Billionaire Tuckshop: plutocrats don’t just steal the show. They steal our trust

by | Oct 27, 2021 | Business

The Greens have written to new Senate President Slade Brockman to stop Australia’s Parliament House being used to gouge money from billionaires and corporations. Michael West reports on Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s gala fundraiser in the Great Hall.

You don’t have to don leopard-skin and be dripping in pearls to get to the top table with the Scott Morrison government, but donating to the Liberal Party isn’t going to do you any harm.

The Prime Minister and his Coalition cabinet love to talk about the “the Australian people”, the “quiet Australians’’, but it’s the people they talk to who really count.

The tycoonophiles at Rupert Murdoch’s The Australian ran this smarmfest in the wake of the Budget night this year: 

“It was Josh Frydenberg’s night, but when billionaire Packer family matriarch Ros Packer comes to town she can’t help but steal the show. 

“Swathed in leopard-skin fabric from neck to toe and dripping in pearls, the renowned philanthropist and widow of late media mogul Kerry Packer turned heads as she made her way to the Great Hall to join Australia’s rich and powerful, and digest Frydenberg’s third financial blueprint for the nation.”

It went on, swathed in the customary Murdoch media adoration for billionaires. Did anyone stop to say, hang on, what the blazes are they doing degrading the seat of Australia’s government by hosting Liberal Party fundraisers? As MWM discovered, ordinary Australians can’t even get through security downstairs with material which might be construed as political yet the Liberals are using the place as a billionaires’ tuckshop.

Somebody did protest. Greens senator Larissa Waters brought it up at Estimates shortly afterwards. It turned out the NSW division of the Liberal Party had hired the Great Hall for  $67,700. In a letter to the President of the Senate, Slade Brockman, Waters questioned whether the use of Parliament House for political fundraisers constituted a breach of House rules: “It is unacceptable, undignified, offensive, and presents a risk of conflicts of interest that could undermine decision-making in this place.”

Friend markets not free markets

There is little the Coalition won’t do to grease its political donors, indeed to return their favours.  Some snippets from the gala gathering of Josh, Ros and the fan club:

  • At least five rich listers at the event boast a collective wealth of $16.3 billion,
  • They have disclosed donations of at least $1.4m to Liberal and National parties,
  • Two of the rich listers were people Frydenberg called up to discuss the design of JobKeeper. One of those two is in court over an underpayment case from 14,000 staff seeking $129m in stolen wages,
  • One of them asked Frydenberg to be groomsman at his wedding,
  • Another was former Fortescue Metals CEO Nev Power. Christian Porter has disclosed on his register of interests that he has flown on Power’s private jet from WA to Canberra on multiple occasions. Power was appointed Covid Recovery Commissioner.

A letter from Empire Energy, which is fracking the new coal seam gas province of the Beetaloo Basin, obtained by MWM, states that there were 500 people at the event. 

The mood was no doubt jubilant, despite Frydenberg notching up the biggest Budget deficit in history and recording a monstrous increase in the nation’s debt. After all, the wealth of Australian billionaires and many corporations soared during the pandemic. 

Check the numbers:

Ros Packer has donated at least $1.3 million to the Liberal Party.

Ryan Stokes, chief executive of Seven West Media and the son of TV and resources magnate Kerry Stokes had Josh Frydenberg as groomsman at his wedding. Ryan donated at least $88,400 to the Liberal and National parties.

Justin Hemmes is the restaurant mogul who is now in a court battle for underpaying staff. Will Vicars is a party donor from the fossil fuel industry.

James Symond is the nephew of Aussie Home Loans founder John Symond who started Aussie Home Loans. Said at the private budget night event “Always got to come out to support a good mate.”

Not billionaires but also present 
Nev PowerStrike Energy (gas)
Barni EvansCEO Sportsbet
Philip BaconArt dealer
Richard MurrayJB HiFi CEO

Nat Zero Integrity

Meanwhile, #winkgate erupted on Twitter this week. The scene, once again: Senate Estimates. Answering a question from Waters about Christian Porter’s anonymous legal funding, top public servant Stephanie Foster glanced right and appeared to wink in the direction of Finance Minister Simon Birmingham.

Foster, the deputy secretary of Prime Minister and Cabinet, explained that the wink was directed at a colleague who had just arrived, but it is apposite that her action was seen as no mere eye movement, more a symbol of the plunging independence of the public service.

Either way, we live in a culture of winks and nods. Political donations are not really donations. Donations are given with no return in mind. These are bribes: subsidies protection for the political leaners against any reforms which might benefit the lifters, ordinary Australians who have just subsidised the biggest transfer of wealth from poor to rich in this country’s history, JobKeeper.

Some $40 billion of the $90 billion went to corporations who neither deserved it or needed it to survive. A mere fraction has been repaid.

And the piece de resistance is almost upon us. In return for agreeing to net zero emissions by 2050, the Nationals have gained a cabinet spot and won the right to keep crowing about the lack of change to Australia’s 2030 target.

Why no Liberal leadership on this? They could have just told Barnaby, Matt, Bridget et al that this was the government position, like it or lump it. Even the Business Council of Australia has finally capitulated to economic common sense, done a 180 and agreed that a clean energy transition would benefit the economy. It’s not as if the Nats would suddenly dump the LIbs and join forces with Labor or the Greens. 

Why no Nats leadership on this? They claim rural Australia doesn’t go for it. That’s because they have been pushing the fallacy of resources jobs. Also, Sky News ranters are in regional Australia with a free licence to sprout their nonsense. If fair dinkum about leadership and not following carbon club/donors policy they would spruik the obvious, that there will be more jobs and more economic growth, more funding for renewables, than the enormous losses which will follow from eschewing science and the inevitable momentum of financial markets. Not to mention a cleaner climate.

Michael West established to focus on journalism of high public interest, particularly the rising power of corporations over democracy. Formerly a journalist and editor at Fairfax newspapers and a columnist at News Corp, West was appointed Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Sydney’s School of Social and Political Sciences.

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