you are prepared to sacrifice the Reef and the revenue and tourism jobs it sustains for a project that the banks won’t touch then you will probably vote for the Coalition.  Get back to me on how that works out.

PS  Could we please have less public kissing.

tony and lisa

 

Trust Federal Parliament? Sure can

While Tony Abbott and Bill Shorten close ranks in assuring us that the dealings of federal politicians are all above board and squeaky clean, the reality is glaringly different and their refusal to realise that reform is needed taints them both with the suspicion that they rather like the current situation of factional groups being installed by industry lobbyists to control our treasury.

In 1992 the former secretary to the Office of Governor-General, Sir David Smith, wrote: There is much that is wrong with the way this nation is governed and administered: never before have we had so many Royal Commissions and other inquiries; never before have we had so many office-holders and other figures in, or facing the prospect of prison; never before have the electors registered their dissatisfaction with the political process by returning so many independent and minor party candidates to Parliament.

This quote from 22 years ago could have been written today.

In the Mackay Report of July 2001, social researcher Hugh Mackay stated: Australia’s contempt for federal politics and its leaders has plumbed new depths. If it (the Mackay Report) was a family newspaper, we would scarcely be able to print the things Australian’s are saying about their politicians … In the 22 year history of the Mackay Report political attitudes have never been quite as negative as this.

Thirteen years on and, if anything, the situation is worse.

On 16 June 2013 in The Australian newspaper Tony Fitzgerald QC (who chaired the 1987 Queensland Royal Commission) wrote an article The Body Politic is Rotten. He stated: “There are about 800 politicians in Australia’s parliaments. According to their assessments of each other, that quite small group includes role models for lying, cheating, deceiving, “rorting”, bullying, rumour-mongering, back-stabbing, slander, “leaking”, “dog-whistling”, nepotism and corruption.”

He states in effect, that the dominance of the major parties by little known and unimpressive faction leaders who have effective control of Australia’s democracy and destiny… might be tolerable if the major parties acted with integrity but they do not. Their constant battles for power are venal, vicious and vulgar.

The 2010-13 Federal Parliament saw the major parties virtually eliminate any real form of democratic debate substituting little but character assassination of opponents. It was a three-year election campaign of personal abuse and fear mongering. It was debased even further with aggressive bullying by the media and special interests at unprecedented levels.

The same period saw both state and federal governments pandering to special interests allowing massive increases in the promotion of gambling and alcohol. Pandering to the development and mining industries and the seemingly endless privatisation of public assets often creating private monopolies, continued irrespective of public opinion.

Over the last 30 years politicians’ staff has increased dramatically. At federal level there are now some 17 hundred personal staff to ministers and members. The states probably account for over two thousand more. Add to this the direct political infiltration of federal-state public services and quangos with hundreds more jobs for the boys and girls, there is now a well-established political class.

This has provided the political parties with a career path for members. In many cases it often produces skilled, partisan, “whatever it takes” warriors with a richly rewarded life through local state and federal governments to a well-funded retirement. Unfortunately while this career path, as Tony Fitzgerald states, does include principled well-motivated people … it also attracts professional politicians with little or no general life experience and unscrupulous opportunists, unburdened by ethics, who obsessively pursue power, money or both.

The taxpayer cost of federal elections has increased from $38 million in 1984 to $161 million in 2010. Of the latter $53 million was public funding to parties and candidates. Currently, in spite of massive increases, public funding is less than 20 per cent of about $350 million total election spending. We are now effectively the second best democracy money can buy.

In an article in the Saturday Paper, Rob Oakeshott writes:

“Australia needs a royal commission into political donations.

It is not people in different clothing, of different cultures, with different languages, or of different religions that anyone need fear. If you look back on our political history, we have been divided by silly suspicions before. The “fear and smear” of others has been tried on South Sea Islanders, Chinese, Aboriginal Australians, and now women of Islam. History shows the current debate is not new. It merely picks away at that same old xenophobic scab our culture carries.

No, the greatest threat to Australia’s future is not among its people. The people, when allowed to know each other, seem to get on fine.

The real threat is within government itself. It is the increasing corruption of our public decision-making by influence gained through record levels of private donations. The only colour Australia needs to fear is the colour of money in its democracy. Chequebook decision-making is the silent killer of necessary reform.”

After the revelations from the NSW ICAC, Mike Baird had an opportunity to lead reform.  Instead, with his proposed new legislation, as has been pointed out by Anne Twomey, professor of law at the University of Sydney, in effect the government wants taxpayers to give political parties millions more to campaign at election time without curtailing their ability to raise money from private interests.

Rather than action that places the public interest first, we have a poorly thought-out proposal arguably designed more with politics and self-interest in mind than good policy.

