Michael Pascoe: Forget the ‘Daz and Glad Show’, this is the real political scandal (The New Daily Oct 15, 2020)

Oct 16, 2020

It’s the secret sexual relationship that sells the ‘Daz and Glad Show’ and elevates it from being merely yet another corrupt NSW politician before the ICAC, but it also distracts punters from the much bigger scandal.

Disgraced former National Party MP Daryl Maguire’s litany of rackets and wheezes are impressive for their breadth and, sometimes, shallowness.

Skimming the Wagga Wagga RSL’s spending on cutlery. Really, Daryl?

For all his efforts though, it’s small beer, the work of a wannabe grifting on the fringes of a vastly more professional and richer industry devoted to influence peddling, insider knowledge and structural corruption.

Actually, it’s more than that: It’s an industry steadily undermining our democracy, weakening our institutions, entrenching and reinforcing privilege.

Over time it perverts government and increases inequality. When insiders keep selling access and influence and the rich and powerful keep buying it and profiting from it, the citizens end up betrayed.

That is the core of the lobbying industry – selling access to politicians and senior bureaucrats, bending outcomes to their paymasters’ benefit. Those with the money get the inside run and the rest can go whistle, all the more so as the public service is intentionally run down.

It’s what Maguire was trying to do in New South Wales. It’s what less pathetic lobbyists successfully do in every state and at a higher, more lucrative level again in Canberra.

The many millions in fees for lobbyists represent billions in outcomes for their paymasters. Those billions tend to come at a cost for those not in on the game.

Daryl Maguire
Mr Maguire made some damning admissions to the inquiry. Photo: ICAC 

It’s why former MPs and bureaucrats flock to the racket, why they’re so readily snapped up by the influence pedlars and buyers. As previously reported, the property industry alone plays the influence game to profit by billions of dollars every year.

Whether it is Dazzler Maguire trying to land a re-zoning at Badgerys Creek or Queensland property developers hosting dinners that are coincidentally followed by donations, or top planning bureaucrats sliding in and out of jobs with major developers and builders, there’s a mercenary thread of influence and inside knowledge woven through every exchange of money.

Yet for all the billions involved in re-zonings and the odd “tickle from the top”, it is relatively retail-level structural corruption.

Bigger games are played in Canberra where the federal government is unencumbered by the threat of any sort of ICAC, let alone one with teeth.

Consider both the immediate and long-term cost of the mining and energy industries’ successful destruction of carbon pricing and the resources rent tax, a level of lobbyist and employment infiltration and integration such that it is not possible to determine where the industries finish and the government starts.

John Menadue’s Pearls and Irritations site has been running a timely series on LobbyLand.

“Lobbyists are undermining public trust in our political institutions,” the former senior public servant and diplomat turned commentator wrote.

“They are most prolific in Canberra. Lobby firms infest Barton and Kingston. It is easy walking distance to Parliament House, the National Press Club and the major departments,” he explained.

“A real ‘LobbyLand’ with the Minerals Council of Australia, the Australian Medical Association, Lockheed Martin, the Australian Pharmacy Guild, the Business Council of Australia and many more.”

Our defence, health, climate, education and industry policies and spending are skewed by the subtle, and not-so-subtle, efforts of those paid to know whose ear is worth having and delivering access to that ear.

Make massive government defence purchasing decisions one day, work for a defence vendor the next. Nothing to see here.

The wave of privatisation that rolled through VET and aged care – that we are all now paying dearly for – was not immaculately conceived. It was promoted and pushed by those who stood to profit.

A donation here, a lunch there, an introduction and a policy adviser placed somewhere else.

There’s nothing accidental about the revolving doors oiled and maintained by LobbyLand. Think of the politicians from both sides who so quickly score a title and expense account either with an industry body or lobbyist firm – do you believe any of them are on fat six-figures for their wit and insight?

No. They are purchased for their ability to deliver access – what poor little Daryl Maguire was trying to flog. They are hired for their knowledge of which decision-makers count, which careers might be worth promoting, who might need undermining.

The fourth estate is not below LobbyLand’s desired reach, both for buying and selling.

It may have been more obvious in the more relaxed times of the good ol’ bad ol’ days of the long lunch, but fewer journalists required to do more can result in greater reliance on the supposed “experts” who happen to be offering their services with custom-crafted precision.

One of journalism’s weaknesses is that precious few of us are actually expert in any field and fewer again are tending to stick to a speciality long enough to build expertise.

That leaves us prey to the most professionally proffered guidance to help with a mystery as a deadline looms, or to simply be fed stories.

It’s not as if there are competing opinions in many areas to balance lobbying efforts – most of the lobbying and opinion-forming work is not straight forward capital v labour, Business Council v ACTU.

The influence of the relatively homogenous wall of paid defence and security opinions dominates our media with little alternative.

Or the contest of ideas is vastly unequal – the various shapes and shades of the gambling industry v the anti-gambling lobby.

The Attorney-General’s Department offers a laughably incomplete lobbyist register – quick example, the Minerals Council of Australia isn’t listed – that nonetheless offers 276 business/trading names and 608 lobbyists. That’s a fraction of the real figure but still a multiple of the press corps.

On one side are skilled, focused, well-remunerated and resourced experts in their field. On the other, a thin line of stretched generalists primarily obsessed by politics.

Daryl Maguire and his relationship with the NSW Premier will make headlines for a bit longer and then fade away. The real scandal of purchased power and influence will roll on regardless.

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