David M. Russell

Pay per chat

In Commentary on July 29, 2009 at 1:12 pm

Politics governs us all. It matters not what system we operate under, politics determines the broad shape of the quality of our lives and the freedoms we enjoy. As such, it is of vital importance to each and every one of us. Nor is there much difference in the way politics operates. The fact that it is hard to define does not impinge on the way politics is played-out – and the same characteristics can be found in every corner of the globe.

Which is why a form of political corruption in one place has relevance to everywhere else. And why a shabby scam in Queensland – Australia’s Sunshine State – should be condemned universally. Make no mistake, this system isn’t just limited to Queensland or Australia – it happens in lots of places. And it is just as corrupt everywhere it is practised.

The scam involves paying for access to political leaders. Australia’s main political parties – on both sides of the left-right divide – have got it down pat. This should cause them deep embarrassment but they are making so much money from the practice they simply don’t care.

It works like this: a political party stages its annual conference and invites ‘business observers’ to attend. For a fee – usually of several, if not many, thousands of dollars – they are plied with exclusive seating, agendas, briefing notes and other paraphernalia. There are other benefits such as lunches and dinners and, in best spin doctoring tradition, these are classed as ‘working’ functions. The work test is a doozy. For lots of money, the business executive gets to sit close to the Minister or Leader and whisper sweet nothings into his or her ear.

Nobody but the two parties knows what is said and everyone swears on a stack of bibles that nothing untoward (read, corrupt) is ever mentioned. So, why do the money men need to pay to get such access and why is privacy ‘guaranteed’ by the politicians? The whole practice debases democracy which is built on the concept that everyone is equal under the law. But in Queensland, the wealthy get their voice heard. Not so the impoverished voters who can’t even afford the fares to get to the conference venue.

There are many forms of this practice and it is a lucrative one. The Australian newspaper estimated that the Labor Party in Queensland (currently in government) reaped a cool $500,000 in such fees from its annual conference last year.

There are so many appalling aspects to this scam that it is hard to select just one. But the fact that we have public funding of elections in this country would be a good place to start. If election contestants get a government subsidy for every vote they earn (above a minimal cut-off point) to cover their costs (that old democratic tradition again) how come they need to plunder the business community for additional funds? You’d have to count a number of paper bags and their contents to get the answer to that one.

This is sordid, shonky and stinks to high heaven. It needs to be stamped out before the cancer of corruption eats any deeper into the system which notionally guarantees our universal freedoms.

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