Political parties as they have developed over the last century seem like two mafia families seeking control of the public purse for distribution to themselves, supporters, the special interests who fund them and for buying votes at the next election. Political parties are not mentioned in the Constitution. They are effectively unregulated private organisations but they now control government treasuries.

By centralising power as Tony Fitzgerald puts it: The public interest is subordinated to the pursuit of power, party objectives and personal ambitions, sometimes including the corrupt acquisition of financial benefit. Branch stacking has become endemic and as Fitzgerald says “The parties gift electorates to family connections, malleable party hacks and mediocre apparatchiks”.

The former Howard government minister Jackie Kelly, who has resigned from the party in protest, cited “the corrosive control that self-interested lobbyists have over the NSW Liberal Party and how yet again reform will stall after the next election” in a letter to the state director.

Kelly told Guardian Australia disenchantment with the factional control of the NSW state executive and the stalled reform process had caused many party members in western Sydney to “down tools”.  In one Sydney north shore branch, 80 out of 200 members have not renewed their party membership in the past 12 months.

Critics such as Kelly and long time campaigner John Ruddick say the Icac revelations were a natural outcome of concentrating power in the hands of a few factional powerbrokers and lobbyists.

The two-party system stifles ideas, debate and decision-making within the parties. The faction system often ensures minority views triumph within both party rooms. In the case of the government, the minority view will then be taken into parliament and become an even greater minority law. Voting within parties is often based on what faction members belong to, who wants to become or stay a minister or who wants to be party leader. What the electors think is at best a secondary consideration. Party members almost always follow the party line and are often voting against what they really believe or what their electorates would want.

As things stand Australian democracy consists of voting in a rigged system every few years to elect others to make decisions for us. The voters mostly know little or nothing about most candidates after the “faceless men” and “branch stackers” have had their way. We are rarely permitted to have any say on policies. Cabinet ministers, premiers and prime ministers come and go without reference to us. We go to war and sign treaties without even our parliament having a say let alone the public. When the major parties agree, as they do when funding themselves, and their mutual friends, we have no say whatsoever. It is a pretty minimalist democracy and a long way from Abraham Lincoln’s Government of the people, BY the people, for the people.

As Ted Mack says, we seem to have achieved “Government of the people, by the powerbrokers, for the mates”.

The case for a Federal ICAC

On May 15 this year, the Australian Greens Leader, Senator Christine Milne, unsuccessfully introduced a bill to create a national anti-corruption body.  She makes a powerful case, raising many very concerning examples.  Every Australian should read what she had to say.

“The federal government is the only jurisdiction without the infrastructure to confront corruption. Every time wrongdoing is exposed, one-off reviews or ad hoc investigations are launched.

I want to take this opportunity to congratulate the people blockading at Bentley against Metgasco because today the New South Wales government has suspended the licence that was granted because there was no consultation with local people and because, through the Independent Commission Against Corruption investigations, it is pretty obvious that the licences were given wrongly. But it should not take ordinary citizens taking the action that they have to hold governments to account, to make sure that licences are not given as a result of money paid behind the scenes or undue influence or favours in any other way.

And now for the third time the Greens have this bill before the parliament to create this office to crack down on public sector corruption and promote integrity in our public institutions. In fact I cannot see why anybody would oppose setting up a national ICAC, and I will be very interested to hear what excuses are offered. It is pretty obvious that corruption does not end at the border of New South Wales; it does not end at any other state border. When you consider the likelihood of corruption in the federal arena, it is pretty overwhelming. So many major projects are dependent on some federal licence being given, some engagement with a federal agency. Therefore, there is a huge temptation for people, both at the political level and in the bureaucracy, to engage in talking with lobbyists-and who knows where it will end up.

I want to give an example that is on the go right now. You have the financial services industry, which did not like one little bit the fact that in the last government Labor and the Greens moved to change the law to require those people in the financial services industry to act in the best interests of their client. Now what is wrong with someone being required to act in the best interests of their client? You would expect that to be the case. But what has been revealed is that in a whole lot of the managed investment schemes, for example, the financial advisers were not telling the people they were selling the products to of the massive kickbacks that they, the financial advisers, were getting as a result of recommending that product. So what happened? The financial advisers became rich, but the people who bought the product, well those people lost and lost out badly.

When I think of the tragedy of the people who were sucked into buying from Great Southern Plantations, Gunns and the rest, you have to ask the question: how on earth did the financial services industry get to the point where it was able to con the parliament into agreeing that it could sell a product without having to act in the communities’ or its clients’ best interest?

