A political culture of ‘consequence and retribution’

The Australian this morning reports Michael Chaney’s comment that ‘thin-skinned politicians’ are creating a culture of ‘consequence and retribution’ for businesspeople who speak out on policy.

Unfortunately he did not name names or give examples. These instances may not in reality be frequent. But the perception that the danger exists has a chilling effect on public debate.

It is one of the main reasons I oppose lowering the threshold for the disclosure of political donations. If we assume that politicians will favour their own donors, I think we must also assume that politicians will disfavour their opponents’ donors. The disclosure regime creates for the government a convenient list of opposition donors.

No wonder ‘thin-skinned’ Labor wants the current $11,500 threshold lowered to $1,000.
Update 8/10: PM denies intimidation.

6 thoughts on “A political culture of ‘consequence and retribution’

  1. The potential for disfavor to opposition donors seems a lesser principle than knowing influence on parties (and restricting that influence where possible). After all, most big companies give to both parties relatively evenly, with those who don’t already well known and identified. For small companies, sure, but information of their favoritism is likely to be found out by mendacious ministers regardless.

    But I’m more interested in Chaney’s comments, as you say no names or examples were given. And while we should expect less friendly relations between Labor and business than when the Coalition is in office, this ALP government is a soft touch compared to any previously.

    Labors IR reform’s kept most of Howard era changes, the ETS was so laden down with support for business that the Greens and supporters like Garnaut abandoned it. And Labor went ahead with a mining tax that was supported by the business lobby, and promptly was monstered by it into making massive cuts and changes.

    This ALP govt largely hasn’t worked out how to establish a working relationship with the business community in the way Hawke and Keating charmed them. But at the same time, I’d far rather be facing the retribution of the current mob than face Hawke or Keating on the warpath. Plus today any business can go running to News Ltd and get a front page spread no questions asked (or pesky facts checked) which wasn’t quite the case 20 years ago.


  2. Andrew – Though there is one important difference I think. As your examples show, favouritism is already evident in many government policies. From a good public policy perspective I really don’t care whether this is because of donations, connections, threats or the government actually thinking it is a good idea. What the decision-maker’s actual motive was is in the scheme of things not very important, and in any case very hard to determine conclusively. We don’t need to know in order to assess the policy.

    By contrast, disfavour is often harder to detect – the meeting not granted, the job appointment not made, the contract not awarded. There is often no public trace at all.


  3. That’s a good point. It’s why I’d love for the Liberals to move away from being a pro-business to a pro-market party. (I’d love the ALP to go in the same direction but have little hope with the current mob – though some of the outer ministry/backbenchers are promising).

    A government that consistently bails out companies, and disavows competition policy will be one that is easily open to accusations of favoritism. A more market based principled approach, while less publicly popular would help avoid accusations of either favouratism or disfavour to both sides.

    Still any time a lobby group goes public you have to wonder just what the motive really is.


  4. “I’d love for the Liberals to move away from being a pro-business to a pro-market party.”. LOL. I’d love peace in the Middle East and a cure for cancer, next week, and am more likely to get it.


  5. A party without a sociological base won’t survive. Purely ideological parties always fail electorally. That said, both parties have moved towards less favouritism over time, through a decline in protection and stronger probity processes in the awarding of government contracts. Australia has made extensive use of phase-outs and structural adjustment packages (some proposed for climate change policy as well). While expensive these have smoothed the path to change.

    Of course lobby group and interest group claims should be treated with scepticism. But the attempts to limit their capacity to put their case should be resisted. The ludicrous allegations against Rob Oakeshott are the latest example.


  6. A government that consistently bails out companies, and disavows competition policy will be one that is easily open to accusations of favoritism.

    Andy, you mean like the bank guarantee and the direct support to the banks?


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