Who is Wielding the Political and Economic Power in Australia?


Who is Wielding the Political and Economic Power in Australia?

Maybe I’ve just become attuned to this trend, but I am definitely noticing an increase in content on the topic of political and economic power in Australia, and who wields it.

I’m not talking about electricity – although that is a controversial topic itself – but political and economic power. And it’s not Small Business holding the upper hand.

Who’s wielding the power?

This is topic that I have often pondered, particularly as a regional business owner. So many decisions that have an immense impact upon our regional economies are made a long, long way from here. These decisions are made with very little or zero input from those of us who will be affected.

When I would broach the topic with those in elevated positions, I would be told “That’s just the way it is”, or “That’s just the way the economy works”. I have asked Directors of multi-national mining companies and senior public servants how the resources boom and bust was handled so badly. The response was always a variation on the theme of “Markets always overshoot. We just get over-enthusiastic at times”.

I never did feel that that was a satisfactory response, and it seems there are others who agree.

I recently discovered a book titled “Game of Mates – How Economic Favours Bleed the Nation”.

Authors Cameron Murray and Paul Frijters tell us that “Game of Mates tells a tale of economic theft across major sectors of Australia’s economy”. The prototypical villain James, and his mates are at the top of the economic tree. And they act to deprive Bruce, the average Aussie, of his fair share of the economic pie. They act to deprive him through lobbying and generally assuring that the rules of the game favour their ilk.

And now, the ABC is running a series of Podcasts on the theme of “Who runs this place”. Not surprisingly, the series reveals the amount of power that James and his colleagues wield, and just how they wield it.

Under Australian law, lobbyists have to be registered. Of the almost 500 lobbyists so registered, some 40 per cent are “former government officials”. Apparently this number is on the rise. 

But that’s not the end of the story. Industry bodies that clearly influence Governments are not considered to be lobbyists. And they are therefore exempt from any scrutiny under the appropriate Code of Conduct. Include in this group Trade Unions, The Minerals Council of Australia, The Property Council of Australia,  and the Pharmacy Guild.

But wait, there’s more.

Lobbyists only have to declare their “former government representative” past if they were a federal government minister. Or if they were a ministerial staffer, parliamentary secretary, public servant or defence force member. 

Consequently, there are many former state politicians (including state premiers or ministers), state political staffers, federal opposition or backbench staffers who have gone to make careers as lobbyists.

My question to politicians.

I wrote a post after the 2019 Federal Budget was released. This post expressed concern that the Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg’s Cheer Squad for the Budget Speech consisted of some business associates. These associates had a combined net worth of over $9billion. 

My post read:

“I read in this morning’s papers that Josh had his own personal cheer squad along to hear his speech, and join the after-party. I have no problem with Josh inviting his friends to witness a major speech. That would be churlish. I’m just a bit concerned that his friendship group consists of business mates with a combined net worth of over AUD 9 billion.

Even that is ok – everyone has the right to choose their friends.  But I wonder if there are any more common (as in there are more of them) Australians around to chat in his ear? How do I get an invite to one of those after-parties so I can give Josh a bit of advice from the other end of the business spectrum?”

So who is holding the political and economic power in Australia?

My question remains. 

How does Small Business get a “seat at the table”. I freely (and gratefully) acknowledge the excellent work done by the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, Kate Carnell, Peter Strong of COSBOA, and other organisations.

But at the moment, if Game of Mates and the ABC’s Who’s running this place are correct, we are still vastly outnumbered.

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