There is a quote often erroneously attributed to Benito Mussolini or Giovanni Gentile which states “Fascism should more properly be called corporatism since it is the merger of state and corporate power”1. While Mussolini has received a little bit more publicity recently with the election of the ‘Mango Mussolini’ as President of the United States, fewer people would have heard of Giovanni Gentile. He was a philosopher, educator and fascist politician, who styled himself as the ‘philosopher of fascism’ and was influential in providing the intellectual foundation for Italian fascism2, as much as fascism of any sort can be considered to have even the slightest intellectual content.
While neither Mussolini nor Gentile may have made this statement, it is something which is pertinent to the Australian political scene, and indeed to that in other western Anglophone countries. Indeed, Jeffrey Sachs, in discussing the state of the United States’ economy, opined that the US is losing its democracy as its politicians trade their votes on legislation for campaign contributions from corporations and their lobbyists. Sachs terms this a ‘corporatocracy’3. While he is concerned with the US, the same problem is endemic in Australia. Politicians try to put it across that the donations they accept are done at arm’s length, but as shown by Judge Richard White in Joe Hockey’s defamation case against Fairfax, this is a lie. Hockey maintained that those running the North Sydney Forum, which was set up in his electorate to accept donations, kept him “very much at arm’s length from its activities”, but documents and other evidence in the defamation case suggested a close relationship existed. Annual memberships for individuals cost $5500, corporate memberships cost $11,000, and for $22,000 you could obtain membership as a private patron, which allowed access to Hockey, including VIP meetings with him4. Hockey knew who his big donors were face to face. How this could be considered as being at arm’s length beggars belief.
The most disturbing thing about political donations in Australia is how much of them remain undisclosed. For the financial year 2016-2017, the Liberal Party’s income was $43.3 million. Of this, 18% was listed as donations, 17% as other receipts, while 65% remained undisclosed. For the Labor party, 11% was listed as donations, 34% other receipts and 55% remained undisclosed. This lack of disclosure is because Australia has some of the most lax political donation laws in the developed world. At a federal level, parties only have to disclose payments of more than $13,200, and there are no caps on how much people can donate, or who can make donations. Many of the ‘other receipts’ are simply disguised donations. For instance, a political party will hold fundraising dinners charging exorbitant fees to attend, and they report them as a fee for a service rather than a donation. In addition, parties use fundraising bodies to launder the donations they receive. Donors give money to a fundraising body, like the North Sydney Forum, and that body gives it to the party. This makes it difficult or impossible to know where the money came from. Parties also split donations, with parts of a donation being split among different party branches so that each part of the donation comes in below the reporting threshold. They also split donations over different days so that they remain below the reporting threshold5. So, we do not know who is buying most of our political parties.
In Australia, it has occasionally reached a point where criminals seemingly have been able to fundraise their way into having inconvenient decisions overturned. This is exemplified by the Madafferi scandal. The first Howard government Immigration Minister, Philip Ruddock, ordered Frank Madafferi’s deportation in 2000 because of his criminal record, which included gaol sentences in Italy for extortion, conspiracy, two stabbings and possession of drugs and guns. Madafferi’s brother Tony organised a Liberal Party fundraiser in the runup to the 2004 Federal election, which raised $51,000, including $15,000 from Tony Madafferi himself. In attendance at the fundraiser was Ruddock’s successor as Immigration Minister, Amanda Vanstone. The following year, Frank Madafferi’s deportation order was overturned by Vanstone, despite police warnings that he posed a risk to the community. In 2008, he was arrested and gaoled for drug trafficking after police seized what was then the world’s biggest ecstasy importation haul4. More recently, Victorian Opposition Leader, Matthew Guy, dined at the Lobster Cave restaurant with Tony Madafferi, the alleged head of Melbourne’s Mafia. Victoria Police have significant intelligence that Madafferi has ‘substantial and close involvement with serious criminal conduct including drug importation, murder and extortion’6. Politicians will go to any lengths to obtain donations from just about anyone.
The biggest donors to the Liberal Party are corporations and wealthy individuals. And as you can see from the policies of the current government, they are very keen to return the favour by giving tax cuts to those corporations and wealthy individuals. This will be financed by cuts to services, pensions, unemployment benefits, health, education, and by slugging any low or middle income-earner with increased charges for any service they need.
The Federal Liberal party has effectively been taken over by the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA), a big business lobbying organisation which passes itself off as a think tank, but which does very little thinking. All it does is what its donors tell it to do. They are neoliberal ideologues and want to privatise everything they can (including the Australian Broadcasting Corporation), deregulate everything they can, liberalise trade, deregulate workplaces, abolish the minimum wage, and repeal parts of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975. They deny climate change and were against plain packaging for cigarettes. This is because many of their donors are big mining corporations and the tobacco industry. The IPA has a very close relationship to the American Enterprise Institute, a far right wing American ‘think tank’ based in Washington8,9. What is surprising is the number of Australian politicians who are or were associated with the IPA. They include: Tony Abbott, Eric Abetz, Cory Bernardi, Simon Birmingham, Michaelia Cash, George Christensen, Mathias Cormann, Mitch Fifield, Josh Frydenberg, David Leyonhjelm, Ian MacDonald, James McGrath, Scott Morrison, Kelly O’Dwyer, James Paterson, Scott Ryan, Tony Smith, Alan Tudge and Tim Wilson. Former parliamentarians who have been associated include Bruce Bilson, Bronwyn Bishop, Ron Boswell, Jamie Briggs, Bob Day, John Hyde, David Kemp, Rod Kemp, Nick Minchin, Andrew Robb and lastly and least, Malcolm Roberts10.
Our political system is rotten to the core and, if democracy is not to be replaced by corporatocracy, we have only one real hope, and that is to get rid of this government at the next federal election. After that, the second thing that needs to happen is the reform of the laws governing political donations. All donations must be disclosed; there must be real time disclosure of the original source of the donation, donations must only be from individual Australian citizens, and individual donations must be capped, and donations from any individual must be annually capped. If this does not happen, we will end up with a nation run by millionaires for millionaires, and the rest of us will become poorly paid corporate slaves. The first thing which needs to happen is the establishment of a federal anti-corruption commission, and it needs to investigate much of what this government has done.