Now we have a situation where the financial services industry has persuaded Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s government to change the act back to remove the need for financial advisers to act in the best interests of the client. And we what do we find? We find that the financial services industry is part of the North Sydney Forum, which is a fundraiser for the federal Liberal Party-in particular, Treasurer Joe Hockey. What does that tell you about the influence of lobbyists-the way that lobbying groups get involved in private fundraising engagement with political parties? The delivery is given here in parliament in terms of outcomes. And it is entirely secret. Until this was forced out recently, nobody would have known about that backroom dealing that was going on.

That is why it is critical. The same thing goes with novated leasing and a whole range of things, including the salary packaging industry. That industry is in there with the car industry to set up a situation where you can minimise your taxable income by going through this lurk of novated leases. We got rid of it in the last period of government, and I see that the current Liberal Party is about to restore the rort.

That is the kind of thing that goes on, and that is why the community is getting increasingly frustrated and wants to have some reassurance that there is some way of investigating what they can clearly see is on the verge of corruption, if not corruption.

In this Greens legislation, the National Office of Integrity Commissioner is modelled on the successful New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption. It is based on provisions in the Law Enforcement Integrity Commissioner Act 2006. The first part of it is about the National Integrity Commissioner, and that is concerned with corruption in relation to public officials and Commonwealth agencies, and has full investigative powers, including public and private hearings and summoning any person or agency to produce documents and appear before the commissioner.

I think that is fair enough. Why shouldn’t public officials, Commonwealth agencies and parliamentarians be subject to that kind of oversight in the federal parliament? I will give you an example-it happened recently-which many people will have read about. Just in this last month we saw two men-one from the Australian Bureau of Statistics and another working with the National Australia Bank-using unpublished unemployment, retail and trade data at the Bureau of Statistics to trade in foreign exchange derivatives. Somebody working in a government agency was working with someone in the private sector and using that information. That insider trading brought in millions of dollars to the two men, but in this case it has been picked up by our criminal justice system. I am glad it has been picked up by our criminal justice system, but it may not have been. What pathways do members of the community have to put forward matters and have them investigated?

I want to go to another example-the issue of Securency, a subsidiary of the Reserve Bank. Mr Warburton has been appointed by Prime Minister Abbott to review Australia’s renewable energy target. We know that he has been the subject of a secret internal investigation into his role as a former director of a firm involved in Australia’s worst foreign bribery scandal. That investigation and those findings by KPMG were sent, in February, to the Reserve Bank Board. They deal not only with Mr Warburton and his fellow former Note Printing Australia directors but go to the knowledge of, and handling by, Note Printing Australia’s sanctions-busting trip to Iraq in 1998. Yet yesterday, when I sought the parliament’s approval to put that document on the table of the parliament so that we can know what exactly went on and what KPMG found out about those directors-in particular, Mr Warburton-the government and the opposition voted together to prevent the Senate order that would have required that report to be tabled in the parliament. I put the question: why shouldn’t the parliament have access to that KPMG report on what has gone on?

I want to give another example. One of my constituents, who I will not name, is a fisherman in Tasmania. He was approached by two Austrade officials in Japan. He was asked to provide fish to this supposedly Japanese businessman who they vouched for. They said he was a credible person and that they had done the due diligence. They said that the government wanted this trade in order to develop the relationship with Japan in high-quality seafood. So this fisherman went ahead and did it, at the request of Austrade. He was quite happy with his own business. He did not need this business but he went ahead with it because they asked him to.

The long and the short of it is that he provided the fish to this place in Japan-to the businessman whose bona fides Austrade vouched for. After a while the fish were collected but no payment was made. Later it was revealed that there was no such businessman. The person that Austrade had vouched for did not exist. Austrade had invited my constituent to get involved with a shonk. Why? In order to justify the Austrade office in Nagoya they had to show that they were turning over a certain amount of business. So they set up this whole thing. The result of it is that my constituent went broke, and the department backed their two officers to the hilt.

There was no natural justice in this. As far as I know, those two officials remain employed in Austrade. I think it is totally wrong. I have pursued it every which way, seeking natural justice for this person. But the bigger question here is: how many other Austrade officials around the world are setting up similar kinds of scams and presenting figures to the federal government on the extent of the business that they are engaged in when, in fact, it has all been set up to secure their postings rather than the business that was supposedly there to be delivered?

I will give you another example, under the Green Loans scheme in the last period of government. It was riddled with incidents of inappropriate behaviour from some public servants, who favoured particular suppliers. They split contracts so that they did not have to go to competitive tender. The audit reports into the scheme make for deeply troubling reading, with systematic breaches of procurement policies and basic financial management regulations. The question is: was it just maladministration or sloppiness? Were they under pressure to get these Green Loans and audits out the door? Did they do this in order to facilitate a government policy, to get it out the door? Or were any kickbacks paid? What actually was done when the audit reports came in and showed there were serious questions to be answered?

