Sleaze

November 13th, 2006

With a string of financial and sexual scandals affecting State Labor governments, and “corruption” being listed as one of the factors contributing to the Republicans defeat in the US, it’s worth thinking about whether issues of this kind are ephemeral events, making the headlines and then disappearing, or whether they have longer-term implications. It’s possible to point to examples going both ways. The British Conservatives acquired a reputation for sleaze in the declining years of the Thatcher-Major governments, and it took them at least a decade to recover, even up against a government that is scarcely an exemplar of probity. On the other hand, the Howard government hasn’t suffered much from a string of scandals, of which AWB is just the most recent.

As regards financial scandals, a crucial factor is whether they are seen as examples of individual wrongdoing or of systemic corruption. If the former, a resignation or sacking will usually solve the problem. It’s generally worked for Beattie in Queensland, who’s certainly had quite a few such cases to contend with – the latest allegedly involving a former minister trying to blackmail him. Howard has managed to brazen out quite a few scandals without resignations, at least in part because no-one suspects him of personal financial impropriety. But a reputation for systemic corruption, like that associated with WA Inc, or the enmeshment of the US Republicans with corrupt K Street lobbyists (of whom Jack Abramoff is just one example), is much harder to shake.

Looking at WA, the decision by incoming Premier Carpenter to revoke the ban on dealings with Brian Burke imposed by Geoff Gallop, and to appoint Burke crony Norm Marlborough to Cabinet has come back to bite him. He’ll need to do more than restore the status quo ante to fix this. Burke clearly exerts a lot of power in the Labor Party, and unless it’s attacked root and branch, the problem is unlikely to go away.

The corruption of the US Republican party is so systematic, it’s hard to see it being reformed any time soon. The intertwined network of lobbyists, corporate-controlled thinktanks, party machinery and personal trafficking in favours has spread so far that, if it were cut out, there would be nothing left.

As regards sexual scandals, the crucial factor is hypocrisy. Conservative parties have suffered most from this, given that they have been most vocal in attacking those who deviate from traditional mores. But allegations of sexual offences against children, such as those made against sacked minister Milton Orkopoulos in NSW, are equally damaging to either party. At the moment Orkopoulos is proclaiming his innocence and the two parties are making claims and counterclaims about who knew what when, so we should probably wait for more information about this.

A deeper problem in NSW, reflected in a string of apparently unrelated scandals, is a party culture that promotes hacks and rewards factional machinations and dirty tricks. The fact that the NSW Liberals suffer from much the same problem does not make matters any better.

Looking at the decay of the party system in Australia, I’ve often thought we might be better off with a US-style primary system. But then, looking at the Republicans, it seems that such a system might create more problems than it solves.

Categories: Oz Politics, World Events Tags:
  1. November 13th, 2006 at 18:21 | #1

    Have you seen any alternative models to a party system proposed? It feels like the fact it is so easy be to insulated from politics is what causes these problems, not so much the party system or the primary system. Thoughts?

  2. November 14th, 2006 at 00:48 | #2

    Pr Q says:

    As regards financial scandals, a crucial factor is whether they are seen as examples of individual wrongdoing or of systemic corruption.

    the Howard government hasn’t suffered much from a string of scandals, of which AWB is just the most recent…because no-one suspects him of personal financial impropriety.

    That is true enough as far as it goes. But it is not the whole story.

    Howard’s reputation for honesty and trustworthiness has gone up through these scandals because voters rely on him to do unsavoury things whilst keeping them in the dark. The govt. got the job done whilst keeping the voters hands clean.

    Most of the scandals implicating the Howard govt. (“children overboard”, “AWB oil-for-weapons”, “WMD hoax”) have not hurt Howard or his government because the electorate have rightly seen Howard’s lies as made in the national interest, rather than personal interest of various Ministers or the professional interest of the parties. I would characterise Howard as a Machiavellian populism. Although Howard has more in common with Richard Daley than Count von Bismark.

    The key factor here is that Howard’s deviously framed policies actually work, and cause more good than harm. Border protection slowed down the massacre of people-smuggled innocents on the high seas, AWB bribes greased the wheels of a mechanism that put food in the mouth of starving Iraqi children and the ADF’s trifling contribution to Coalition of Willing has strenghthened the US-AUS alliance without own-force casualties or terrorist blow-back so far.

