John Menadue. This is about more than a bottle of wine.

To mix my metaphors, the bottle of red wine that Barry O’Farrell received is only the tip of an iceberg – a sleezy world of lobbying, influence-peddling and corruption.

It is really about the covert influence of political power players in undermining our democratic system. No wonder there is a growing alarm.  People with money and power have access to decision-makers and with influence and outcomes that the public is not aware of, or at least until it is too late.

Nick Di Girolamo was doing more than slipping a $3,000 bottle of Grange Hermitage. He is at the centre of a searching ICAC investigation into the lobbying activities of Australian Water Holdings which sought a billion dollar contract with the NSW government. He was also a major fund-raiser for the Liberal Party. Barry O’Farrell didn’t send just one personal note of thanks to Di Gerolamo. He had ten meetings with him. They called each other by phone once a fortnight with speed dialling.

We have seen the awful underbelly of the ALP in NSW. Now we are seeing the sleazy underbelly of the Liberal Party.

We should consider the relationship between Barry O’Farrell and Di Girolamo in the context of the widespread pattern of privileges dealt out to powerful insiders.

  • The concessions to James Packer without due process for his high-rollers casino at Barangaroo. There was no tender process and no genuine community consultation. A deal was fixed by lobbyists for the insiders
  • The banks and the financial advising industry through lobbying persuaded Arthur Sinodinis to skew the finance advising sector in their favour.
  • The Rudd Government was abysmal in its handling of the super profits tax for miners, but the Australian Mining Council and the big miners, for an investment of $22 million in advertising and lobbying saved the mining industry over $60 billion in tax over ten years. I don’t know that we have ever had a heist like this in our history.
  • The polluters and their lobbyists are successfully rolling back the penalties that they should be paying for the pollution that they put into the atmosphere. They are despoiling and violating our fragile planet.
  • All political parties are at the beck and call of the alcohol and hotel lobby. It took months for the O’Farrell government to take action against alcohol-fuelled violence. Right to the end O’Farrell was unwilling to make the trading hour changes that had been so successful in Newcastle. Alcohol sponsorship dominates our major sports. We have a ‘war’ on illegal drugs but the alcohol industry causes much more damage than illegal drugs. But the alcohol industry prevents effective government action against the alcohol industry. And guess who is the Chief Executive of the NSW Hotels Association? It is Paul Nicolaou who was engaged by Australian Water Holdings as a lobbyist in 2007.At that time he was Chairman of the Millennium Forum, the NSW‘s Liberal Party’s major fund raising body.
  • The gambling and clubs industry lobbying effectively stopped attempts to curb problem gambling.
  • The superannuation industry is relentless in its lobbying to defend the taxation concessions for superannuation which Treasury advise cost $ 32b p.a. These concessions massively favour the wealthy.
  • The health lobby – the AMA, the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, Medicines Australia and the Private Health Insurance industry oppose almost every government attempt to reduce wasteful health expenditures and improve efficiency. They are the rent seekers par excellence. The problem is not with Medicare. The problem is with the vested interests who exploit Medicare. The AMA opposes almost all attempts to modernize the 19th century work practices that are widespread in the health sector. The Pharmacy Guild is vehemently opposed to competition. Medicines Australia charges $2b more p a compared with what New Zealanders pay for the same medicines. And our PHI companies undermine Medicare and receive a $5b annual subsidy, far more than the auto industry received. The health lobby has all politicians at their beck and call.
  • Senator Nash survived as Assistant Minister for Health after it was revealed that she had ordered the Department of Health to take down its junk food rating website.  We found out later that her former Chief of Staff had a shareholding in a firm that lobbied for junk food companies.

Professor Ross Garnaut expressed his frustration about the powerful vested interests who are imperilling good policy development in Australia, particularly in the climate-change area. He described these lobbyists and vested interests as representing a ‘diabolical problem’. They are blocking the necessary but politically difficult paths of reform.

The former head of the ACCC Graeme Samuel warned recently that “a new conga line of rent seekers  is lining up to take the place of those that have fallen out of favour’ with the change of government in Canberra

What can be done to turn back the insidious rent seeking culture that lobbyists are driving?

