As an ordinary citizen, do you sometimes survey the social landscape and recoil in bitter disappointment as you witness the social order crumbling around you? Do you despair as you survey the rubble of social disintegration that now defiles our world?
Have you thought about the origins of this social disintegration? Let me suggest that they include: immorality, corruption, dishonesty, deceitfulness, self-centeredness, sectarian hatred, political instability, and sleazy behaviour
– exhibited by politicians, leaders, political parties, and civic figures the world over.
Do you feel, as I do, that we are living in a world where so many of the key players in whose hands our destiny lies are deeply flawed, so much so that catastrophic events that might destroy our civilization and our planetary home are an ever-present existential threat?
Do you feel that we the subjects who live under such threat, day after day, are bereft of the power to counter such threats?
As I listen to the news hour by hour, day after day, I am appalled, dismayed, revolted, shocked and sickened at what I hear.
If you think I’m overstating my case, take a look at what follows.
This piece is necessarily lengthy, gathering together as it does the multiple elements that have brought us to where we are.
Of all the examples I could use, let’s just look in depth at a recent one.
Our progressive tax system is designed to be fair, but can be only so if we all pay our fair share. Yet we hear that Qantas, our national airline, has paid no corporate tax for almost a decade, despite generating income over $106 billion since 2009.
Not one of Australia's biggest airlines has paid corporate tax since at least 2013, including Virgin and its subsidiary Tigerair, Etihad, Emirates and Qatar airlines. They all claim that they have paid the tax that the rules require.
But is such tax avoidance moral, even if it is legal? Alan Joyce thinks so as he smilingly pockets an annual salary of $25 million that Qantas seems able to afford.
Take a look at the large firms and multinationals – all household names - that paid little or no tax in 2017
- Adani: $0 tax paid on $724m revenue.
- Chevron: $0 tax paid on $2.1bn revenue.
- ExxonMobil Australia: $0 tax paid on $6.7bn revenue.
- Origin Energy: $0 tax paid on $11.9bn revenue.
- IBM: $0 tax paid on $3.6bn of revenue.
- Ansell: $0 tax paid on $326m of revenue.
- Glencore: $44m in tax paid on $24bn of revenue.
- Ikea: $11m tax paid on $1bn of revenue (its first tax paid in the last three years).
For all the damning details read this account in The Guardian
titled: Australian tax office says 36% of big firms and multinationals paid no tax
We fume at the immorality of the personal behaviour of some of our politicians – Barnaby Joyce springs to mind – but the immorality of the boards of directors of these companies is a different order of magnitude when they encourage tax behaviour which robs this nation of the revenue it needs to provide the services we all deserve. Despite their pleas that they are acting legally, the public sees them as thieves who are exploiting our society.
I have cited but one example of immoral behaviour – corporate immorality – but I could instance many other examples: poker machine operators and gambling outfits that encourage people to lose their money, often the very ones who can least afford to do so; operators of Internet and phone scams that are calculated to defraud innocent people, too often the old and vulnerable; shonky operators of private training institutions that take money from clients and government, yet fail to deliver; rip-off merchants in the housing sector that deliberately defraud clients; individuals who illegitimately claim work expenses as tax deductions; the gun lobby in the US that bribes politicians with donations so that they will not curtail the sale of weapons, automatic weapons, that recently killed 17 school children in Florida. The list goes on and on. That our own fellow citizens could behave so immorally is shocking.
For more instances of political immorality look at conservative governments the world over that studiously ignore the increasing inequality that threatens the social fabric of society and the menace of climate change that threatens all that live on this planet.
Corruption abounds. We don’t have to look beyond our politicians for examples. Barnaby Joyce, our recently departed Deputy Prime Minister, has the odour of corruption about him. Only time will reveal the extent of it as his dealings with his ‘mate’, Armidale property developer Greg Maguire, are exposed – the rent-free flat, and the quid pro quo
which Maguire seems to have enjoyed. Was the transfer from office to office of his highly paid partner ($133,000 +) above board, or were jobs created for her? Senate Estimates will probe that thoroughly.
In a corruption perceptions study of 180 countries conducted by Transparency International
, Australia has slipped a further eight points in the Global Corruption Index. It now ranks a lowly thirteenth. New Zealand ranks as the least corrupt nation.
Overseas, we see corruption everywhere.
The FBI is pursuing the President of the United States about corrupt Russian collusion with his election campaign.