    Howard’s so-called “dog whistling” over the issue of unsettled ethnics is in the same vein. Whilst rallying the “red-neck” vote he has managed to increase the overall rate of NESB immigration.

    In this sense the average Australian federal voter has shown more political sophistication than the average left-wing pundit.

  3. rd
    November 14th, 2006 at 03:29 | #3

    “Looking at the decay of the party system in Australia, I’ve often thought we might be better off with a US-style primary system. But then, looking at the Republicans, it seems that such a system might create more problems than it solves.”

    Primaries sound appealing, but are very expensive, and so increase the money-driven nature of the system. There is a lot of regulation of the flow of funds into the US political process. However, the primaries, weak parties, and frequent elections generate a demand for greater fund-raising. My guess is that the fund-raising requirements more than offset the apparently greater participation in primaries.

  4. November 14th, 2006 at 08:14 | #4

    The US parties should select their candidates using Instant Runoff Voting. It would save a lot of money and it would prevent a lot of internal fighting.

  5. gordon
    November 14th, 2006 at 09:37 | #5

    “As regards financial scandals, a crucial factor is whether they are seen as examples of individual wrongdoing or of systemic corruption”.

    I don’t think the “bad apple” approach is any more than a useful PR response to exposure. It
    was used for Abu Ghraib, but the real story of A.G. was the deliberate process of “softening
    up” prisoners – the torture was part of the system. That is why scandals are interesting;
    they expose the way the system “really” works and penetrate the smooth, bland and meretricious
    surface invented for presentation to the world. Conspiracy theorists consequently love scandals
    and conservatives dislike them for the same reason. “Bad apples” and “it’s not a conspiracy,
    just a stuff-up” are typical conservative responses to scandal, and both aim to preserve the
    fake appearance of a system which works in the way it is “supposed to”.

    In a world in which personal self-interest is regarded as the ultimate good, it is difficult
    to combat corruption; indeed it is difficult even to maintain any concept of probity in the
    traditional sense of putting social or national interests ahead of one’s own. As M. Thatcher
    is famously reported to have said: “There is no such thing as society, only a lot of individuals”.
    That the Republicans, as a party commonly thought of as espousing this theory more than the
    Democrats, lead the way in this particular race to the bottom should come as no surprise. But
    more traditionally social-welfare-oriented parties can be expected to follow close behind
    as their own belief in their traditional ideologies softens and melts under the constant
    soft pressure of individualistic propaganda.

  6. Dave
    November 14th, 2006 at 12:25 | #6

    I think that the issue of sleaze builds up over time. The Howard government is slowly attracting a sleazy image, but its taken a long time to get it. Eventually, the view of Howard as tricky, on asylum, ministerial ethics, interest rates is growing out there.
    On Jobs for the boys, the Howard government has set new lows, I know all parties do it but he has taken it to new heights. I think gradually it builds up and becomes a negative, but it takes time.

  7. November 14th, 2006 at 12:55 | #7

    Jack, the current Iraqi government won’t have a bar of Australian wheat because of the AWB scandal. Not only was it morally repugnant, ultimately, it hasn’t worked in Australia’s interests.

    And what have we gotten out of the much-vaunted US-Australia alliance? A “Free Trade Agreement” that has helped the USA sell products to Australia, but hasn’t made one iota of difference in Australia selling products in the US market.

    Howard might aspire to Machiavellianism, but I’d imagine that Machiavelli would be rather disappointed in the competence of this particular prince.