We have a register of lobbyists in Canberra and most states, but it is woefully inadequate as events in the ICAC show.

First, we don’t have any information about who ministers and officials are dealing with. Their diaries should be publicly available, showing details of all major matters discussed between ministers/officials and lobbyists. This information should be publicly available within ten days of any such contact or meetings – either direct or indirect.

Secondly, the lobbyist register in Canberra, for example, includes over 900 full time lobbyists but it does not cover firms and organisations who directly lobby, e.g. Minerals Council of Australia, AMA, Business Council of Australia and the PHI industry. In almost all cases these major organisations do not employ third party lobbyists but influence ministers and officials directly. This is a gaping hole which needs to be addressed if we are to achieve transparency on the role of influence peddlers. These in- house lobbyists are not registered yet they are far more powerful.

Third, we need improved disclosure of political donations as a result of the High Court decision. Disclosure of political donations should not be for individuals only but for companies and other organisations.

Fourth, ministers and senior officials should be prohibited from employment and lobbying for at least 3 years with firms and interests that they had dealings with as ministers or officials.

It should not be left to occasional interventions by the ICAC and their counterparts in the other states. We need a root and branch review of how powerful people and organisations are able to bend public life to their benefit. We usually only find out when we are confronted with a fait accompli, like Barangaroo.

We face an enormous problem that goes far beyond a bottle of Grange wine. There is a seething mess of influence peddling by vested interests who are winning the day at the public expense.

Unfortunately we only get a glimpse of this dark underworld by occasional disclosures by the ICAC or similar bodies.

(See also my blogs of January 24 ‘The scourge of special interests’ and February 14 ‘Corporate bullies.)


John Laurence Menadue is the publisher of Pearls & Irritations. He has had a distinguished career both in the private sector and in the Public Service.

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7 Responses to John Menadue. This is about more than a bottle of wine.

  1. Avatar Simon Warriner says:

    John, I applaud your efforts but they are missing the vital organs that need to be hit if we are to destroy the beast.
    The fundamental problem is “party politicians”. These individuals begin their political activities by swearing allegiance to a party while standing for election on the premise that they are going to represent an electorate.
    With that act they declare either 1: that they do not understand conflicted interests or 2: that they do understand conflicted interests but are prepared to behave dishonestly.
    Once in power that combination of ignorance and dishonesty is applied to the task of government. Given that the only surprise is that anything worthwhile gets done at all.

    If we want to change it we need to work very hard to inject a large number of very independent minded individuals into our parliamentary chambers so that the duplicitous and mendacious behavior can be revealed to the public and stopped. To that regard it is good we have a liberal government because it will show the lack of change with the alternates in control.
    I suggest that an organisation is needed to promote the need for and the value of independent representation. Not to dictate policy to the independents, but to get them into the public’s attention.
    Sir John Ward clearly states the reason for our problems, but to date neither he nor anyone else has proposed a workable, legal solution that will get “we, the people” into the drivers seat.
    More than happy to discuss the matter in person.

  2. Avatar Shaun says:

    You say stop complaining and do something about.. what exacty? The system is so corrupt, how could you change it?

    Go into politics? You then become part of the problem. Many a young idealist has been consumed by the system rather than changing it. The very nature of the system is such that it becomes self protecting. No one individual can make a difference.

    So what is the answer? What do you do?

