Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Beggary and privilege: the lobbyists, their special pleaders and the humble citizen taxpayer

Dear Networkers, I feel that we - the ordinary citizen taxpayers of Australia - are like the people above. We are beggars, mendicants seeking the crumbs from government tables as the lobbyists and developers and large corporations stream on in to privilege.

Have a read of Paul Austin's and David Rood's story to-day with its revelations of the lobbyists involved in the bidding for the Wonthaggi desalination plant.

I am not trying to be party political on this. However, I do wish to single out Hawker Britton because I want you, dear Networkers, to be aware of them. Another time, another place and another brand of government and I would be talking about Jackson Wells Morris.

Because we have Labor Governments in every state but Western Australia, for now the focus is on Hawker Britton. Hawker Britton are a class act. In fact, there are occasions that - for the Federal Government - I think they have become Clayton's government spokespeople. The government spokesmen (and they are men) you have when you don't have a government spokesman or woman. Bruce Hawker is usually the one you see on television: the public face of Hawker Britton and it is surprising where The Moustache turns up sometimes.

Mr Hawker and Mr Britton came to prominence in the days when Bob Carr was the Premier of New South Wales. In short, they were public sector employees who spun their contacts and expertise into one of the most significant and prominent lobbying businesses in Australia.

Want to cosy up to a Labor politician? Call Hawker Britton. But you had better have the readies. They won't come cheap.

And your a Labor politician contemplating a post-political career? You may well be considering a conversation on the opportunities at Hawker Britton. Just like former Victorian minister, David White.

So you have an issue you want to put before the Government, dear Networker? Well, this is where beggary comes in.

You front up to your local member of parliament who may or may not be a member of the government of the day. If your local member is a minister in the government of the day it is unlikely that you will get to see him or her at all. You will get to see a staffer - high, low or medium level. You are then likely to get the mirror response: "I'll look into it." And you take your chances, dear Networker.

If you have a good, intelligent, active member of parliament with equally good, intelligent, active staffers, you will stand a chance. However, all members of parliament and their staffers are not equal: not equally good, intelligent and active.

And that's where the political lobbyists and political donations come in. Greasing a palm or three has never gone out of fashion, it would seem. As well as getting you access to the relevant minister for a fee, the political lobbyists can advise you on the greasing of palms. Or to be polite, how and where to place your political donation.

So how about it, Networkers. Let's get ourselves thoroughly aware and get our act together. Let's work together to take back our parliaments, our bureaucracies, our politicians from the palm-greasers and special pleaders of privilege.

Let's not just stop corporate and trade union political donations, as Malcolm Turnbull suggests, let's take the necessary step of banning ALL political donations large or small and publicly fund no-frills parliamentary elections.

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