  8. smiths
    November 14th, 2006 at 13:15 | #8

    “Border protection slowed down the massacre of people-smuggled innocents on the high seas, AWB bribes greased the wheels of a mechanism that put food in the mouth of starving Iraqi children and the ADF’s trifling contribution to Coalition of Willing has strenghthened the US-AUS alliance without own-force casualties or terrorist blow-back so far.”
    i feel like hurling a long string of offensive words at jack, but am aware that its not polite,
    so,
    there are single celled amoeba with more talent for analysis than you jack,
    blind fish that live in the depths of the darkest parts of the marianas trench that can see more clearly than you jack,
    your comments verge on the ‘sick in the head category’
    i emplore you to seek help, or glasses

  9. smiths
    November 14th, 2006 at 13:50 | #9

    i forgot to make my actual point,
    i totally disagree that there is a string of financial and sexual scandals in state labour ranks,
    western australia is experiencing an anti-sleaze moment if anything,
    alan carpenter looks like he has the most integrity in the country in my opinion,
    he gave people a real chance, they blew it, hes ejected them whilst stating clearly that he now has zero tolerance,
    this is forward movement not back, and he looks good whatever ‘the west australian’ or ‘murdoch’ might try and say,
    and the alleged child abuse minister in NSW is hardly a sexual scandal, or a case of sleaze related to a particluar party,
    if proved this man is sick beyond words, his place is behind bars and a damn site more needs to be done to sort out these problems, but its grossly unfair to attach a party tag to this incident,
    i for one expect of it the shithouse media, but not from you prof.

    which side of the political spectrum were these men on?

    http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2004/04/18/1082226635777.html
    Police files on sex abuse ‘vanished’

    http://www.news.com.au/dailytelegraph/story/0,22049,20158136-5001028,00.html
    Dead man ‘part of pedophile ring’

    http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,20867,20367657-2702,00.html
    Boys molested in bogus initiations
    September 07, 2006

    http://blogs.abcnews.com/theblotter/2006/08/caught_on_tape_.html
    Ivy League Professor Caught with Videos That Show Him Having Sex with Children, Feds Say

    http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1154525981602&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull
    An Israeli diplomat from the Consulate-General in Atlanta was arrested Thursday on suspicion of holding child pornography material on his computer and child exploitation.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/worldlatest/story/0,,-6034410,00.html
    Pastor accused of Molesting Girls

  10. alphacoward
    November 14th, 2006 at 15:26 | #10

    This from one of our quality federal politicians:
    http://www.westender.com.au/stories.php?s_id=340

  11. November 14th, 2006 at 18:18 | #11

    Robert Merkel Says: November 14th, 2006 at 12:55 pm

    Jack, the current Iraqi government won’t have a bar of Australian wheat because of the AWB scandal. Not only was it morally repugnant, ultimately, it hasn’t worked in Australia’s interests.

    The Iraqi children got Australian bread put on their tables. whats wrong with that?

    And what have we gotten out of the much-vaunted US-Australia alliance?

    Improved regional security over the long haul. The liberation of timor and the regulation of indonesia would be impossible without the US Seventh fleet on ADF’s side. Its called the favour bank – we scratch their back, they scratch ours. We help them globally they help us regionally.

    Howard might aspire to Machiavellianism, but I’d imagine that Machiavelli would be rather disappointed in the competence of this particular prince.

    Howards trustorthiness amongst the general population is on high and stable plateau. People believe that he will deliver the results that they want, not necessarily those that they will admit to. ask sol lebovic.

    blockquote>here is a surprise for the people who rushed to buy John Howard’s Little Book of Truth. Newspoll has been surveying Howard’s trustworthiness since 1995, the year before he took the prime ministership. In that first 1995 poll, 60 per cent of those polled said that Howard was trustworthy. In the latest poll, published last month, the figure is 57 per cent.

    As Newspoll’s managing director, Sol Lebovic, puts it: “The amazing thing is, in the latter years especially, whatever happens, his trustworthiness rating doesn’t seem to dip. Tampa, children overboard, Iraq didn’t dent him. And his overall satisfaction rate hasn’t fallen below 50 per cent in two years. For a third-term prime minister, that’s remarkable.”

    Lebovic again: “There is a lot of noise generated in a segment that is passionately anti-Howard, but you have to understand how big that segment is – you have to take a sample across the whole electorate.”

    What is the explanation for Howard’s imperviousness to attacks on his honesty? David Chalke, who works on the Australia Scan polling that established the high value Australians put on truth in leaders, points to another of the findings of that survey.

    What has happened to our demand for truth and honesty from our leaders? You need to go down to the 14th place on the list to find it. A mere 11 per cent of Australians ranked “politicians’ integrity” in their top five priorities for government action.

    How do you reconcile the insistence on truth and honesty in leaders with dismissiveness of the matter as a priority for government action?