In Israel, police say they have enough evidence to indict president Benjamin Netanyahu
on charges of fraud, bribery, and breach of trust. His wife is subject to similar charges.
Corruption abounds in the corporate sector. We don’t need to dig any deeper for evidence than to look at our own premier bank, the CBA. Reflect on the scandal of how it treated clients seeking loans or financial advice, many of whom lost their savings because of the Bank’s corrupt advice that sought to benefit the bank and its officers ahead of its clients; its defrauding of clients insured under Comminsure who were seeking to make legitimate claims; its illegal money laundering activity that is currently the subject of a trial before the courts, which will likely cost the Bank billions.
I could write a dozen pieces cataloguing the corruption that erodes our society.
Where does one start? Let’s leave our own politics for a moment and take a look at the POTUS. Donald Trump is an unrepentant and persistent liar. He lies every day, and repeats his lies shamelessly, as does his Press Secretary. Can you believe anything he says? The extent of his lying behaviour is spelt out in Can political honesty be resurrected
As we look around the world we see lying in politics is epidemic. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov lied when he dismissed as ‘just blather’ the ‘incontrovertible’ evidence of Russian involvement in the Presidential election
provided by U.S. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster.
Trump is surrounded by dishonest associates. Many have been indicted for lying. Paul Manafort, Rick Gates and George Papadopoulos have been charged with multiple counts, including money-laundering, conspiracy, and working for foreign governments – Russia and Ukraine. The damning details are here
. Much more will emerge as the Mueller probe delves into the complicity of close members of the Trump family.
Past South African President Jacob Zuma lied continuously as he denied the thousands of corruption allegations against him, charges that finally forced his resignation.
Past Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe lied for years as he denied allegations of widespread corruption. His wife Grace did the same.
Corruption and dishonesty is contagious, and is worldwide.
No matter where we look we see deceitfulness. Every day we see it writ large in our own political system. Politicians seek to misrepresent facts in a way that is deliberately intended to deceive the voters.
Look how Donald Trump is deceiving the American public by simulating empathy for the Fort Lauderdale victims (he needed a crib sheet to do so), then, in order to placate the gun lobby that so richly donates to his campaign funds, farcically suggesting that teachers should be armed and trained to counter gun attacks on schoolchildren, thereby supporting the sale of even more guns!
The NRA’s Wayne LaPierre praised Trump, accused those seeking greater gun control as political opportunists exploiting the Florida tragedy
, and once again repeated his tired old mantra: “To stop a bad guy with a gun, it takes a good guy with a gun.” Trump in turn praised the NRA as an organization that seeks to protect children!
In Australia, Peter Dutton, who repeatedly misrepresents the situation in which asylum seekers find themselves, tops the list of the deceitful. Scott Morrison misrepresents the economic situation, and virtually everything else he talks about. And he does so wearing that cynical ‘I’m smarter than you’ smile.
Our Prime Minister sets out to deceive almost every time he answers a question in QT. And of course our recently departed Deputy Prime Minister is deceit personified.
Deceit is an art form among our political elite. Virtually all our political leaders are contaminated with it.
This nasty attribute is the bedfellow of all of the above.
Immorality, corruption, dishonesty, and deceitfulness are all driven by selfishness – the need to seize a personal advantage or to grasp it for ones’ party. There are some that believe that selfishness is the source of most iniquity.
Listen to politicians in QT or at interviews, press conferences or ‘doorstops’. Not satisfied with making the case for their own position, they are obsessed with denigrating their opponents and their position. Backhanders fly as they seek to ‘put down’ their enemies. Adversarial politics is fed by selfishness, nourished by putting down those whom they oppose. Those who insist that this is just a normal part of the political process need to ask themselves whether selfishness really is a obligatory ingredient of politics, or whether generosity and collaboration might result in better outcomes.
We witnessed selfishness writ large as the Barnaby Joyce saga unfolded, as he obstinately held on to his highly paid and prestigious position until he was overwhelmed, until he finally gave into what almost everyone else saw as inevitable, and resigned. It was all about Barnaby, selfishly putting his own interests ahead of those of the nation, until reality finally mugged him. And already he’s not ruling out a comeback!
For another compelling example of selfishness, look no further that the theft of water from the Murray/Darling river system by rice and cotton growers - gigalitres of it. This theft has left those downstream impoverished of the water they need to survive.
