2014 columns, Politics

When does lobbying become corruption?

by David Donaldson , May 12, 2014Leave a comment

money

 

It is becoming increasingly difficult to deny that big money plays a corrupting role in Australian politics.

Whether it’s Clive Palmer buying his way into parliament, the recent, varied ICAC revelations of dodgy fundraising in the NSW Liberal party, or the refusal or inability of successive governments to effectively tackle powerful corporate interests in industries like gambling, mining, media, and junk food, there is a feeling among many Australians that democracy is up for sale.

Though it may be clear in most cases whether a particular transaction was against the law, if we take ‘corruption’ to mean something more than merely that which is illegal, it becomes harder to identify where exactly lobbying ends and corruption begins. If corruption is instead defined as using gifts to influence the outcome of public policy decisions in aid of private gain and away from the public interest, then the activities of many corporate lobbyists appear to fit the bill.

One particularly egregious example is the amount of gambling advertising in Australia, the country with the highest gambling losses per adult in the world, at over $1000 a year. The lack of meaningful restrictions on where and when gambling can be advertised is shocking – at least until you realise that the gambling lobby donates hundreds of thousands of dollars to the major parties every year.

Soliciting payment for access to politicians represents another way in which money distorts the political process. Though it may be legal, allowing the well-heeled to pay thousands of dollars for access to the Treasurer does not give the impression of decision-making in the public interest. The major difference between this and illegal corruption is that, in this case, businesses are paying for the opportunity to try to influence the Treasurer, and not for a particular outcome. And although the money is paid to the party and not into Mr Hockey’s bank account, he still benefits indirectly by leveraging a public office.

But why would one pay for such a privilege if there did not exist the expectation that one might influence public policy, and make money by doing so? Joe Hockey seems like a reasonably charismatic fellow, but I’m not sure many people would pay solely for the pleasure of his company at dinner. No matter how transparent the process, there is still the expectation that you’ll get something in return for your contribution.

Then there is the obvious point that, whether paying for access is in itself legitimate or not, only a few can afford such a privilege. This almost inevitably leads to a skewering of policy in favour of those who have the minister’s ear – at the expense of those whose voices go unheard.

But as Prime Minister Abbott pointed out when asked how appropriate it was for the Treasurer to accept donations in exchange for meetings, ‘all political parties have to raise money.’

Abbott is right, parties need money, and a lot of it. The problem is not just one of self-control: clearly there needs to be systemic reform of the way parties are financed. Indeed, much of the corruption uncovered by ICAC is already illegal.

Christopher Pyne’s suggestion to only allow individuals to donate would not solve the problem – at least not on its own – and would leave rich individuals like Clive Palmer free to unduly influence debate, and would hit Labor harder than the Coalition.

The notion of capping donations or spending has been gaining ground among the commentariat recently. This idea is appealing in some ways – it allows citizens to give money to groups they believe in, but limits the ability of a small number to call the shots – but if poorly designed can hobble opposition parties. It can also mean the money donated to parties is instead put into technically unaffiliated campaign groups that nonetheless results in a similar situation, as has occurred in the United States with PACs (political action committees).

But for the good of Australia, it’s worth figuring out how to cap either donations or spending (or both) without undermining our democracy. The alternative is a party system reminiscent of that in the United States, where the deep pockets of vested interests very often trump any real public debate, making important reforms nigh on impossible.

Restricting the impact of private money in politics would help make Australian democracy healthier. Democratic politics is, after all, supposed to be about acting in the public interest.

David Donaldson is a Master of International Relations graduate who lives in Melbourne. He tweets @davidadonaldson.

ACO logo




capote-dog

The Outsiders: The early stories of Truman Capote

The recent publication of The Early Stories of Truman Capote – a collection of newly-discovered short stories from the archives of the New York Public Library – reveals the preoccupations of the adolescent Capote, drawn to drifters, exiles, and others living on society’s fringes. Read more »

CAROL

You Could Burn a House Down: Todd Haynes’s Carol

For many years, lesbians in fiction were punished for their social transgressions, condemned to a life of solitude, insanity, feigned heterosexuality and/or suicide. Radically, Carol portrays a lesbian love that doesn’t destroy or diminish its subjects, but enables them to transform, to grow and to be free. Read more »

21EMMYJP6-master675

Killings Columnists Pick Their Best of 2015

As 2015 concludes, we also farewell our fabulous 2015 Killings columnists. They’ve entertained and delighted us all year with fortnightly columns on culture, politics and society, and now they offer us a wrap up of their highlights for 2015 across their respective fields. Read more »

21EMMYJP6-master675

Killings Columnists Pick Their Best of 2015

As 2015 concludes, we also farewell our fabulous 2015 Killings columnists. They’ve entertained and delighted us all year with fortnightly columns on culture, politics and society, and now they offer us a wrap up of their highlights for 2015 across their respective fields. Read more »

18-gilmore-girls.w1200.h630

Tim McGuire

Progressive to a Point: Homophobia and Gilmore Girls

You can’t watch a TV show over and over again without picking up on a couple of its flaws, much as you might prefer not to see them. In the case of Gilmore Girls, the hamartia I didn’t want to find was a troubling and weirdly homophobic one, layered over with pithy dialogue, pop culture nods, and the small town charm that made the show’s seven seasons such a success. Read more »