  3. Avatar SirJohn Ward says:

    It seems to me that this article is a very important turning point in our national debate regarding chronic corruption and criminal doings by people in high office. My take on the background of this is more international and constitutionally disruptive. The early conservatives of the fifteenth century, were monarchists who considered democracy a threat to social order and the seas were ruled by buccaneers and privateers.
    Buccaneer is a colourful name for the pirates of old who pursued personal fortune with rules of their own making. They were, in their time, an iconic expression of “free market” capitalism.
    This all in the time of Shakespeare and “much ado about
    Privateers were buccaneers to whom a king granted legal immunity and safe harbour in return for a share of the booty (Royalties) as Elizabeth the First, used Walter Raleigh. Their (the Privateers) charge was to extract physical wealth from foreign lands and peoples by whatever means—including the execution of rulers and the slaughter and enslavement of native inhabitants of India, Indonesia, Incas, and Mexicans.
    Some privateers operated powerful naval forces. In 1671, Sir Henry Morgan (yes, appreciative British kings granted favoured privateers with titles of nobility in recognition of their service, e.g. Sir Walter Raleigh), launched an assault on Panama City with thirty-six ships and nearly two thousand brigands, defeating a large Spanish force and looting the city as it burned to the ground.
    Hernán Cortés claimed the Mexican empire of Montezuma for Spain.
    Hernando de Soto made his initial mark trading slaves in Central America and later allied with Francisco Pizarro to take control of the Inca empire based in Peru. 
    Eventually, the ruling monarchs turned from swashbuckling adventurers and chartered pirates to, in 1600 Elizabeth the First chartered corporations as their favoured instruments of colonial expansion, administration, and pillage. The sale of public shares enabled a single firm to amass virtually unlimited financial capital and assured the continuity of the enterprise beyond the death of its founders. Limited liability absolved the owners of personal liability for the firm’s losses or misdeeds.
    Corporations chartered by the British Crown established several of the earliest colonial settlements in what later became the United States and populated them with bonded labourers—many involuntarily transported from England—to work their properties. The importation of slaves from Africa followed.
    The East India Company (chartered in 1600) was the primary instrument of Britain’s colonisation of India, a country the company ruled until 1784 much as if it were a private estate. In the early 1800s, the East India Company established a thriving business exporting tea from China, paying for its purchases with illegal opium , in doing so, starting the “Boxer Wars”.
    The Dutch East India Company (chartered in 1602) established its sovereignty over what is now Indonesia and reduced the local people to poverty by displacing them from their lands to grow spices for sale in Europe and denying generations an Education to keep such a large population subdued.
    It is no exaggeration to characterise these forerunners of contemporary publicly traded limited liability corporations as, in effect, legally sanctioned and protected crime syndicates with private armies and navies backed by a mandate from their home governments to extort tribute, expropriate land and other wealth, monopolise markets, trade slaves, deal drugs, and profit from financial scams. Following generations maintained the ruthlessness and unswerving need to conquer. Many are sociopathic and dangerous to even to the corporations they lead.
    Wall Street hedge fund managers, day traders, currency traders, and other unlicensed phantom-wealth speculators are the independent, unlicensed buccaneers of our day. Wall Street banks are modern day commissioned privateers who ply a similar trade with state backing and safe harbour. The economy is their ocean. Publicly traded corporations serve as their favoured vessels of plunder, financial leverage is their favoured weapon, and the state is their servant-guardian.
    As with the buccaneers and privateers of days past, Wall Street’s major players find it more profitable to expropriate the wealth of others than to find honest jobs producing goods and services beneficial to their communities.
    Why are so many corporations ploughing their excess cash into mergers and dividends and buybacks instead of jobs and research and development? Because the executives who run these corporations have all the incentive in the world to do just that.
    Top executives today don’t get rich making the sorts of investments that create jobs and make their companies more efficient and effective. Instead, 21st century execs take the fast track to fortune. They manipulate their corporate share price. The higher and quicker their share price rises, the bigger their personal windfall — since top execs get the vast bulk of their pay in stock-related compensation.
    After adjusting for inflation, as an Institute for Policy Studies report recently noted, CEO pay last year more than doubled the CEO pay average for the 1990s and more than quadrupled the CEO pay average for the 1980s.
    Since the 1980s, the economic  recovery from recessions have also been getting weaker and weaker. The share price manipulation strategies that work just fine for executives aren’t working for everyone else.

    They walk away with their fees, commissions, and bonus packages and leave it to others to pick up the costs of federal bailouts, gyrating economic cycles, collapsing environmental systems, broken families, shattered communities, and the export of jobs along with the manufacturing, technology, and research capacities that go with them.
    They seek self-enrichment by plundering wealth they had no part in creating, enjoy substantial legal immunity, and acknowledge no duty or accountability other than to themselves. Legal or not, taking the property of another through deception, fraud, and expropriation is theft. Only tyrannies guarantee the liberty of the few to plunder the wealth of the many.

