Gladys Liu and the ‘agent of foreign influence’ elephant in the room

September 19, 2019
Scott Morrison, Gladys Liu and Josh Frydenberg.

The most farcical side of the parliamentary banter between the Coalition and Labor regarding politicians’ ties to Chinese billionaires and government “agents of foreign influence” is not the pot-calling-the-kettle-black nature of their posture. It is that both studiously avoid mentioning the elephant in the room — the deeply entrenched corporate corruption of parliament and the state apparatus.

The corporate rich not only have 24/7 access to ministers, premiers and prime ministers but also to senior bureaucrats and military chiefs — powerful unelected figures who more often than not remain when governments change.

The corporate rich do not need to hand over Aldi bags stuffed with money. A few words whispered at a cocktail party or exclusive club often does the job. When that doesn’t work, an angry phone call usually does.

And if anyone dares to even slightly go against the interests of the billionaire class, they are promptly reminded of the golden chain that enslaves the supposedly “democratic” state to the rich: If you don’t do what we want, we will take our money elsewhere.

We saw this play out earlier this year when WA Environment Protection Authority chair Tom Hatton proposed that large resource projects be "zero-carbon”, with multinational companies exploiting the state’s resources being required to dedicate a tiny fraction of their huge profits towards carbon offsets.

This mild measure would have cost US energy giant Chevron just 2.16% of the combined cash surplus from its giant Gorgon and Wheatstone LNG projects.

Resource corporations, however, would have none of it. They yanked the golden chain and Labor Premier Mark McGowan promptly fell into line, burying his own environmental watchdog’s proposal.

But if the issue is “foreign” influence, UNSW academic Clinton Fernandez has suggested more attention be paid to the much bigger and more aggressive foreign influence of the United States.

When the United States asked Australia to join its new military intervention in the Persian Gulf, Prime Minister Scott Morrison jumped on board straight away. The federal Labor “opposition” quickly followed suit.

Both parties get millions of dollars in corporate donations, particularly from US-owned companies.

Fernandez notes that 15 of the 20 biggest corporations in Australia are majority US-owned, while another three are 25-49% US-owned.

The 18 companies are: CBA, CSL, BHP, Westpac, NAB, ANZ, Woolworths, Wesfarmers, Macquarie Group, Rio Tinto, Woodside Petroleum, Goodman Group, Scentre Group, Unibazl-Rodamco-Westfield, Newcrest Mining, Transurban, Telstra and Brambles.

On top of this, there is the revolving door between politics and corporate boards, which has seen numerous former ministers, senior state bureaucrats and military chiefs serve on the boards or as lobbyists for these corporate agents of influence.

Capitalism is as brazen in its hypocrisy as it is in its systemic corruption. That is why politicians and the corporate media refuse to mention this elephant in the room.

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