How to buy political influence in Australia

The normal way to do business in Australia is open the cheque book and start handing over dollops of money to politicians and political parties. Soon enough, decisions will go your way and you will make even more cash. Indeed, the vast majority of those who have made their millions and billions in Australian history have done so through the government.

But – and it is a big but – you have to be the ‘right’ sort of person. I usually don’t pay much attention to this corporate news source, but there is one economist – of the neo-classical sort – who has a sharp eye. Michael Pascoe is his name, and he has penned a piece called ‘There’s five rules in the business of buying influence‘. It arose in response to a kerfuffle, in the context of a wave of Sino-phobia, of Chinese influence – specifically the generous Huang Xiangmo who is currently deemed not the ‘right’ person by some (I admire him a lot) .

So Pascoe lists not only a few of the more egregious examples of earlier influence-buying by those deemed acceptable, but also offers the following rules:

1.   Hire lobbyists to do it at arm’s length. There’s a conga line of them waiting for your direct deposit, many of them recently ex-politicians and staffers, all with excellent access to power to push your case. For example, who do you think really formulates our tax policy?

2.   Use industry bodies.  They provide tax-deductable funding for absolutely political ends just when the government is threatening charities with the loss of tax-deductible status if they indulge in “political” (i.e. anti-government) activities.

The Minerals Council comes to mind, or the National Automotive Leasing & Salary Packaging Association – McMillan Shakespeare certainly didn’t like Labor’s policy of abolishing the novated lease lurk, but it was the NALSPA that donated the $250,000 to the Liberal Party. And Labor subsequently fell into line.

3.   China links. Try and not be a successful mainland Chinese with the somewhat inevitable relationships with the Chinese government. It’s perfectly fine to organise and push Israeli or American policy of dubious value to Australia, but not Chinese.

4.  The art of disguise. Adopt an anglicised name and have your PR people start referring to you as “Aussie” e.g. “Aussie Moe” Huang will work better than “Huang Xiangmo” – and you’ll be spared Australian newsreaders being unable to pronounce it.

Become a prominent supporter of such bodies as the American Australian Association and the Australia Israel Chamber of Commerce that ASIO is less likely to be bugging. And sponsor events that no politician can avoid and many will get taxpayers to fund attending – State of Origin, Melbourne Cup, Grand Prix, Grand Finals.

5. Be Rupert Murdoch, or at least own some prominent shock jocks.

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