    Profit is the ultimate measure of all corporate decisions. It takes precedence over community well-being, worker health, public health, peace, environmental preservation or national security. Corporations will even find ways to trade with national “enemies”—Libya, Iran, the former Soviet Union, Cuba—when public policy abhors it. The profit imperative and the growth imperative are the most fundamental corporate drives; together they represent the corporation’s instinct to “live.”
    Corporations live or die by whether they can sustain growth. On this depends relationships to investors, to the stock market, to banks and to public perception. The growth imperative also fuels the corporate desire to find and develop scarce resources in obscure parts of the world.

    This effect is now clearly visible, as the world’s few remaining pristine places are sacrificed to corporate production. The peoples who inhabit these resource-rich regions are similarly pressured to give up their traditional ways and climb on the wheel of production-consumption. Corporate planners consciously attempt to bring “less developed societies into the modem world” to create infrastructures for development, as well as new workers and new consumers. Corporations claim that they do this for altruistic reasons to raise the living standard—but corporations have no altruism.

    American rhetoric claims that commodity society delivers greater choice and diversity than other societies. “Choice” in this context means product choice in the marketplace: many brands to choose from and diverse features on otherwise identical products. Actually, corporations have a stake in all of us living our lives in a similar manner, achieving our pleasures from things that we buy in a world where each family lives isolated in a single family home and has the same machines as every other family on the block. The “singles” phenomenon has proved even more productive than the nuclear family, since each person duplicates the consumption patterns of every other person.

    Lifestyles and economic systems that emphasise sharing commodities and work, that do not encourage commodity accumulation or that celebrate non-material values, are not good for business. People living collectively, sharing such “hard” goods as washing machines, cars and appliances (or worse, getting along without them) are outrageous to corporate commodity society.

    Native societies are regarded as backward, inferior and unenlightened. We are told that they envy the choices we have. To the degree these societies continue to exist, they represent a threat to the homogenisation of worldwide markets and culture. Corporate society works hard to retrain such people in attitudes and values appropriate to corporate goals.

    In undeveloped parts of the world, satellite communication introduces Western television and advertising, while improvements in the technical infrastructure speed up the pace of development. Most of this activity is funded by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, as well as agencies such as the US Agency for International Development, the Inter-American Bank and the Asian-American Bank, all of which serve multinational corporate enterprise.

    The ultimate goal of corporate multinationals was expressed in a revealing quote by the president of Nabisco Corporation: “One world of homogeneous consumption. . . [I am] looking forward to the day when Arabs and Americans, Latinos and Scandinavians, will be munching Ritz crackers as enthusiastically as they already drink Coke or brush their teeth with Colgate.” Page 31

    In the book, Trilateralism, editor Holly Sklar wrote: “Corporations not only advertise products, they promote lifestyles rooted in consumption, patterned largely after the United States…. [They] look forward to a post-national age in which [Western] social, economic and political values are transformed into universal values… a world economy in which all national economies beat to the rhythm of transnational corporate capitalism…. The Western way is the good way; national culture is inferior.”

    Form Is Content Corporations are inherently bold, aggressive and competitive. Though they exist in a society that claims to operate by moral principles, they are structurally amoral. It is inevitable that they will dehumanise people who work for them and the overall society as well. They are disloyal to workers, including their own managers. Corporations can be disloyal to the communities they have been part of for many years. Corporations do not care about nations; they live beyond boundaries. They are intrinsically committed to destroying nature. And they have an inexorable, unbeatable, voracious need to grow and to expand. In dominating other cultures, in digging up the Earth, corporations blindly follow the codes that have been built into them as if they were genes.

    We must abandon the idea that corporations can reform themselves. To ask corporate executives to behave in a morally defensible manner is absurd. Corporations, and the people within them, are following a system of logic that leads inexorably toward dominant behaviours. To ask corporations to behave otherwise is like asking an army to adopt pacifism.

    Corporation: n. An ingenious device for obtaining individual profit without individual responsibility.
    —Ambrose Bierce, 1842-1914.

    It is time for people to stand up to the tyrants among us, be they politicians or faceless corporations. A corporation — a legal fiction — can live forever, collects enormous wealth, and has no morals, no conscience, and no need for clean air, water, or food.

