By Adam Carlton
Corruption among Australia’s top politicians is all the talk now. The common wisdom is that corruption drives the wheels of the Australian political system.
When we hear about this problem in other countries, the retort is often that this just like in Australia.
Prominent human rights barrister and QC, Julian Burnside, says that Australia’s politicians are somewhat lacking in humanity and have no compunction over breaking the law to meet ends.
“I think it’s pretty clear that Australian prime ministers and immigration ministers are guilty of criminal offences against our own law,” he says.
Burnside adds that “the problem is that no one can bring a prosecution for those offences without the approval of the Attorney General. Take a lucky guess what the Attorney General
Out of his concern, Julian Burnside has been involved in a new documentary about the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers. It is called Border Politics.
Australia has been a member of the International Criminal Court (ICC) since 2002, and in the time since, has been guilty of “a series of offences [in Australian law] that mirror the offences over which the ICC has jurisdiction.”
The treatment of people who arrive in boats on Australian shores provides an insight, as to how far the political establishment has been prepared to go, to act unlawfully, when to do so is convenient. This is an attitude that easily transfers into cutting corners, when it comes to such things as acquiring funds for re-election and making deals for personal gain.
A long line of politicians have found themselves compelled to stand down in recent years, because they have been found with their hands in the till or pocketed some cash when they shouldn’t have. The line is not getting any shorter.
There is something even more damning than the mountain of evidence of wrongdoing. There is so much of it, that a new story makes the headlines almost every day.What is worse, is that very few will ever end up before a court. If by any chance, they happen to be one of the very few charged and tried, they can be certain to let off with the proverbial slap on the wrist.
Virtual immunity from serious consequences is an incentive for wrongdoing.
Explaining away corruption as the doings of a few dishonest individuals, goes nowhere near coming to terms with the problem. Our top politicians exist in an environment of raw capitalism, where the handshake in a closed room is the normal way of doing business. Match this with a dependency on a well-oiled lobbyist industry, working for wealthy corporations and making a living out of setting up meetings with politicians, where promises are made and deals struck.
This is reinforced when many of our politicians don’t exist in the social world that most of us inhabit. Theirs is that of high society, where they are feted and encouraged to see themselves, as part of an elite. A certain identity and way of thinking becomes a lifestyle.
Political life is transformed into a replica of the boardroom, where the business of the day is rewarding the shareholders. In this case, they are this same social circle. Those who are reluctant to accept this, only need to look at what has been going on with the banks. They are intertwined with every major corporation operating in the country, and if there is corruption there, it exists across industries. All are caught up in the same financial web.
In this, we see a unity between the corporate world and our top politicians. One lot are prepared to pay for services. The other lot are prepared to deliver them.
If we want it to be different, the overwhelming influence of the elite social network must be broken, and the corporate way of doing business must be transformed into something completely different. In other words, we need a democratic economy.
This means that economic power is transferred away from the big investors and boardrooms, to the whole of society, where transparent mechanisms for collective decision making and action, match up to the energy of individual initiative.
Until we realise this and make it happen, our corrupt political system will continue to carry on business as usual.
The alternative is to create the conditions for honest and accountable political leadership, eliminate the economic and social cost of corruption and to raise the humanitarian side of our politics, because service to oneself is no longer the oil that greases the wheels of the system.