The public does not know, and neither does this parliament. Those of us who have constituents bring these things to us have no mechanism to have them investigated. And if we cannot actually give enough evidence for a breach of a criminal kind it goes nowhere. Well, I think that if it is good enough for the states to recognise that there is a high risk of corruption and that they want to actually try to eradicate corruption, then at the very least the federal parliament should go there as well.

It also goes to our international standing. We are a signatory to two important anticorruption conventions: the United Nations Convention Against Corruption, which entered into force in December 2005, and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development Convention on Combating the Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions. This is another one where Transparency International has previously criticised Australian law for its low and ineffective penalties for corruption. It found, in its 2009 report, that Australia made little or no effort to enforce the OECD Convention on Combating the Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions.

I will give you another example: in Zambia, as I stand here, there is an Australian mining company over there trying to get a licence to put a mine in one of their biggest national parks. It was refused by the environment agency in Zambia but then that was overturned by a minister in that country. International NGOs have alleged clearly that money changed hands. And yet you have an Australian state government backing this company to the hilt. What is the arrangement? Who is involved in this?

You have the United States currently investigating BHP in China in relation to corruption. This was one of the things referred to the Australian Federal Police. It was not taken up by the Federal Police, but I raised it at the last estimates and they now have.

Equally, in Macau, where the Chinese took action against a citizen there for bribery in relation to casino developments-in particular, Crown casino developments. The Chinese citizen was jailed there for taking a bribe of $100 million to free-up the land for the casinos and provide the licences. And yet when that was referred to the Federal Police to look at from our end, what was done? Zilch, zero-nothing! Now, why? Why are we allowing this to happen? I would like to have a very considered explanation from my parliamentary colleagues in other political parties here as to what they could possibly have against setting up a national integrity commission-a commission against corruption.

The other thing we need to do is to reassure the public that the entitlements we get are appropriately accessed and spent. That is why as part of this National Integrity Commission, the Greens are saying that we want a new Office of the Independent Parliamentary Adviser, to advise MPs and ministers on entitlement claims and the ethical running of their offices that the public rightly expects. That adviser that would be tasked with developing a legally-binding code of conduct for MPs for the parliament to adopt.

Of course, this goes to the heart of the recent wedding scandal, where people had claimed expenses to go to various weddings, functions and so on, and the question was really: were those really for parliamentary business or were they using an entitlement just because they could get access to it? There was the famous case here, many years ago, of an MP who flew to Perth and back and who did not leave the airport lounge, simply to get the entitlement in relation to frequent flyer points. This was using a public, taxpayer funded fare to fly from the eastern states to Perth, sit in a lounge, have lunch and come back in order to get the frequent flyer points. This is why we have had the awful scandal in the last parliament with the former Speaker, Peter Slipper, and allegations made about him and his use of entitlements. But he is not the only one by any means. There have been a lot of allegations. That is why it is actually to the benefit of parliamentarians that we get this, because it enables people to go and ask the question, ‘Is this an appropriate use of my entitlements or not?’ and actually to have that sorted by someone who is overseeing it.

So I implore the parliament: corruption is serious. It distorts our democracy and it hurts communities, communities who end up like those in the Bentley Blockade, having to take action because governments have colluded with business to get the outcomes that business wants against the community. So, come on: let’s get a national ICAC for Australia and let’s do it in this parliament to restore and maintain our reputation, and to help build trust in the parliament rather than the level of cynicism about the revolving door between big business and politics.”

Some of my best friends are corrupt

Photo: http://www.dreducation.com

Photo: http://www.dreducation.com

There appears no question that Craig Thomson misused union funds, though his sentence of 12 months gaol (3 months to be served) is being appealed.  The amount in question is about $24,000.  He has lost his career, faced intense and intrusive media scrutiny, been publicly humiliated, ordered to repay the money to the HSU, faces huge legal bills, and felt the pain of the embarrassment he has caused to his family.

The whistleblower who led to his demise is Kathy Jackson.  She was lauded in glowing terms by Tony Abbott and Christopher Pyne for her courage.  Coincidentally, her partner, Michael Lawler, was appointed Vice President of Fair Work Australia on a salary of $400,000 a year by Tony Abbott when he was Employment and Workplace Relations Minister.

Independent Australia and Peter Wicks have been following this story.  It now appears that Kathy Jackson is being referred to the Royal Commission who will investigate allegations that she has absconded with far more than Thomson ever dreamed of.

And then we have Karen McNamara who was a captain’s pick, parachuted into Thomson’s seat of Dobell, bypassing normal preselection which infuriated the local Liberal Party members.  (The same was done when Abbott chose to install Lucy Wicks as the candidate for the other Central Coast seat of Robertson.)