Perhaps the most grotesque exhibition of selfishness though is the way the fossil fuel lobby, in the self-centered pursuit of its own interests, fraudulently dismisses the threat of global warming to life on our planet.
Hatefulness is the mongrel offspring of selfishness. Think of the white supremacists. They not only want their country and neighbourhood to be exclusively for themselves, they want to drive out as aliens those who don’t fit their ideology.
They are driven by hate for coloured people, indigenous people, Mexicans, Hispanics, Jews, indeed anyone not from their white enclave. The Ku Klux Klan is an embodiment of this movement, which is now incarnated in Neo-Nazi Fascist movements in the US, in Europe, and sadly in our own country too.
Hatred is perhaps the most pernicious, the most corrosive attribute of all. We see it festering in the fetid atmosphere of Donald Trump’s White House. Instead of ‘Making America Great Again’, he is ‘Making America Hate Again’.
On the local scene we see Tony Abbott’s hatefulness whenever he speaks. Will Barnaby Joyce soon join him?
Where once we could rely on stable, reliable, robust and people-centred government, we now suffer the opposite. Many governments here and overseas are fragile, easily destabilized, and subject to abrupt change, as we have seen in our own political system over the last decade.
This seems to be due to the adversarial nature of contemporary politics, the factional system that exists in most parties, and the sheer self-centeredness of most politicians and political parties.
Some of our most prominent world leaders exhibit dangerously unstable behaviour. Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un spring to mind.
Thomas L Friedman, a CNN
columnist, writes in Whatever Trump is hiding is hurting all of us now
: ‘The biggest threat to the integrity of our democracy is in the Oval Office’.
Unless politics returns to voter-centeredness, to a focus on what is good for the people and the communities in which they live, we will continue to wallow in a self-serving political cesspool.
I am not alone with my feelings. Katharine Murphy, a discerning journalist who writes for The Guardian
, describes this quandary succinctly in As Abbott rages and Joyce rails, we are all diminished
The public watch on agog at the toxic maelstrom we all inhabit, wondering when someone might do them the courtesy of regaining consciousness, and looking outside, and grappling with what a contemporary program for government might look like…
Politics is presenting to the Australian public as little more than institutionalised self-absorption at taxpayer expense. It is obscene, it is exhausting, and it is mostly pointless.’
And of course political instability is seen in its most grotesque form in war-torn Syria, Afghanistan, and many African countries where gruesome atrocities occur every day.
We need look no further than our own federal government in its state of disarray for a display of obscene sleaziness. Barnaby Joyce is in a league all of his own, and at the weekend astonished us by raising the sleaze bar still further with his pubic questioning of the paternity of his partner’s child.
Not be outdone, Michaelia Cash launched her own version of sleazy behaviour with her stellar performance in Senate estimates last week that evoked a caustic comment from no less a perpetrator of sleaze than Tony Abbott!
Sleaziness extends its tentacles widely: Melbourne’s Lord Mayor, Robert Doyle, is in hiding after multiple accusations of sexual misconduct became public. The head of Victoria Police's ethical standards body, Brett Guerin, the most senior officer appointed to monitor police standards, was stood down after being linked to a racist YouTube site where he made vile remarks about former colleagues via a pseudonym ‘Demerest’. The upholder of police standards was the very one most egregiously to break them. And now we have disquieting reports of widespread ‘hazing’ among university students, many of whom will become our future leaders!
Need I say any more?
So there you have it, a catalogue of immorality, corruption, dishonesty, deceitfulness, selfishness, hatefulness, instability and sleaziness without equal, which has afflicted corporations, business, politics, and society at large.
Is there any remedy? Sadly it seems far distant – is it beyond our grasp?
Maybe not! Listen to Emma Gonzales of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Fort Lauderdale
giving an impassioned speech after the massacre of seventeen fellow students there.
If one so young can make a case so powerfully, what’s holding us back? She has catalysed a movement among high school students across America that is unstoppable, one that will not give up until gun laws are changed to give more protection to their fellow students. Politicians, even the gun lobby, are listening.
She is the ray of sunshine who lights up the gloom. She has given us the lead. We too can effect change if we speak up bravely enough, loudly enough, coherently enough, convincingly enough.
Our spineless politicians will be unable to resist when they see the whites of our eyes and the steely determination we have to pursue virtuous causes, those that seek to eliminate immorality, corruption, dishonesty, deceitfulness, selfishness, hatefulness, instability and sleaziness, and replace them with decency, honesty, and the pursuit of the common good for all of us.
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