ROSEANNE - On set in New York - 10/16/93 
Sara Gilbert (Darlene) on the ABC Television Network comedy "Roseanne". "Roseanne" is the story of a working class family struggling with life's essential problems.
(AMERICAN BROADCASTING COMPANIES, INC.)
SARA GILBERT

Rebecca Shaw

Out of the Imaginary Closet: Fictional characters who should have been gay

When you are part of a group that isn’t portrayed in the same way (or only negatively, or not at all) you become desperate for that glimmer of recognition. Here are several characters that I loved as a young person, who became stand-ins for the openly lesbian characters I wanted to see so much. Read more »

SPEAR_0014_Edward_Mulvihill copy 2

Lauren Carroll Harris

Eyes Open Dreaming: Spear and the potential for an Australian art cinema

Commercial success has long been prized as Australian cinema’s salve, and the values of that commerce-based vision of success have deeply permeated the national conversation. Spear sets this conversation aside entirely, raising in its stead the possibility of an art cinema in Australia. Read more »

CAROL

You Could Burn a House Down: Todd Haynes’s Carol

For many years, lesbians in fiction were punished for their social transgressions, condemned to a life of solitude, insanity, feigned heterosexuality and/or suicide. Radically, Carol portrays a lesbian love that doesn’t destroy or diminish its subjects, but enables them to transform, to grow and to be free. Read more »

Bowie - The Image  1

The Art of Immortality: David Bowie and The Image

With the news this week of David Bowie’s death at the age of 69 from a long battle with cancer, watching The Image is an oddly reassuring experience: the shared, mass hope that it can’t be true, that he’s not really gone, is played out in this grainy, almost haunted relic now almost 50 years old. Read more »

21EMMYJP6-master675

Killings Columnists Pick Their Best of 2015

As 2015 concludes, we also farewell our fabulous 2015 Killings columnists. They’ve entertained and delighted us all year with fortnightly columns on culture, politics and society, and now they offer us a wrap up of their highlights for 2015 across their respective fields. Read more »

18-gilmore-girls.w1200.h630

Tim McGuire

Progressive to a Point: Homophobia and Gilmore Girls

You can’t watch a TV show over and over again without picking up on a couple of its flaws, much as you might prefer not to see them. In the case of Gilmore Girls, the hamartia I didn’t want to find was a troubling and weirdly homophobic one, layered over with pithy dialogue, pop culture nods, and the small town charm that made the show’s seven seasons such a success. Read more »

PLM

Matilda Dixon-Smith

Family Matters: Please Like Me and the Aussie TV family

In a recent episode of Josh Thomas’s Please Like Me, the bouncy titles run over three little scenarios: Josh cooks dinner for his mate Tom and his boyfriend Arnold; his Mum cooks for her new housemate Hannah; and his Dad cooks for his wife, Mae. The three of them stir, sip wine and dance daggily around their kitchens in a neat metaphor for this season’s fantastic, cohesive new trajectory. Read more »

ss_8df8236403f5aad45eeedd33d2bd545e45435b39.1920x1080

Katie Williams

The More Things Change: Choice and consequence in Life is Strange

You can either be a benevolent hero or a monster, but few games deal with the multitudes contained by actual people. And what does it matter, anyway? There’s no such thing as regret when it comes to in-game decision-making – not when you can so easily restart the game to see what outcome will result from choosing Option B instead. Read more »

svfw crop

Katie Williams

Silicon Valley Fashion Week?: Fashion, technology, and wearability

Last week saw the inaugural Silicon Valley Fashion Week? (yes, with a question mark) unfold in San Francisco. The show promised ‘drones, robots, and mad inventions’, and tickets sold out swiftly; attendees were clearly eager to see more inventive clothing in this heartland of nerds. Read more »

AnimalCrossing copy

Katie Williams

Digging For Meaning in Utopia: Storytelling in Animal Crossing

Animal Crossing is a series of games in which – as my partner once remarked incredulously – ‘nothing ever happens.’ In its latest incarnation, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, you become the unwitting mayor of a town populated by anthropomorphic, bipedal animals. Read more »

Sydney - January 20, 2016: This Is How We Die perfomed during the 2016 Sydney Festival (photo by Jamie Williams/Sydney Festival)

Impossible Futures: Tomorrow’s Parties and This is How We Die

These two shows ask: how hard do we need to listen? In each, minutiae can be discarded, at least in slivers of time. Tomorrow’s Parties and This is How We Die each allow your brain to detach for a moment: to spin off into the different worlds they create, before returning once again, as best you can, to the work at hand. Read more »

Tom Conroy and Colin Friels in Mortido. Photo credit: Shane Reid

Jane Howard

A Shining Nightmare: Mortido‘s Sydney

Sydney is a city of shine and reflective surfaces. The glint of the harbour follows through to city high-rises clad in polished glass, bouncing off the wide windows of the mansions hugging the undulating land before it gives way to the impossibly deep and wide water. But this beauty that can betray the darkness of the city and its people. Read more »

_85072354_hamlet3-pa

Angela Meyer

Outrageous Fortune: Seeing Hamlet as a Cumberbitch

Jazz swells, hushing the audience, and the solid black gate of the theatre curtain opens. It reveals the lounging figure of Hamlet, playing a record, sniffing his father’s old jumper. But what I see first is not Hamlet: it is Benedict Cumberbatch. Read more »