    Chalke squares the circle this way: “The public is either incredibly smart or incredibly stupid. We want leaders to be honest and truthful, but our trust in each institution is entirely conditional.

    In short, while leaders deliver on our core demands, it seems that we are prepared to live with their dishonesty.

    Next year he will be passing into his 12th year in office. being a good liar may sometimes be a good thing for a politician to be when an electorate is impaled on the horns of ideological dilemmas.

  12. November 14th, 2006 at 18:21 | #12

    smiths Says: November 14th, 2006 at 1:15 pm

    i feel like hurling a long string of offensive words at jack, but am aware that its not polite,

    so,there are single celled amoeba with more talent for analysis than you jack,

    blind fish that live in the depths of the darkest parts of the marianas trench that can see more clearly than you jack,

    your comments verge on the ’sick in the head category’

    i emplore you to seek help, or glasses

    I understand that people like you need to say things like that to make themselves feel better. but what, exactly, is your point?

  13. smiths
    November 14th, 2006 at 18:53 | #13

    maybe i didnt make a point,
    maybe some points just shouldnt need making,

    just a question,
    what information does the electorate use to determine if they think howard is acting honourably and in the best long term interest of australia?

  14. November 14th, 2006 at 20:15 | #14

    I believe the US and Australian systems of government, where political parties must raise millions of dollars from corporates to stay in, or obtain power, creates inbuilt corruption.
    Incumbents have massive advantages in this system and are therefore unwilling to change it. The McCain Feingold campaign finance bill went nowhere, and Howard and co have loosened our campaign finance laws to benifit themselves. A change of government won’t see Labor or the Dems in the US change the crooked system.
    Sorry John, I think you should have pointed out that the Dems, Republicans, Labor and Liberal are all on the same side of this debate.

  15. November 14th, 2006 at 22:07 | #15

    One of the most shocking scandals of all time was Labor’s attempt to get blood-soaked money off Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath Party. Ironically, it wasn’t delivered but, even so, the ALP stuck up for the tyrant ’till the very end.

  16. November 15th, 2006 at 07:33 | #16

    “The liberation of timor and the regulation of indonesia would be impossible without the US Seventh fleet on ADF’s side.”

    The “regulation of Indonesia” … wtf?

    The deputy sheriff mentality is alive and well … yea dude we’ll keep those damn mussos in line …YEEHA!

  17. November 15th, 2006 at 09:01 | #17

    Good piece John. Two points to make. Sleaze etc does add-up. It is often overlooked in the Australian media’s generally superficial understanding of US politics that “values” won the election for Bush in 2004. By values, I don’t mean some religious right conspiracy but rather a view (rightly or wrongly) that the Democrats and particularly John Kerry did not understand what mattered to middle-America. Again, this impression hurt the Republicans this time in relation to the sleaze and big-spending ways of the GOP. The second point I would make on Australian politics is that the system needs to be reinvigorated. We need open primaries and most importantly voluntary voting. Again, contrary to superficial media coverage, voluntary voting does not mean the US system. Most countries on the planet from Japan to Canada and Spain have voluntary voting and I’d hardly call the Spanish PM captive to the religious right! I do not agree with a lot (most) of what you write, but frankly at least you have some ideas and would probably stand a better chance of getting elected in such a system than in the Labor Party where you would have to do 2 decades of political and union hackery to get a seat.

