The world is awash with Russian oligarchs these days. Some have even washed up in Australia’s gas-and mining-fields. But one wonders, are there other oligarchs floating around under the radar?
The world seems to have come to some realisation that ‘oligarchs’, particularly Russian oligarchs, are not a good thing. After years of super-yachts and super-secure crowds appearing suddenly at marinas and casinos and luxury locations across the world, their presence has acquired a pong, and polite Western politicians, governments and resorts are clearing their web sites of any mention of ever knowing an oligarch.
Why is that? Well, in Putin’s Russia oligarchs only become so if favoured by Mr Putin, and they only stay there if they also favour him. Fabulous wealth, unbridled corruption, and ruthless personalities are the hallmarks of Russian oligarchy. In Putin’s Russia – critics, journalists and whistle-blowers are ruthlessly prosecuted, raided or killed in bombings, shootings and poisonings. But being a Russian oligarch has its dangers too – total obedience to your political master is a necessity. Any hint of disloyalty and your name-plate is taken down, perhaps permanently.
British newspapers are currently full of horror headlines of ‘My Worst Oligarch’ by personalities wanting to declare they are now ‘woke’ to their dangers. But here in Australia politicians clamour still to shake the hands of home-grown oligo-types. Somehow, we have not yet noticed that some of our magnates are virtually identical to the Russian prototype. And we are fain to notice that our current government has a Putinesque flavour too.
The wealth of many Australian magnates is underpinned by a government dedicated to creating highly favourable laws and tax breaks for their business, to the point where many pay zero tax. Australian gas-field royalties are a mere fraction of that collected by comparable gas producing lands, providing companies with incalculable windfall profits, yet stripping Australians of the claimed social benefits of mining. Safety and social compliance laws are waived to allow unbridled resource exploitation. Our legal system also seems to stymie complaints by the public of corrupt use of power. And as we approach the coming federal elections, all stops are being withdrawn to licence additional mining of gas and coal basins, while negating environmental compensation and global climate heating consequences with furphies such as ‘cutting red-tape’. Previously our federal COVID recovery plan was built around ….. yes, you guessed it, a gas-led recovery. One wonders what our flood recovery plan will entail – surely not more gas?
Occasionally the venality of Australia’s oligarch political-regime axis is seen when a line is crossed that the rest of the world finds objectionable – Rio Tinto’s legal dynamiting of irreplaceable 46,000 year-old Indigenous rock paintings at Juukan Gorge caves, and the bugging of Timor-Leste’s government to favour Woodside’s commercial oil and gas objectives are examples of notoriety. The deal here is that Australian oligarchs know their name-plates are safe. And instead, reputational damage should be carried by their political-regime collaborators. Yet here again, instead of fallout harming politicians, it’s the whistle-blower who is prosecuted, it’s the newspaper offices raided and individual journalists and defence lawyers prosecuted for ‘handling state secrets’.
When the actions of the last decades of Australia’s Coalition governments are aligned with Putin’s oligarchic state, identical intentions and outcomes become obvious, as do differences. In Putin’s Russia the oligarchs dance to Putin’s tune. In Australia the power balance is opposite, the Coalition government dances to the oligarch’s tune – and it’s getting louder.
Here, political opponents are taken to court, or enquired into, while the Murdoch ‘News Corp’ media, an apparent extension of the Coalition government’s propaganda machine, literally scream ideological venom against all who question Australian miners rights to dig and pump and sell carbon dioxide. Incredibly these Australian ‘sirens of self-immolation’, the ‘global warming deniers’ would tell us that increased renewables have led to Putin’s invasion of the Ukraine, and that only increased use of oil, gas and coal can prevent military adventures by Russia and China.
All of this support is to be expected considering Murdoch commercial interests in oil and gas, while in lock-step the Coalition government contributes $10.3 billion in annual subsidy to the fossil fuel industry, greater than its support for the Australian Army. Remarkably, the IMF estimates Australia’s annual fossil fuel exploration and production subsidies to be four-times greater at $47 billion. Even as News Corp media decry increased windfall profits for Russian fuels, they simultaneously applaud windfall profits for Australian fossil fuel and grain producers which the war brings. If I was fighting for my country like Ukrainians are, I would not want Murdoch’s two-faced monsters watching my back.
Recent revelations that notorious Russian oligarchs are in business partnership with Australian gas and mining projects are compounded by the fact that the Coalition government has uniquely not imposed sanctions against these individuals, despite many years of sanctions against them by UK and US governments. One might ask, is Mr Morrison’s much vaunted verbal support for the Ukraine simply spin?
Previously, such reports might have elicited the Coalition government to send in the Federal police to raid outspoken news media and their journalist’s homes, but the spate of recent ‘natural disasters’ (the bushfires, the floods and the mishandled COVID pandemic) has reduced public support of the government and they dare not take such steps now. Yet, if the Coalition should win the next federal election, perhaps we shall see overt repression against climate protesters, alternative news media and public critics to levels more associated with regimes such as Putin’s. If we want to save our livelihoods and our planet and save our souls too, we need to restore political integrity.
The payola from Australia’s miners to facilitate this flood of underhand political support must be incredible. The chicken-feed reported in parliamentary declarations are mere pennies, when compared to amounts Russian oligarchs hand over to Putin. One can only surmise that off-shore tax-havens have special boltholes for more Australians than we currently know about.
Keith Mitchelson has a 40-year experience in academic and commercial biotechnology sectors in the UK, China, and Australia.