I am genuinely concerned for the welfare of the leading figures in the Liberal party. I don’t mean I am worried that they might lose the next election, as that is virtually certain. They sowed the seeds of their eventual defeat when they dumped Tony Abbott and gave up any notion of loyalty, cohesion and actually standing for something. They exacerbated it with a purely Labor party budget. Their current leader does not help, as he clearly does not believe in anything. He has probably not even noticed that Theresa May virtually lost the UK election because she emerged as pure beige. No, I am worried about the present hierarchy not finding a job when they lose their seats or bring forward their retirement rather than languish in opposition. The problem is that between their colleagues and the Laborites who have already transitioned to the corporate nirvana, most of the good jobs after politics have already gone. The list is impressive and the nation can be proud that it has available such a wellspring of candidates prepared to volunteer to take the corporate shilling and apply the skills they acquired at the taxpayers’ expense. Kim Beazley led the current crop by stepping nimbly from Minister of Defence and ambassador to the US to the burdens of a directorship at Lockheed Martin. Helen Coonan, formerly minister for communications and thus heavily involved in sport, broadcasting and gambling, sashayed over to the casino empire of James Packer and, as a former treasury minister, naturally picked up J P Morgan as well. One jump ahead of her into the Packer stable was Mark Arbib, a ‘protected source’ of the US embassy no less, who slid over to Consolidated Press. ALP numbers man and minister, Stephen Conroy, parachuted to the bizarrely named Responsible Wagering Australia, owned by the big gambling companies and generating lots of black humour about Dracula in charge of the blood bank. Lindsay Tanner went straight from finance minister to Lazards. Peter Costello followed the well-worn media path to a directorship at Channel 9 as well as high finance. The most brazen appointment is that of Andrew Robb, who was instrumental in the Australia- China free-trade agreement and who went for almost $1m. a year from politics to Landbridge, the Chinese company that acquired the port of Darwin. (No doubt, it already has a Chinese wall set up in the board room). Now we find Richard Alson, a former minister for communications, is a director of China Telecom, a mining company and a finance company. The list is endless.
The media has been very coy about saying there might be anything wrong with these appointments. Let me say straight out that in my opinion there is a lot that is wrong with such appointments, that the companies should offer them, the recipients accept them and the government allow them If we want a democracy free from outside and insider influences and governing only in the interests of the people, we should put a stop to such appointments. Ex-politicians are employed as directors and consultants of companies for one reason, which is to ease the way of their masters whenever they need government consent or approval. They can give a heads-up on which public servants might give them an easier ride through the bureaucracy; which backbenchers to lobby, how the cabinet and its committees work and what sort of submission might meet with a favourable result. Ex-politicians can, and do, have a quiet word with the PM, ministers, back benchers and civil servants, who they meet regularly at party conferences, dinners, clubs, celebrations, funerals, royal visits, in VIP airport lounges and at the increasingly ritualistic charity events. It is all a wink and a nod, and no notes kept that might be subject to FoI requests. It is worse: corporate rivals who do not have ex-politicians on their books suffer a distinct disadvantage in tendering and working for changes in the law, especially on the media and taxation; they simply do not have the inside running that an ex minister can give you. Moreover, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow now casts a question mark over current and serving ministers: are their decisions influenced by the prospect of a directorship or consultancy in the future? And what should be done about it? There have been genteel calls for legislation, but you cannot legislate against vulgarity and greed. Nor can you compel people by legislation to recognise a conflict of interest they cannot already see. But what you can do is shine a light into this murky twilight zone. Any company employing a former minister as a director or consultant should be barred from government contracts. Ministers should be contractually bound never to have any dealings with companies in the field of their former ministry. Any contact at all between former ministers and companies should be declared openly and automatically. As ministers are valuable to companies only because of the skills they acquired at public expense, there should be a public dividend of a third of what they earn.
Update. We told you months ago of the hideous robbery on the Imp jewellery shop in Toorak carried out by a group of youths ‘of African appearance’ wielding hammers and pistol whipping the employees. They have now been to court and, of course, they will not go to prison. They are black Africans who are given special treatment, in this case a pathetic supervision order. And, when you think of the Lindt cafe siege, the airline hijack and the murder by a terrorist in Melbourne, don’t think the law enforcement bodies will keep you safe. They won’t, until there is a fundamental change to our attitude to terrorism and serious crime.
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