Ms McNamara was called to face ICAC where she was under fire for claiming to have raised $100,000 for the 2011 campaign for State Liberal Darren Webber when official records indicated only $11,000 had been raised.  Ms McNamara said that Mr Webber and his fellow Central Coast MP Chris Spence had told her that funding was being “centralised” through Terrigal, which meant only a small amount of funds had actually gone through the Wyong account which needed to be declared, though she had bragged about raising $300,000 for the campaign when seeking preselection.

State Member for Terrigal Chris Hartcher has been involved in fiery exchanges at ICAC where it has been suggested that Mr Hartcher helped set up slush fund Eightbyfive in the lead up to the last state election to funnel illegal donations to the campaign’s right wing Liberal candidates on the Central Coast.  The fund is alleged to have issued sham invoices to hide secret donations for political favours.

Both Mr Hartcher and Mr Webber have been sitting on the crossbench since last year, along with fellow Central Coast MP Chris Spence.

Campbell Newman takes the frontal assault approach by scrapping limits on political donations and election spending, and lifting the threshold at which donations have to be reported.  He then sacked a Minister who expressed concerns about his decision.

We also witnessed the calculated attack on Peter Slipper.  Weeks of Parliamentary sitting time were devoted to the public humiliation of this man and the destruction of his career.  This very cynical political exercise was all over $900 in cab charges.  We are all aware of the many entitlements fraudulently claimed by politicians that have been subsequently repaid, usually only when directed to do so, for far greater amounts – $50,000 in the case of Peter Reith and over $9000 by Tony Abbott.

It is astonishing to find what politicians feel justified to claim.  Even though he is earning a sizable salary, and getting free publicity and electioneering along the way, our Prime Minister thinks it is perfectly justifiable for him to claim an additional allowance when he chooses to take part in charity and sporting events.  Our treasurer sees nothing wrong with charging thousands of dollars for meetings with him.  Our Speaker views the chambers as a private Liberal Party function room, and the Prime Minister uses Kirribilli House to entertain the likes of Bolt and Jones.  Our Attorney General has a very expensive penchant for books and he has no hesitation in creating high paying jobs for boys from the IPA.

Their sense of entitlement has become so entrenched that they would not think of catching commercial flights when they can summon a private jet.  Public transport when you have a comcar and chauffeur, why would you?  Driving oneself can be so tedious when one can’t drink.

I understand that they are away from their families at times.  As for so many other people, that is the choice they made when they took on the job.  Should we be paying for families to all go to the Melbourne Cup or football grand finals?  Surely they earn enough that they can afford to do this themselves should they wish?

Eddie Obeid’s greed has done us a great favour in holding a candle to the dark chasm of corruption that is our government.  Every day we hear of more slush funds and money laundering schemes and dubious foundations.  The stench is growing and it is emanating from the Liberal Party.  They are happy to accept huge donations from vested interests, some of them illegal.  They go to complicated lengths to hide or launder these donations. They admit to selling access to office for those who can afford it while neutering lobby groups for the disadvantaged.

Their budget protection of these donors whilst attacking the poorest cannot be denied.  At great cost to us all, hard won reforms are being rolled back as the donations roll in.

There are three groups who think the Liberal Party aren’t corrupt.  Those who will always vote Liberal regardless, those who are too naïve or lazy to find out the truth, and those who are profiting from the corruption.

The only reason for resisting the formation of a Federal Commission Against Corruption is because…

Some of my best friends are corrupt.

 

Soft corruption

The 2014 budget is a corrupt document.

A few words about corruption are necessary. Much has been said about potential conflicts of interest and corruption on the part of Tony Abbott with regards to his daughters. Some have intimated that Tony Abbott was bought and paid for with a scholarship for Frances to the Whitehouse Institute of Design. It is important to be clear that it is unlikely that there is malfeasance or corruption (as legally defined) in either the scholarship for Frances Abbott, or the appointment of Louise Abbott to a plum post in Geneva.

Frances Abbott, image by bmag.com.au

Frances Abbott, image by bmag.com.au

In the case of Frances Abbott, it appears that the Whitehouse Institute sought her out, courted her for a position, and sealed the deal with the scholarship. This happened during Labor’s term in office when Tony Abbott was Opposition Leader. There has been an indication that having Frances Abbott associated with the college might be good for its profile, although I find this unconvincing; but having Frances Abbott associated with the college has certainly proved good for its budget and its future. The budget has, for the first time, allocated government funds to private educational institutes such as Whitehouse, which will be of direct financial benefit to the Institute. Nevertheless, I am not claiming that this is a quid pro quo for favours given to Tony Abbott’s daughter.

