Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

Corporate lobbying and corruption rife

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Most people have no faith in the current political system. Recent research by Griffith University has shown that 85% of people believe that at least some federal members of parliament are corrupt.

One factor that influences people’s views is the major parties’ close connection to big business. People have deep concerns about elected officials making decisions to benefit the businesses who donated to them.

These concerns are well-founded. For decades, politicians from both major parties have regularly moved on to work as lobbyists after their political career. In many cases they work in the same sectors they were elected to manage.

Some high-profile examples are the former Labor Resources Minister Martin Ferguson who became chairman of the peak body of the oil and gas industry. Similarly, former Liberal Treasurer Peter Costello became managing director of a private investment bank.

Alongside politicians, many political advisors and staffers also move on to find work as lobbyists for big business. These people often use their knowledge and connections to help private firms secure government contracts or funding.

The secret deals of this insiders club mostly happen behind the backs, and at the expense of, ordinary people.

One example is how the pharmaceutical industry has thrown millions of dollars into influencing public policy in Australia. They have an army of lobbyists and make huge donations to the major parties.

Stephen Duckett – a former secretary of the Commonwealth health department – admitted that this has a direct impact on the cost of medicines in Australia. It is estimated that we pay $500 million more per year than is needed for generic medicine.

Another notorious case is the Queensland government’s approval of the Adani coal mine – an environmental disaster that would destroy the Great Barrier Reef.

Last year, the lobby firm Next Level – headed by the former state secretary of the Queensland Labor Party – was found to be instrumental in getting Adani its approval.

Despite the huge influence lobbyists have, the laws overseeing this dark art are weak and ineffective. There is a federal public register of lobbyists but this list only shows those who work for a professional lobbying firm. It excludes those who work directly for a company.

For those who are on the register, there are no real punitive measures for those who step out of line, apart from being removed from it. Even in the US and Canada law-breaking lobbyists risk fines and jail terms.

There is popular support for action to be taken against this sort of corporate corruption. Two in three Australians support the idea of an independent federal anti-corruption watchdog with power to regulate political lobbying.

While anti-corruption reforms are welcome, even strict laws will do little to diminish the influence big business has over the major parties. Corruption is an intrinsic part of the capitalist system.

This close connection grew out of the need of capitalist corporations to maintain and advance their interests. They set up political parties to represent their interests and have moulded the system to further advance their profit needs.

If things do not go exactly as they like, they are more than prepared to act to remove their representatives. An example of this was when the mining industry ran a campaign against a proposed tax on their super profits under Kevin Rudd.

Both Rudd and the tax were removed, and these companies pocketed billions that should have been used to fund social services.

A huge part of the problem is that while big business has two major parties that represent their interests, ordinary people are without a mass party of their own.

This means that our interests are pushed to the side while corporations dominate politics. No major force is pushing back against corporate greed and corruption, let alone against the system that facilitates it.

We need a party that unashamedly stands for working class people, a party that refuses to do any deals or take money from big businesses. Only a party set up on this principled basis could hope to challenge capitalist corruption.

But ultimately, capitalist corruption will only be eliminated by getting rid of capitalism itself. The alternative to a profit-driven system is democratic socialism, a type of society where there is no incentive to benefit at the expense others.

By Triet Tran


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