The Guardian 14 December, 2005


Corruption part of the system

As the end of the year comes around we see the political scene in Australia littered with the exposure of corrupt practice, most notably on the part of the Federal and NSW State Governments. That Ministers regularly lie to cover up their malpractice is already widely understood. After all, we have had the children overboard affair and Iraq's non-existent weapons of mass destruction to mention only two well-known examples. Now we have the scandal over the appointment of wealthy businessman Robert Gerard as a member of the Reserve Bank Board and the highly irregular actions of Carr and Egan over the cross- Sydney tunnel that has ended in a fiasco and a nightmare for motorists.

To cover their machinations politicians resort to blatant lying and half-truths as well as media manipulation. It passes belief that Treasurer Costello and PM Howard did not know of Gerard's stouch with the Tax Office over a tax evasion scam involving a contested amount of $150 million. Eventually, the matter was settled out of court for a mere $75 million by the ATO. The case was in the public domain in South Australia where Gerard lives.

Ministers desperately hide behind the line that tax matters are confidential between the taxpayer and the tax office, even if the material is in the public domain. But one of the whistleblowers, Mr Seage (a former senior auditor in the ATO) says that "The secrecy provisions are hiding serious deficiencies in the administration of tax law". He goes on to claim that he knows of interference in Tax Office affairs by "partners at top accounting firms and by politicians".

Was Gerard's tax evasion scam not referred to the DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions) as some say it should have been as a result of top-level political interference? Gerard had made huge donations to the funds of the Liberal Party and it is now revealed that Costello's chief of staff did contact the Tax Office about Mr Gerard.

NSW Premier Carr's supposedly sudden decision to resign the Premiership and go to Macquarie Bank is now shown to have been not so sudden after all. Before he left, he arranged for himself and his wife an all expenses paid trip overseas which reportedly cost the taxpayers of NSW $150,000 in airline tickets, accommodation and other expenses. Here, surely, is an example of a top politician cynically telling the public less than the truth about his intentions and just as cynically fleecing the State Treasury. One can only wonder how many "deals" Bob Carr did along the way to help line the pockets of the corporations and developers. Recall the deal with Rupert Murdoch over the old Sydney Showground.

Tax shams, links between politicians and big business, and rorts by politicians at taxpayers' expense are not just a question of the conduct or immorality of this or that individual. Corrupt and other dubious practices are endemic in the system of capitalism with its almost total emphasis on making money and exploiting every situation and using any means for that purpose. Within the moneyed and big property class it is carried out through an ongoing series of deals between one company and another or between governments, financiers, corporations and developers.

What has been revealed recently is only the tip of the iceberg. It is hard to fight it because it is "normal" practice in business and top political circles and the whistle-blower is treated as a pariah by "the system". The laws that used to protect whistleblowers to some small extent are being tightened in order to keep the seamier side of government/big business dealings away from public scrutiny.

But fortunately there are some in a position to know the inside workings of governments who are prepared to speak out. Hopefully, in the coming period there will be more exposures as honest individuals in the know become more and more disgusted with the blatant lying, duplicity, immorality and scum-bag behaviour of those involved. They can make an important contribution to revealing the nature of our current political and social predicament. Almost everyone knows that corruption exists on a grand scale, but identifying and proving it is not always so easy. So much is hidden by "secrecy" laws and the cover-up by like-minded politicians.

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