    Corporate owners and officers must be held liable for the harms they cause. The economic, environmental and human costs of corporate power and wealth are staggering. From the destruction of rainforests to the profits of war to toxic waste dumps to the mad science of genetically modified foods to global warming, the frenzied, cancerous quest for money knows no limits in terms of human suffering and planetary destruction.

    To put the above remarks into historical context consider the following quotes.

    “I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country.”

    Thomas Jefferson
    President of the United States, 1812

    “Of the cases in the United States Supreme Court in which the Fourteenth Amendment was applied during its first fifty years after its adoption, less than one half of one percent invoked it in protection of the Negro race, and more than fifty percent asked that its benefits be extended to corporations.
    Hugo Black
    Supreme Court Justice, 1938

    “I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country . . . corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavour to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.”

    Abraham Lincoln
    President of the United States, 1864

    Rights for corporations, because they’re about property, is about who is excluded:
    Rights for human beings is about who is included.
    “Corporate Personhood,” most people who hear that phrase for the first time scratch their heads. The absurdity of corporate personhood has that effect on people — it just doesn’t make sense! But corporate personhood is not only real under law, it has an enormous impact on all of us. so it behoves us to know what it is, how it got here, and why we need to get rid of it.
    To understand what’s going on, you need to to go back to the Constitution of the United States of America. This document was written by 55 gentlemen cleverly described by one historian as “the well-bred, the well-fed, the well-read, and the well-wed.” As some of the wealthiest, most privileged people in the new country, they were highly aware that their power had everything to do with how much property they owned — land, crops, buildings, personal goods, and — for most of them — property in the form of human beings, their slaves. As some of the best- educated men in the world (by European standards, anyway), they also knew about democracy, and they understood what a threat the real thing represented to their personal power.

    The kind of democracy they prized and wrote about so eloquently could only be practiced by people like them — certainly not by the rabble, or, as Alexander Hamilton so fondly referred to us, as “the mob at the gate.”

    So in the Constitution they created a republic and a system of government that is designed to protect property, not people. And not surprisingly, when folks in the new United States got their first look at the proposed Constitution, they howled! At least half of the population was very much opposed to the Constitution. They had just fought a long, bloody revolutionary war focused on words like “liberty” and “freedom,” not “president” or “congress” or “supreme court.” But the Federalists who proposed the Constitution had the finances and the unity to promote their ideas strongly, and after a lot of politicking they got the Constitution ratified — but only with the assurance that a Bill of Rights would be added to protect people from the excesses by the government that would be possible under the new system.

    It’s worth noting that nowhere in the Constitution does the word “democracy” appear; nor the word “corporation,” nor “slave.” But we’ll come back to these in a minute. First let’s look at the basic structure they created to protect property.
    They start with the sacred words “We the People of the United States” who are sovereign and have individual rights (human?). And then we have a government to serve those people that is accountable and has specific duties. The People delegate some of their power to the government in order to perform its specific duties. In a representative democracy, this system should work just fine.
    There’s just one little problem. It’s that word “People.” At the time the Constitution was ratified, in order to be considered one of “We the People,” you had to be an adult male, you had to be white, and you had to have a certain amount of property. At the time of the Constitution, this narrowed “People” down to about 10% of the population. Those who owned property, including human property, were very clear that this was rule by the minority — and that’s the way they wanted it.
    The word “corporation” appears nowhere in the Constitution, and the reason is that the Founding Fathers had zero interest in using them to run their new government. In colonial times, corporations had been chartered by the king for the purpose of exploiting the so-called “New World” and shovelling wealth back into Europe. Corporations like the Hudson Bay Company and the British East India Company and the Massachusetts Bay Colony had a lot of autonomy to do this work — they could pass laws, levy taxes, and even raise armies to manage and control property and commerce.

    They were not popular with the colonists.
    So when the Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution, they threw control of corporations to state legislatures where they would get the closest supervision by the people. Early corporate charters were very explicit about what a corporation could do, how, for how long, with whom, where, and when. Individual stockholders were held personally liable for any harms done in the name of the corporation, and most charters only lasted for 10 or 15 years.

