I live in a kleptocracy

ON LINE opinion – Australia’s e-journal of social and political debate Posted Thursday,
1 June 2017

It is generally agreed that a kleptocracy is a system of governance whereby those in leadership positions make themselves rich and powerful by taking from the general wealth and diverting such wealth and power to their own selves. It is often suggested that such an accumulation of wealth and power is theft from the commons, particularly because it is seldom acknowledged.

In Australia, we tend to see banana republics and dictatorial regimes as the blueprint for such forms of governance. We loudly proclaim that ours is a form of Westminster democracy where the rule of law, the separation of powers, regular elections and so forth are the order of the day.

However, I would argue that our system of governance is a far cry from such idealised Westminster forms and is very much closer to the regimes we sneer at: regimes which are corrupt, venal, uncaring, ruthless and even murderous.

A major difference between here and the stereotypical kleptocracy is that corporate and vested interests rather than individual players proliferate in the Australian context.

The budget

The last time the Australian budget was in surplus was around the time of the time of the Global Financial Crisis. The Labor government of the day under Rudd and Swan engaged in Keynesian pump priming to stop the economy sinking into recession. Since then we have not had the money to do it again – should the need arise.

The current Turnbull conservative government has just brought down a nondescript collection of economic policies in its budget papers which its journalist apologists are wont to describe as a Labor budget. They seem totally oblivious to the tax handouts to companies the removal of the tax levy on millionaires and all the other sweeteners to the big end of town.

The conservatives have left untouched negative gearing and capital gains perks to housing investors, the family trust tax scams and all the paraphernalia which our rich denizens are used to receiving as manna from heaven. This apology of a budget continues with cutbacks for unemployed people forced to rely on government payments and has the added insult of drug testing as part of the governments weaponry against decency.

Billions of dollars continues to be wasted on military equipment and military commitments to wars which the United States wants us to fight in their name. Anyone who read, Karen Middleton’s analysis (1)of the hundreds of billions we have wasted in a series of confused military adventures, during the last decade and a half, in our ongoing crusades in the middle east and Afghanistan and who wants to continue such unending wars needs a frontal lobotomy.

At the time of writing, we have the farce of our two largest warships tied up in docks awaiting some genius to decide how to make the engines go forwards, backwards and sideways. This of course does not deter the Christopher Pyne’s ordinance purchase song and dance teams from ordering 12 new French designed submarines, strike fighter aircraft from the United States and any other toys that the boys in military uniforms might want to play with.

Since the beginning of this century, successive Australian governments have cutback foreign aid budgets in order to enhance our military arsenal. Foreign aid has the capacity to feed the malnourished, house the homeless, provide shelter to refugees and asylum seekers and enhance life for those living on the edge. It is a far more effective way to ensure world peace than going around the world meeting lots of desperate people and then killing them.

The budget continues the subsidies to primary producers and to industries to keep producing what they are doing irrespective of the ecological or other costs which might, if properly considered, give cause to halt or at least reflect. Fertiliser subsidies increase pollution runoff on to the Great Barrier Reef, diesel subsidies add to carbon pollution of the atmosphere. But in order to tame the agro/mining/ industrial cartels we hand over in excess of $50 billion a year to keep them quiescent.

Senator Matt Caravan’s inordinate control of the Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund and his promotion of the Adani Carmichael Open cut coal mine are two of the most recent egregious examples of how largesse to industry is distributed. (Editorial notes added after initial publication.)

The great gas scam

For many decades, Australian governments of all persuasions have eased the way, oiled the tracks, subsidised, bribed and paid national and multinational companies to search for hydrocarbons. Australia is on the cusp of becoming the world’s largest exporter of gas. How does this industry repay its loyal government investors? These multinational companies are selling gas on international markets at prices below a third of that which it is extracting from Australian buyers. This makes it increasingly impossible for Australian industry to compete on the international markets or even the Australian market. This is what I call gratitude.

But perhaps I have missed the point, maybe these national and international hydrocarbon giants are accumulating vast profits which they will in turn pay as taxes to the Australian government. At least this would even out the price distortions and return Australian producers to a something like a level playing field. Yes, they are pigs and they are flying.

Chevron, Woodside, Shell, Santos and the rest of them won’t be paying anything like a proper return on their gas sales to the Australian government in the next decade – if ever. These hydrocarbon companies have through a series of transfer pricing schemes, tax havens, tax write offs (in return for exploration) and simple corruption have set in place virtual tax free income generation schemes for the foreseeable future.

What do such policies do to the fabric of Australian society?

One obvious feature of community interactions now compared with when I was a teenager, 50 years ago, is that trust is eroded between individuals and groups. Dog eat dog mentality, greed is good, belief in trickle-down economics and tax cuts for the affluent are the order of the day. It sometimes bubbles to the surface with the likes of Mossack Fonseca and the Panamanian offshore money laundering revelations; or the more recent tax office tax indiscretions of relatives of high ranking tax officials.

But I hear you murmur, “What about the cherry picking superannuation schemes and the bottom of the harbour tax rorts?” What about the “Painters and the Dockers?” “Didn’t Normie Gallagher get a beach house or two?” I have to concede that corruption has always existed but not nearly on the scale it does at present.

At one level, I would not be particularly perturbed if some level of pickpocketing from the public purse was occurring. I have an even more pressing concern and that is how the well off and those who would emulate them have turned against those who are forced to rely on social security and those who have come to this county on boats seeking asylum.

We have seen from Transfield onwards corporate entities being paid by Liberal and Labor administrations to slowly drive asylum seekers who have arrive by boat insane. In the next month they will start demolishing the refugee accommodation on Manus in an attempt to force asylum seekers to accept refoulement to the countries from which they fled or resettlement in Papua New Guinea.

Australian citizens without work are subjected to increasingly cruel assessment procedure in order to see who can be refused assistance. This is the present day equivalent of 12th century poor house law. Yet, this is 21st century Australia and the two ministers Alan Tudge and Christian Porter who are responsible for the administration of such regimes should be tried for crimes against humanity.

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http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/print.asp?article=19065 Page 3 of 3

(1) Karen Middleton 2017