#StopAdani: Prioritise the fight against corruption

Byron Smith

“What is clear is that Mr Milner is familiar with the revolving door between politics and lobbying. He spent 18 months as Bill Shorten’s chief of staff — helping hone the strategy that nearly carried Labor to victory at the 2016 election — moving directly from his role as Adani’s lobbyist to the Opposition Leader’s office, then back again.”
~ ABC News

Adani’s Carmichael mine is an awful, awful project that would never have got off the ground without corruption (even if of the legal variety), involving both major parties. It is imperative that we #StopAdani.

But it is hardly the only terrible outcome in a system that grants millions of dollars more influence than millions of voices. Think of an issue you care about where the interests of the 1% do not align with those of the majority. Can you name many examples in the last couple of decades where the former have lost (at least more than temporary setbacks) and the latter have won (in a decisive and lasting way)? Because there are scores of cases where the reverse has happened.

When the interests of the wealthy few eclipse the needs of the common good, political authority has been corrupted. Even if, technically, no laws get broken – because a corrupted legislative body will of course enable forms of legal corruption to flourish.

By and large, we live in a plutocracy with a democratic veneer. Until we really get this, we’ll keep on using tactics that are designed to be more or less ineffective, either courting the support of somewhat more benevolent plutocrats or attempting to sway politicians against their patrons’ interests through popular opinion.

The latter requires overwhelming numbers willing to make it a non-negotiable vote-changing issue. But as long as money speaks louder than letters, petitions, marches and so on, then trying to build such a super-majority of commitment on every issue is a losing proposition most of the time.

Alternatively, seeking the favour of somewhat more enlightened masters (through appealing to the self-interest, vanity or charity of corporate or philanthropic ‘allies’) may yield short-term results, but at the cost of reinforcing the very plutocratic structures that ensure virtually all decisions of economic import fall in favour of the elites.

So, what can we do? All kinds of things. Here are three suggestions. I’d love to hear more.

First, overthrow your inner plutocrat: repent of the love of money by renewing your love for all the things more precious than gold. This may also involve seeking to limit your exposure to advertising: an industry designed to make you a compliant consumerist (i.e. a willing subject of plutocracy, rather than a citizen). Spend more time attending to birds, meditating on worms and conversing with children than you spend watching YouTube/Netflix/your newsfeed, listening to soundbites crafted by spin doctors or dreaming of your next consumer purchase.

Second, build and strengthen communities that operate on a logic other than profit-maximisation, fostering human fellowship that refuses to reduce everything to a lowest common (financial) denominator. For my mind, the local church, for all its faults, nonetheless retains the seeds of something truly powerful, namely, a genuinely subversive and life-giving alternative narrative to that of unrestrained capital. But it is not the only such community, nor the only alternative narrative.

Third, when it does come to electoral politics, prioritise the fight against corruption. Always put parties and movements that have a track record of caring about more than money above parties with a track record of bending over backwards for corporate and elite interests. And tell them (and those around you) that you are going to #putcorruptionlast. Until parties know they face serious electoral consequences for putting profits before people, they will keep doing it.

Byron Smith is Assistant Pastor at St George’s Anglican Church, Paddington. He has recently completed a PhD in climate ethics and contributes to the Common Grace climate justice team.

Byron is married with two children. In 2013 he delivered a speech at the Sydney rally for the National Day of Climate Action. Twice in 2014 he was arrested while peacefully protesting at the Maules Creek coal mine in the Leard State Forest. He speaks and writes regularly to Christians about climate and ecology.

Click to read
» ABC.net.au – 23 November 2017:
The Labor insider turned Adani lobbyist who smoothed the way for the mega mine
“The former Queensland ALP state secretary and head of lobbying firm helped Adani get pretty much everything it wanted.”

One comment

  1. It seems that Australian politicians are coming to the conclusion that it’s wrong to be bribed by foreign nationals through “donations” of money even if these foreigners are directors of Australian companies.

    But, one would ask, why is it still perfectly ok for politicians to be bribed by Australians nationals? (and by Australian nationals representing multinational corporations?)

    Australians would do a lot better in the long run if all political donations and gifts to politicians and their families were made illegal. (It’s not as if Australia is so poor that the government cannot be run from the public purse …..come on!!).

    Making political bribery illegal would sort out the parliament and government … sure most of the existing politicians would go and probably the major parties would no longer have a reason to exist but we Australians would have, at last, a chance of good governments.

    It won’t happen for a decade or three because politicians (at all levels) like to be bribed with money and gifts. They won’t impose “pain” on themselves even if it would help fellow Australians … such is the patriotism of Australian politicians … and their ethical belief systems.

    An interim step would be to allow political donations but insist they have to be paid to the Australian Tax Office and not be tax deductible. (The same with money value of gifts). The money would then be paid into consolidated revenue and used to pay off state government debt on a population basis.

    In addition, all companies operating in Australia with more than $xx turnover could be levied a “political donation fee” to be paid to the ATO and used in the same way.
    Information on both the “freely given” and “compulsory” political donations would be published monthly so we could see which companies are supporting Australia.

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