    Most importantly, in order to receive the profit-making privileges they sought, corporations had to represent a clear benefit for the public good. And when corporations violated any of these terms, their charters were frequently revoked by the state legislatures.
    Time passed and memories of royal oppression faded, the wealthy folks increasingly started eyeing corporations as a convenient way to shield their personal fortunes. They could sniff the winds of change and see that their minority rule through property was under serious threat of being diluted. In 1865 the 13th Amendment was ratified, freeing the slaves. Three years later, the 14th Amendment was ratified, giving citizenship rights to all persons born or naturalised in the United States — the intended beneficiaries being the newly freed slaves.

    During and after the Civil War there was a rapid increase in the number and size of corporations, and this form of business was starting to become a more important way of holding and protecting property and power.
    President Abraham Lincoln wrote.
    “We may congratulate ourselves that this cruel war is nearing its end. It has cost a vast amount of treasure and blood. . . .
    It has indeed been a trying hour for the Republic; but I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. As a result of the war, corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavour to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed. I feel at this moment more anxiety for the safety of my country than ever before, even in the midst of war.
    God grant that my suspicions may prove groundless.”
    The passage appears in a letter from Lincoln to (Col.) William F. Elkins, Nov. 21, 1864.

    Increasingly through their corporations, the ruling class started influencing legislators, bribing public officials, and employing lawyers to write new laws and file court cases challenging the existing laws that restricted corporate behaviour.

    Lincoln again. “These capitalists generally act harmoniously and in concert to fleece the people, and now that they have got into a quarrel with themselves, we are called upon to appropriate the people’s money to settle the quarrel.”
    Speech to Illinois legislature, Jan. 1837.
    See Vol. 1, p. 24 of Lincoln’s Complete Works,
    ed. by Nicolay and Hay, 1905)

    Bit by bit state legislatures increased corporate charter length while they decreased corporate liability and citizen authority over corporate structure, governance, production, and labour. But they were only going to be able to go just so far with this strategy. Because corporations were a creation of the Government — chartered by the state legislatures — they still fell on this side of the line with duties accountable to the people. If minority rule by property was going to be accomplished through corporations, they had to cross the line and become entitled to rights instead.
    And their tool to do this was the 14th Amendment which was passed in 1868.

    After a series of lower court cases, the watershed moment came in 1886 when the US Supreme Court heard a case called Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad. Citing the 14th Amendment, and without hearing any arguments, the Supremes declared unanimously that corporations are persons deserving the law’s protection. There was no public debate about this and no law passed in Congress — corporations received the status of persons by simple judicial fiat. And they did this at a time when all women, all Native Americans, and even most African American men were still denied the right to vote.
    A key witness before the Supreme Court in the lead up to the 1886 was Roscoe Conkling.
    A former Senator who helped draft the 14th amendment. In his evidence he claimed that reading from his diaries of the time, it was the intention of the drafting committee that the rights to be conferred on former slaves to citizenship were meant to be equally applied to corporations.
    It was not till thirty years after his death that his diaries, were examined and found to have no such reference.
    He had lied to the Supreme Court, but by then the legal fiction of corporate personhood had defined corporates’ as natural persons.

    Ten years later, in Plessy v. Ferguson, the Supreme Court established the “separate but equal” doctrine that legalised racial segregation through what became known as “Jim Crow” laws.

    Fifteen years later the writers of the Australian Constitution included reference to corporation powers in Section 51 xx.
    Four referendums from 1911 to 1926at which the people of Australia had been asked to enlarge the scope of Commonwealth power in relations to corporations were defeated. However in 1971 the high Court overruled its 1908 decision and thereby rendered those four referendums irrelevant.

    In less than 30 years, African-Americans had effectively lost their legal personhood rights while corporations had acquired them. And in case you’re still wondering whether the primary purpose of the Constitution and the body of law it spawned is about protecting property rather than people,

