When the government decided to spend $80 million on the Trade Union Royal Commission, $17 million of which is going to Minter Ellison, Attorney-General George Brandis’ former employer, its purported aim was to ensure that registered organisations are more transparent and accountable.
The Coalition said “there is clear evidence that the money paid by members to some registered organisations is being used for personal gain and inappropriate purposes.”
Considering the number of scandals pertaining to politicians’ entitlements, the hypocrisy of this statement is astounding.
They want “registered organisations and their officials to play by the same rules as companies and their directors” and for “penalties for breaking the rules to be the same as those apply to companies and their directors, as set out in the Corporations Act 2001.” They have also called for “reform of financial disclosure and reporting guidelines so that they align more closely with those applicable to companies.”
“A dodgy company director and a dodgy union official who commit the same crime should suffer the same penalties. The Coalition believes that the members of registered organisations, mainly workers and small businesses, deserve better. They are entitled to the same protections as shareholders of companies.”
But what of dodgy politicians?
Surely the people who hold the highest positions in the land running government business should be similarly accountable to us, the shareholders?
ASIC describes the general duties imposed by the Corporations Act on directors and officers of companies as:
- the duty to exercise your powers and duties with the care and diligence that a reasonable person would have which includes taking steps to ensure you are properly informed about the financial position of the company and ensuring the company doesn’t trade if it is insolvent
- the duty to exercise your powers and duties in good faith in the best interests of the company and for a proper purpose
- the duty not to improperly use your position to gain an advantage for yourself or someone else, or to cause detriment to the company, and
- the duty not to improperly use information obtained through your position to gain an advantage for yourself or someone else, or to cause detriment to the company.
Whether politicians exercise their powers and duties with care and diligence is open to debate and whether their decisions are in our best interests is similarly questionable, but when it comes to the last two requirements regarding gaining advantage, there is considerable concern.
Gina Rinehart wanted the carbon and mining taxes gone. Done. She wanted special approval to use extra 457 visa workers. Done. She wants a special economic zone in the north and government funded infrastructure to facilitate development. Underway. She wants company tax reduced. Coming. But she doesn’t want anyone to know how much tax she pays in case someone decides to kidnap her. Done.
And then all of a sudden, not long before the free trade agreement was signed with China, Gina, and several other rich Liberal Party donors, decided to invest in dairy and beef cattle farms – the two big winners from the ChAFTA.
When Kevin Andrews, as Social Services Minister, got rid of gambling reform laws, was he considering the best interests of the people?
When George Christensen launched an attack in parliament on the National Health and Medical Research Council which he accused of demonising the sugar industry through their new food guidelines, did it have anything to do with his family being sugar cane farmers?
When David Leyonjhelm attacks smoking regulations, is he looking out for our welfare or is it because he receives large donations from the tobacco industry?
And what of the ultimate irony of Clive Palmer’s party having the deciding vote on repealing the carbon tax when he had a high court challenge underway and an unpaid bill of $6.8 million?
Alexander Downer, as Foreign Minister, sanctioned the bugging of another nation’s parliamentary offices to gain commercial advantage for a company who then employed him when he left politics. There are countless examples of similar conflicts of interest and ‘reward for service’.
ICAC has shown us that many politicians use their position for personal gain and advantage for their friends and donors. The rejection of a federal ICAC by both major parties would suggest that they do not want the same scrutiny that their state counterparts and the unions are getting.
Regarding false statements, the ACCC states that:
“It is illegal for a business to make statements that are incorrect or likely to create a false impression. This includes advertisements or statements in any media (print, radio, television, social media and online) or on product packaging, and any statement made by a person representing your business.
When assessing whether conduct is likely to mislead or deceive, consider whether the overall impression created by the conduct is false or inaccurate.
Comparative advertising may be used to promote the superiority of your products or services over competitors as long as it is accurate.
Claims that give the impression that a product, or one of its attributes, has some kind of added benefit when compared to similar products and services can be made as long as the claims are not misleading and can be substantiated.”
If you apply that code to, say, climate change, our government, abetted by the Murdoch media, the IPA, and a few other vested interests, are guilty of the most heinous example of false advertising in history.
A recent study by the CSIRO showed that barely one in four Coalition voters accepts climate change is mostly caused by humans, with more than half of Liberal voters believing changes to global temperatures are natural.
“To a substantial degree, when asked, a significant fraction of the public say what they think their preferred party says.”
Obviously, the standards that apply to businesses to be truthful with their shareholders and customers are totally ignored by our government.
When climate campaigners recently took the Dutch government to court, three judges ruled that government plans to cut emissions by just 14-17% compared to 1990 levels by 2020 were unlawful, given the scale of the threat posed by climate change and ordered the government to cut its emissions by at least 25% within five years.
The precedent has been set and I, for one, find the idea of Greg Hunt defending his statements about Direct Action against carbon pricing in a court of law, presumably with reference to Wikipedia, absolutely delicious.