Big money still opens big doors to our politicians
Many Australian’s are becoming increasingly concerned by unchecked corporate power, a view cemented by the recent mining sector campaign which within just a few months resulted in a sitting Prime Minister being rolled and billions cut from their tax bills.
Nearly fifty years ago, Labor was attacked for being run by “faceless men” when the leadership team of Calwell and Whitlam were photographed peaking through a doorway, waiting for a room of unelected party officials to dictated their policy.
These days it seems a whole new group has claimed the role, wielding a disproportionate influence on the levers of power in Canberra, with both sides of politics appearing beholden to the will of the corporate sector.
In Sydney today, the Money and Power Conference will flesh out some of this influence and look at the licence for big business to operate in our society, and behaviour the community should expect from our leading corporations.
Even though big business spends enormous amounts of money on corporate image making, it seems people have a pretty realistic view about their influence on society. Recent poling conducted by the Australia Institute and Catalyst of 1360 people across the country revealed a staggering 4 in 5 people believed big business has too much influence over government decision-making and over their everyday lives.
Nine in 10 people disagreed – most of them strongly – that business should be able to buy access to politicians, with 94 per cent saying regulation was necessary to make sure big business behaves responsibly. But these views shouldn’t be surprising. The issue of WorkChoices, which boiled down to just how much power corporations should have in the in the workplace, was central in turning the last federal election against John Howard, with the backlash still being felt enough to result in a sanitised Liberal Party workplace policy this time round.
Our recent polling reveals this issue remains strong, with a broad consensus that workers need protection from bosses who do the wrong thing, with more than two thirds of people saying that workers do not have too many rights in the workplace.
An equally overwhelming number also said there should be more regulation, with greater protection for workers and consumers, as well as more environmental safeguards.
Also supported were obligations for corporations to invest ethically, as well as measures to restrict executive salaries and capping of commissions and bonuses.
Corporations distribute wealth – so the saying goes – but the public share of taxes now far exceeds what’s paid by many big businesses. In Australia only one quarter of government revenue comes from business tax – three quarters comes from ordinary folks like us.
And as the federal election bidding war on reducing the official rate of tax for business continues to play out, we should be mindful that in reality companies pay a lot less than the official rate of 30%. In the last decade, more than half of all Australian companies paid less than 5% of their total income in tax by taking advantage of a very generous system of concessions and deductions.
Again, there is very strong public support for businesses paying a greater share of overall tax revenue and for closing these loopholes that allow companies to reduce their tax.
When you add to all this the very sticky issue of political donations, an area where big business reinforces its interests daily by spending vast amounts influencing political decisions, the scope of the problem becomes clear. And of course if we already distrust big business in a context where business has disproportionate interest over government, this will lead naturally to distrust of government overall – or little distinction between the two groups.
We already know that most members of the community are concerned about the rise of unchecked corporate influence; this conference hopes to bring people together to have a discussion on how can we collaborate and engage on this huge challenge.
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