    listen to this. Of the 14th Amendment cases heard in the Supreme Court in the first 50 years after its adoption, less than one-half of one percent invoked it in protection of African- Americans, and more than 50% asked that its benefits be extended to corporations.
    When you look at two-plus centuries of US legal history, the pattern is that people acquire rights by amendment to the Constitution — a long, drawn-out, difficult process — and corporations acquire them by Supreme Court decisions.
    Rights for corporations, because they’re about property, is about who is excluded; Rights for human beings is about who is included.
    Once corporations had jumped the line, they proceeded to pursue the Bill of Rights through more Supreme Court cases.
    In 1893 they were assured 5th Amendment protection of due process.
    In 1906 they got 4th Amendment search and seizure protection.
    In 1925 it was freedom of the press and speech.
    In 1976 the Supremes determined that money is equal to speech, and since corporate persons have First Amendment rights, they can basically contribute as much money as they want to political parties and candidates.
    And so we find ourselves in a time when corporations have amassed enormous power and wealth, and control nearly every aspect of our lives, because they
    masquerade — under the law at least — as one of us.
    But most of us don’t know it. A key reason for that is that the whole thing is pretty esoteric.

    A corporation is a legal fiction, an abstraction. You can’t see or hear or touch or smell a corporation — it’s just an idea that people agree to and put into writing. But because they have legal personhood status, corporations are like super humans with all the advantages and none of the disadvantages that we mere mortals have. Corporations now have infinite life spans so they can continue to accumulate wealth and power forever. You can cut off the figurative arm or leg or even head of a corporation and it can still continue to exist. Furthermore, corporate lawyers invoke their personhood status or not at their convenience, allowing them to be whatever they want according to their needs.
    Along with this abstract existence, corporations have acquired a lot more abstract property.

    Ownership of land and buildings is still important, but now corporate property also includes concepts like mineral rights, drilling rights, air pollution credits, intellectual property, and even — under NAFTA — rights to future profits.
    All this abstraction fits in to the ways property is used to maintain minority rule. When corporations were over on the duties side of the line, the primary technique for enforcing minority rule was to establish that only a tiny percentage could qualify as “We the People” — in other words, that most people were subhuman. As different groups of people struggled to be included in those first three words of the Constitution and eventually succeeded, the corporation crossed over to the rights side and ultimately became superhuman, still maintaining an artificially elevated status for a small number of people.

    Today the work of corporatists is to take this system global.
    Having acquired the ability to govern in the United States, the corporation is the ideal instrument to gain control of the rest of the world. The concepts, laws, and techniques perfected by the ruling minority here are now being forced down the throats of people everywhere. First, a complicit ruling elite is co-opted, installed, or propped up by the US military and the government.

    Then, just as slavery and immigrant status once kept wages nonexistent or at poverty levels, now sweatshops, and the prison-industrial complex provide ultra-cheap labour with little or no regulation. Just as sharecropping and company store scrip once kept people trapped in permanently subservient production roles, now the International Monetary Fund and World Bank’s structural adjustment programs keep entire countries in permanent debt, the world’s poorest people forced to feed interest payments to the world’s richest while their own families go hungry.

    Just as war was waged against native populations that lived sustainably on the land, now wars are instigated against peoples and regimes that resist the so-called “free trade” mantra because they have the audacity to hold their own ideas about governance and resource distribution.

    Racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, and divisive religious, ethnic, ideological, and cultural distrust were all intentionally instituted to prevent people from making common cause against the ruling minority, and those systems continue their destructive work today.
    These systems of oppression that I’ve been talking about weren’t established overnight; they were gradually and sometimes surreptitiously introduced and refined in ways that made them acceptable.

    At the time of the Constitution, corporations were widely reviled, but a century later they were a commonplace business institution, and a century after that they’ve become our invisible government! They accomplished this over decades, changing a little piece of law here and incorporating a throw-away comment in a judicial decision there.
    Resistance to these oppressions evolved in a similar way. Those who wished to end slavery, for example, worked for many years collecting information, refining their analysis, and debating among themselves. They came to understand the issue as one of human rights and that the whole institution of slavery was fundamentally wrong.
    They didn’t come up with a Slavery Regulatory Agency or voluntary codes of conduct for slave owners. They called themselves Abolitionists — the whole thing had to go.

