The very rich have always played a part in government but, for most of them, their decision to enter politics was for truly altruistic reasons. They believed that their experience in business could contribute to the well-being of the entire nation and that the nation as a whole would benefit from their management and decision-making skills. There were, of course, some that said that they were entering politics for purely altruistic reasons but either had ulterior motives for doing so in the first place or, alternatively, soon discovered that their position offered opportunities that could be exploited in order to covertly enrich themselves through various devious contrivances while being in politics. Such people, for better or worse, have been involved in politics for eons ever since ‘politics’ was invented.
Today, however, a frightening new trend is developing in Australia. No longer are the mega-rich entering politics in order to help create a better nation - and in recent history the likes of Malcolm Fraser and Malcolm Turnbull might be numbered among those. Today the mega-rich are quite overtly attempting to buy their way into both power and influence for no other purpose than to further enrich themselves and their shareholders.
Yesterday, Queensland businessman Clive Palmer announced his intention to enter Federal politics by running against Labor Federal Treasurer and Deputy Prime Minister Wayne Swan in Swan’s electorate of Lilley, Queensland. Palmer, whose main business interests are in mining, has made it quite clear that his purpose and intention for entering politics in this way is to fight against the proposed Mineral Resource Rent Tax and carbon tax which would directly affect his personal fortune and his company’s bottom line.
Joining Palmer in the quest for governmental power and influence in order to directly protect their assets and avoid having to pay the proposed taxes is fellow mining magnate Gina Rinehart of Western Australia. While Palmer is attempting to get into Federal parliament in order to get rid of the taxes, Rinehart’s preferred method of influence is to buy up interests in Australia’s media through which she hopes to influence public opinion by using aggressive right-wing media propagandists. In 2010 Rinehart took a 10% holding in Ten Network Holdings and has also latterly acquired a substantial holding in the slightly left of center Fairfax Media.
Already Rinehart’s influence in the Ten Network is paying dividends. The right-wing Murdoch commentator and Rinehart and Palmer supporter, Andrew Bolt, now has his own program at Ten, The Bolt Report, which overtly and frequently pushes both Palmer’s and Rinehart’s personal agendas with regard to the mining tax and the carbon tax. Bolt also pushes those same agendas at his online column and blog at Melbourne’s Murdoch-owned Herald-Sun.
And, finally, there’s the perennial right-wing media player himself, Rupert Murdoch, who already wields massive conservative media influence throughout Australia and much of the Western world and whose journalists and commentators in Australia are already pushing the new paradigm of governance by the mega-rich in order to further enrich those that hope to eventually govern. Besides Andrew Bolt, Murdoch’s Australian media has a whole gamut of journalists and commentators who seem willing to take up the miners cause. In recent days, Murdoch’s UK newspaper The Sun has even been seconded to help the conservative cause in Australia with headlines that blatantly demonised the Gillard government.
The domination of government and the media by the wealthy for the sole purpose of further enriching those that govern represents a fundamental change in our democratic system that, if successful, does not bode well for the political health of Australia. With the demise of the altruistic motives of the well-heeled and the well-intentioned being replaced by those that openly wield their wealth in order to influence, govern and then profit, Australians face a bleak future – if, that is, the mega-rich are allowed to get their way.