It doesn’t have to be.

There is certainly preferential treatment being given to Whitehouse and its ilk, but this does not necessarily denote corruption or “payment in kind” – at least, not in a legal sense. It is more indicative of a culture of privilege. The age of entitlement has certainly not ended for the political class. For our politicians, the world is entitlement.

Where does privilege end and corruption begin? In Tony Abbott’s world, people do favours for others all the time. You give priority attention to a stakeholder’s needs. You give donations and gifts (money, bottles of Grange, scholarships). In most cases, it’s not illegal unless there’s an immediate expectation of a specific reward. But you do it in the expectation that there will be a reward. The reward for your efforts may be a policy friendly to your interests, a budget that bulldozes through the economy but carefully detours around your patch, a rebate extended rather than curtailed, or a convenient directorship of a government board. The reward doesn’t come in direct trade for your favour, but every favour you offer earns brownie points and neither you nor they will forget them. And things can turn ugly if it ever appears that your favours are not going to be duly returned.

Frances Abbott’s scholarship was probably like this. Tony Abbott likely didn’t press for it; he didn’t have to. It was a favour, offered freely, with no specific return in mind. But even if there was no expectation of a specific benefit that the Institute would gain, there was certainly an expectation that the government would look kindly upon it when the time came, and Tony Abbott and his government have not disappointed on that front.

In Tony Abbott’s world, money is quite literally no object. On a salary of over half a million dollars annually (plus entitlements) he could afford to pay the way of all three of his daughters and barely miss the money. At the time of Frances’ scholarship, however, Tony Abbott was not Prime Minister.

When he moved from government into opposition in 2007, his salary dropped from ~$200,000 to ~$110,000 – which is still an awful lot of money compared to what most people in Australia earn. This wasn’t enough to support the luxurious lifestyle to which he had become accustomed, so he took out a $700,000 mortgage on his family home. (It’s interesting to note that he was happy enough to personally go into debt equivalent to 700% of GDP, with an understanding that he could service the loan. It’s interesting also that he failed to declare the mortgage on his pecuniary interests register for over three years.)

To be fair, the salary earned by politicians is at the lower end of their natural constituency; the rich and powerful routinely earn six-figure salaries and seven-figure salaries are not uncommon. This is why the Coalition can throw dinner parties for sixty guests and spend $50,000 catering; not because they’re being unwarrantedly profligate, but because ten thousand dollar dinners are not unusual. This is a world which I, and the vast majority of Australian taxpayers, can only imagine. For most Australians, ten thousand dollars is a windfall, a goodly proportion of their annual salary. To Tony Abbott’s people, ten thousand dollars is a watch.

This is why the 2014 budget has given rise to such anger in the Australian community. It’s not that it’s harsh, specifically, although it indubitably is. It’s not even because the budget will directly strike at the daily cost of living of so many. Rather, it’s because it’s so patently inequitable.

The $7 medicare co-payment has been written largely by people who don’t know what $7 looks like. The restrictions on Newstart were designed by people who have never needed to contend with unemployment, not while family friends own large businesses which can give a deserving youngster an internship, no questions asked. Increases to the price of petrol, of education, of medicines, of fresh food (coming soon to a GST near you!) mean little to people who’ve never set foot inside a Woolworths.

It is this pervasive culture of privilege that the budget seeks to shelter. The sad fact is that the beneficiaries of this system don’t see anything wrong with it. Tony Abbott, with his one-million-dollar-a-year entitlements claims, believes with all his heart that he deserves the privileges that come with office. To him, this is the kind of opportunity that the Coalition offers to all Australians: the opportunity to better yourself and reap the spoils.

The problem with this model of opportunity is that it depends on the existence of a downtrodden class. The powerful and the privileged can only remain so at the expense of the masses; not the poor, who are of little economic benefit to society, but the battlers. Our system depends on families on the median wage struggle month to month, paycheck to paycheck, and aspiring to the kind of luxuries and riches those in power have already left behind.

The system cannot support a migration en masse to the upper classes. Those who occupy the rarefied heights know this. The system defends itself, and it does so with the collusion of our leaders. The salary earned by politicians is high enough to give them exposure to this other world, but they are not really of it. The salary of a shadow minister apparently cannot support three children at expensive public schools, let alone a new car every two years. Ministers do slightly better and the Prime Minister does best of all, but even his half million is dwarfed by the real puppet-masters. The favours offered by the powerful allow their politician puppets to climb one rung higher; to sit at the table for a little longer and to feather their own nests just a little more. This is the real corruption: not of direct trade of favours for favourable treatment, not of service-in-kind, but the kind of soft corruption that says we have no expectations of you but we’re sure you’ll remember where your priorities should lie.