  18. Paul Walter
    November 15th, 2006 at 17:32 | #18

    Gordon’s post come closest to a real appreciation of the problem. People “see” the likes of Tripodi or Burke easily enough. The press demonstrates its facility as lion-hearted guardian of a this nearly-perfected system that represents the “true” cosmology. It’s not the system; just a few grubs despised even by their affiliates; certainly not part of OF “our”, ideal system.
    But we are all of the post globalising system that has crushed self-rule and individuality in many locales globally, not just in Australia, over recent times. The hollowed- out shell of Keynesian democracy is now just a reassuring facade, that saves the punters from the awful realisation of what little say they actually have in their own lives.
    So, local governments are bullied and disempowered by States. These in turn are gelded by federal “competition policy ” determined from outside of voter’s control also, by international “Free Trade Agreements” and “International Reform”. Laws previously developed by communities to protect public interest are side-stepped in the interests of the avaricious and wasteful neo-feudalism that the system really is.
    Hence, we get public transport monstrosities with their institutionalised PP’S, confidential in confidence/ FOI provisions. Whilst administered by public servants, lawyers bean-counters informed by agreements imposed from outside, politicians have nothing left but rort in concert with financiers, contractors and developers. The politicians do EXACTLY what they are supposed to do, including further disillusioning the public by showing how impotent the best -possible system is in advancing neo-feudalism!
    The Burke-ian grubs caught at local and state level are the equivalent to the mugs paraded on TDT, “Sixty Adverts” or ACA caught shoplifting from Coles, or growing a couple of marihuana plants in the back yard, or scoring a temporary part time job and not telling the social security. They are scapegoats hanged on a modern Tyburn gallows to reassure the public. But these shows rarely reveal the affairs of visible oligarchs like the Packer or Murdochs, or the anonymous fund managers who influence the tycoons. We never find out about the sorts of sophisticated practices involved that save a Murdoch or Packer from paying tax or challenge the structure of the monopolies, that give them control of politicians and allow corruption of democracies byond retreival or are offered the sort of explanations as to structure and intent that outsiders like Quiggin offer.
    If we did, we’d find the international syatem and federal governemt IS as corrupt as local and state governments and why!
    We’d know that what purports to be “government” is only a form of civil service,”governance”, any way. The government of this country is only here to administer things like AUSFTA and other imposed “Anschluss”-type treaties imposed on weak small countries and communites by outside interests; whether specifically the USA, or globalist capitalism in general.
    People just don’t “see” the real corruption because they just don’t “see” the real problem of the globalising neo liberalist ideological slant on use versus exchange value and social and cultural economic relations, played out in the examples of justification of theft only by institutional capitalism, military aggression and GENOCIDE in places like the Middle East and Africa and “Free Trade” neo colonialism. The treatise by Roland Barthes of the late ‘fifties, called “Mythologies”,dwealing with cosmology, system and beleif, is as relevant today as it was fifty years ago and takes the same effort to understand. This is because these people acheived a view “beyond the trees that allowed also for the forest”, getting closer to an understanding of the squalid real system of global and human relations. Otherwise people would see the multi- billion dollar corruption of defence spending and procurement, conditions of trade, the purpose of massive national and individual debt, military service in the interest of foreign powers, sell-out of local economic and cultural quarantine systems from AQIS and strategic tarrifs; to public broadcasting, arts and education, and would finally recognise the environmental crisis as to its repressive ideological function as well as its obviously exploitationary facet.

  19. Lake Macquarie
    November 15th, 2006 at 20:50 | #19

    You really don’t know the scandalous history of the ALP in Lake Macquarie:

    http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,20867,20759727-601,00.html

    How many times does it have to happen?

  20. Paul Walter
    November 16th, 2006 at 00:59 | #20

    Just adding this as a bit of a follow up. Please consider the article in the Canberra Times on line opinion section; 15/11 by Rosslyn Beeby:
    ” The battle Australian science can’t afford to lose”,
    to discover just how chokingly pervasive the dominant ideology has become, to the exclusion of ANY common-sense.
    How can honest Australians continue to survive under these conditions in politics, or under any conditions defies my imagination.
    We are beginning to do to ourselves what the Spanish Empire did to itself in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries through the “Index” and the Inquisition.

  21. gordon
    November 17th, 2006 at 08:25 | #21

    The “aspirational” mindset is certainly on the minds of the Business Council, which is
    cheering it on as hard as it can, as revealed in this item from The Age: “Recently, we’ve detected attitudes and beliefs that point to a mindset among Australians that is becoming more aspirational, more confident and more capable. Instead of being focused on basic needs, Australians are increasingly focused on how they might go about locking in wealth and the prosperity they’ve worked hard for…This shift is bigger and potentially more profound than what is usually alluded to in political debates. I can’t help feeling that an important factor has been the dramatic shift to the Australian as shareholder…The aspirations of individual Australians – and the potential of this nation – will not be unlocked if we allow the debate to be framed around “battler” or negative, inward-looking ways of thinking…”

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