    If you look at corporate personhood the same way, you will see that corporate personhood was wrongly given — not by We the People, but by nine Supreme Court judges. We further see that corporate personhood is a bad thing, because it was the pivotal achievement that allowed an artificial entity to obtain the rights of people, thus relegating us to subhuman status. And finally, because of the way corporate personhood has enabled corporations to govern us, it is so bad, we must eradicate it.
    Slavery is the legal fiction that a person is property. Corporate personhood is the legal fiction that property is a person. Like abolishing slavery, the work of eradicating corporate personhood takes us to the deepest questions of what it means to be human. And if we are to live in a democracy, what does it mean to be sovereign?
    The hardest part of eliminating corporate personhood is believing, that We the People have the sovereign right to do this. It comes down to us being clear about who’s in charge.
    What would change if corporations did not have personhood?
    Well, here are a few examples. If corporate persons no longer had first amendment right of free speech, we could prohibit all corporate political activity — no more contributions to candidates or parties, no more lobbying. Just think of the ripple effect on our political process if no corporate money could contaminate it!

    Corporate persons are now protected against search without a warrant under the 4th Amendment.
    This means that OH&S and the EPA have to schedule their inspections at a time convenient to corporate managers. If you think the air, land, or water in your community is being polluted, or the workers mistreated, neither you nor the government can go on corporate property to get information without legal permission. Just think of the consequences if corporate polluters were no longer shielded by the US Constitution!
    Without their protections under the 5th and 14th Amendments, corporations could be prevented from merging and owning stock in other corporations.

    The referendums held 1n 1911, 1913, 1919 and 1926 were designed to enhance the power of the Commonwealth over the economy, especially in relation to trade and commerce, corporations and monopolies. They were all rejected.
    Yet The High Court was able to amend by judicial decision, and enlarge the scope of Commonwealth in relation to corporations power (section 51 (xx) of the constitution). In Strickland v Rocla Concrete Pipes Ltd (1971), the High Court overruled its earlier decision in Huddart, Parker &Co Pty Ltd v Moorehead (1908) thereby rendering irrelevant the four failed referendums at which the people had been asked to do the same thing.

    My point is to stand any chance of denying corporate Directors any further control over the people’s rights, or indeed gather any more power to themselves.
    Right now the people who run corporations hide from the law behind this legal fiction, to the detriment of the organisations they are bound to represent , society and their shareholders
    Your language must be clear and able to withstand the argument that; “Where the meaning of the words in question is not self evident, the interpreter must go beyond them”.
    This is why I suggest by inserting a clear and unambiguous exclusion of corporate personhood into our constitution we may have some measure of success, if you really do intend to specifically rule out corporations from the Human Rights Charter.
    I want to make it clear that the history of corporations’ powers go back beyond the first “tea party”. The Americans fought a war of independence over this issue. Yet they lost that war finally in 1886 when their Supreme Court handed the new rules over to Roscoe Conkling’s benefactors some 15 years before we in Australia had our constitution approved by Queen Victoria.

  4. Avatar John Holznagel says:

    This is about more than the NSW ICAC as well. Did the LNP in Queensland or did it not brag at a parliamentary hearing into the CMC about wanting the CMC with it cronies and doesn’t the LNP want to water down its powers? After all the CMC is our corruption watchdog. Plus Campbell Newman was named in evidence at ICAC. It appears the bad ol’ days of Joh are retuning. There might be some truth in what Clive Palmer said (paraphrasing) that Mr Newman is in big trouble.

  5. Unfortunately, a lot of Australians have no idea this is happening because ‘politics’ turns them off. If these anti-democratic practices were stamped out, we might finally get better health systems, better public education, better public transport and good policy responses to climate change and asylum seekers.

  6. Avatar Mick says:

    It all started when one guy and a few of his mates controlled the best part of the forest where bears could be killed to feed the family. If people from your cave wanted to hunt bears in the best part of the forest, then you gave that control guy the best parts of any bears you caught.

    And so it evolved down through the ages, where there was always that small group who wanted to have control over the majority. Not for the benefit of the majority, but for their own benefit. To feed their greed.

    These are the “manipulating” wealthy, as opposed to the majority “community spirited” wealthy.

    Over the years, their manipulating tentacles have reached far into societies systems to the point where, in many areas, the control is automated and legalised to heavily favour these “few” wealthy.

    Society is so unbalanced in providing for peoples existence.

    My feelings are illustrated by this cartoon . . . . . . . . . .


  7. Such an informed and balanced commentary

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