Alan Jones, Heather Pascoe, I am with you

Alan Jones. Photo: The Daily Telegraph

Alan Jones. Photo: The Daily Telegraph

As the silent tentacles of Eddie Obeid were, piece by ugly piece, exposed to public view, we listened in horror.  The party that allowed this to happen was rightly punished at the polls sending NSW Labor into political oblivion, and no doubt influencing the Federal election as well.  Corruption and lies.  Kick them out.

But since then, we have been assaulted by daily revelations of just how sordid politics in this country has become.  Are there none who will emerge unscathed?  Has the greatest office that an Australian can hold been sold to the highest bidder?

Our Prime Minister has suggested that accepting donations to your political party by selling access to Ministers’ offices for those with vested interests and deep pockets is a “time-honoured practice”, and that whilst there may have been some shenanigans by individuals at a state level, we most definitely do not need a federal integrity watchdog like ICAC.  I beg to differ.  Workplace smoking was a time honoured practice too.  It was also wrong.

I never thought I would suggest listening to Alan Jones.  His treatment of Julia Gillard was unconscionable on more levels than I care to revisit.  As an intelligent man he knows this.  He apologised for one of his worst mistakes, after it went public, as seems to be the only moral guide nowadays.  If someone finds out, and worse still, publicises it,  then pay it back or declare it or say sorry.  Are there no personal standards anymore?

Anyway…I digress.  Alan Jones has a large following and this gives him influence.  When he uses that to battle action on climate change and renewable energy, I will always disagree with him and point out the many facts that prove his arguments wrong.

But when he is right, when he uses his influence for good, then I will support him and do what I can to help.  I can hear people saying who are you to judge right and wrong.  Good point.  People who have a public platform have a certain obligation to present facts and allow others to judge.  I try to do this though my personal philosophy no doubt influences my writing and is apparent to readers, as is Alan’s to his listeners.

I have shared this Alan Jones radio program on other threads but it deserves as much attention as can be aroused.  If you have not heard it, and you care about your country, then please take the 20 odd minutes it will take to listen to the whole program.  He, and the woman he interviews, Helen Pascoe/Brown show great courage in relating this story.  As usual, I have looked at other sources to verify the story they are telling.  You can read here and here and here other articles verifying what they are saying.

It is important to remember that Queensland has no upper house so what Campbell’s boys vote for goes.  Add to this the move by Greg Hunt to water down environmental laws and devolve responsibility for decisions to the states which has allowed the Newman government to proceed with developments with no oversight.

I will not tolerate mining companies attempting to intimidate Australian citizens through criminal acts apparently with government sanction.

To Heather, I will volunteer to go and stay in your property with my dog and a lot of cameras.  This will not happen in my country.

To Alan, thank you for making us aware of just how far the corruption has gone.

Talkin’ bout a revolution

Russell Brand – sometimes comedian, sometimes Christian, always a showman – is calling for a revolution. Russell’s Revolution is not about guns and bombs, it’s not about the people rising up to throw off the shackles of an oppressive government. Russell’s Revolution comes in the form of a willing disengagement from the political process, most clearly displayed in a refusal to vote. (Presumably in a country like Australia, with mandatory voting, he would be willing to settle for donkey voting.) Working in a variety of media, including an editorial in New Statesman magazine and a widely viewed interview with Jeremy Paxton on BBC’s Newsnight, Brand has pitched his message to the young and the disenfranchised. In doing so, he has hit a nerve.  There are any number of copies of the video available on the web; the one I linked to has almost 9 million views in a little more than a week. Brand’s polemic has spawned a popular Facebook page, innumerable news and opinion articles, and a new kind of global conversation about politics. We should be so lucky.

As always several days late, Fairfax news has published an “article” about the phenomenon. The article serves as an introduction for those in the wider world – probably not the young and the disenfranchised – who may not have come across this particular strident voice for reform. The kind of people this article is presumably aimed at are the ones who might have little respect for anything which challenges the status quo. The article reads as a quizzical realisation, written on behalf of forty-year olds everywhere, that “People are listening to this guy, and we have no idea why.”

Well, I am forty and I feel, as this is the Independent Media Network, that I can give at least as considered an opinion.

Russell Brand’s basic contention is laid out in the first few paragraphs of his editorial.

Like most people I regard politicians as frauds and liars and the current political system as nothing more than a bureaucratic means for furthering the augmentation and advantages of economic elites… I don’t vote because to me it seems like a tacit act of compliance.

The editorial is well worth reading. It’s amusing and insightful, and it’s attacking the wrong target.

In his Newsnight interview, Jeremy Paxman asked: “You want a revolution to overthrow elected governments, but what sort of government would you replace it with?”

Brand’s answer is illuminating. “I don’t know,” he replied. “But I’ll tell you what it shouldn’t do. It shouldn’t destroy the planet, it shouldn’t create massive political disparity, it shouldn’t ignore the needs of the people.”

The problem is that what Brand is actually complaining about is not democracy. He is, instead, complaining about capitalism, and in this he is not the first.

Like socialism, democracy as a concept is good, it’s effective, it’s egalitarian and it works. It provides all citizens with a voice in how they should be governed. It is inherently equalising; whilst minorities of sexual preference or colour or social class may find their specific desires thwarted by the views of the majority, equally the rich, the powerful and the venal should find themselves constrained. Democracy gives us a chance as a society to force those at the top of the tree to support those at the bottom (force, because it is unlikely that this will happen without enforcement). Democracy is a good system of government. As Churchill once said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried.”

In practice, democracy is poisoned by capitalism.

Like the USSR’s dalliance with communism, like (dare I say it) China’s current dalliance with communism, any system of rule is open to abuse and corruption. The motivations behind corruption may be simple power – people gravitate to the corridors of power for all sorts of reasons, and the lust for control over your fellow man is a common and powerful driver. Or they may be for personal gratification and gain. In western democracies, the lure of profit that can spring from being in a position to influence the laws can turn many an honest politician into a bottom-feeding snouter.

It is an arguable contention, but supportable, that in our modern western democracies, rich interests have too much of a say; that the power of the rich can secure access to soapboxes and propaganda by which the opinions of the elite can influence the opinions of the poor; and that challenging the rich, the big corporations, is done at a politician’s peril.

When Russell Brand talks of our systems of government ‘destroying the planet’, provoking ‘political disparity’ or ‘ignoring the needs of the people’, these are behaviours driven by the interests of the rich and powerful. Against these forces stand integrity and idealism, and these are qualities eminently frangible. It is not fair to say that all parties in our political system are equally complicit in the continued subjugation of the downtrodden; the right and the left have very different approaches to the problem of power. (Where each party falls on the left-right spectrum I leave to the comments.) Both sides of politics, beholden to the votes of the people every three or four years, argue that they have the best interests of the whole at heart. The traditional preserve of the left is to talk about services, supported by the idea of taxing the rich in order to support the poor. The right relies heavily on the idea that when you allow the powerful to benefit, all boats will rise.

“Trickle-down economics” – the idea that improving the lot of the rich will result in an improvement for everyone – is an argument employed by the rich. It has little basis in fact. But it is so often the primary argument the electorate hears that enough will be convinced to give the conservatives another go at the reins.

Regardless of which side of politics you favour, however, all can see that our politics is broken. The argument is about degree. Whether you’re talking about the tendency of the right to remove any constraints that prevent the rich from subduing the serfs, or you’re bemoaning the latest revelations of cronyism within the left, modern politics is driven by the capitalistic system. Corruption, infighting, backstabbing, pandering and political inconsistency – these are driven not by public good, but by pecuniary self-interest. The corruption of politicians will occur as long as capitalism drives people to greater wealth, as long as it encourages people with wealth to even greater excesses, and as long as there’s a buck to be made.

By conflating democracy – a force for great good, rule by the people for the people – with capitalism – the benefit of the few at the expense of the many – Brand spoils the reputation of the one and gives the other a free pass. He is turning people off the one part of our current society that might possibly have a chance of addressing the very disparity he rails against.

In calling for a revolution, Brand has no alternatives to offer. “I don’t know,” he says, when asked what he would replace it with. As history has shown, time and again, overthrowing a system of power without having clear ideas of what should replace it leads to bad outcomes. Ambitious, grasping people will always seek to fill the holes; nature abhors a vacuum. If you replace your democracy, what you get will perforce be a government by the few at the expense of the many. In the current world where capitalism has so much sway, the likelihood of this coming to a good outcome is pretty much nil.

The need for some kind of revolution is evident, but it’s a revolution against capitalism and consumerism, rather than against democracy. Do I have an answer, an idea for a replacement? I do not. Democracy in my opinion is still the best form of government. Does this mean an overthrow of the capitalist system is required? Possibly, possibly not. Capitalism has some benefits that should not easily be dismissed; it is in untrammelled capitalism that we find the problems.

What we ideally want is a democracy that is free of the pernicious influence of capitalism. We live in a world which is not ideal, where power provides benefit to those who hold it, and it is unlikely we’ll see this kind of reform without a significant upset. I don’t know what kind of upset could bring about this change – it’s probably not going to be Russell Brand’s army of the disengaged. One thing I do know, however, is that Russell Brand does not have the answers. Do I have an answer? No. But until I do, I won’t go calling for any revolutions.

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