• NSW Premier Mike Baird leaves a news conference in Canberra, Friday, May 2, 2014. Mr Baird has accepted the resignation of NSW police minister Mike Gallacher. (AAP)
If the recent events at ICAC have taught us anything, it's that our political culture needs changing - and it's a change that goes beyond basic legislation.
By
Simon Copland

6 May 2014 - 12:33 PM  UPDATED 6 May 2014 - 12:33 PM

It is perfectly clear now that our biggest industries are going to be exempt from the budget pain Joe Hockey is expecting us all to share in next week.

Yesterday the Government backed down on plans to cut the diesel fuel rebate. The rebate, which is expected to cost $2.4 billion this year, provides cheaper fuel for mining companies and farmers. The Government backed down on repealing the policy after pushback from big mining companies, essentially giving them an exemption from any budget pain.

This backdown is not about sound policy nor sound economics. It is about influence, pure and simple. Influence that is rearing its ugly head across our political system. Influence we need to attack at its source.

Politics has, at the most basic level, become a very dirty game. A game that benefits a very particular class - politicians who get support from big businesses and businesses who get the influence they need. A game whose rules are written by those who benefit most from it and a game that has become deeply disconnected from regular people in every way, shape and form.

The influence of big businesses, in particularly the mining industry, in our political system has become clearer every day over the past weeks - particularly through ICAC in New South Wales. Recent investigations have revealed shadiness connected to the mining industry. Evidence has focused around coal developer Nathan Tinkler and his plans for a new coal port in Newcastle. Revelations include evidence of huge donations to a Liberal Party slush fund and allegations that Tinkler tried to bribe an ALP MP for her support for the project.

These revelations - on top of the many others coming out of the commission - have rightfully caused outrage across the community. ICAC is slowly revealing a system of corruption that seems endemic within NSW politics. A system that many rightfully fear spreads well beyond the state. But whilst we should be outraged, unfortunately we shouldn’t be surprised.

Australia’s politics has become a game of dirty power and influence. The mining lobby provides a perfect example. This is a lobby that was credited with bringing down the Prime Ministership of Kevin Rudd over his proposed mining tax, and now seem to have complete influence over Liberal Party policy when it comes to the diesel rebate. It’s even got to the point where mining figures are literally writing policy for political parties, whilst ICAC is showing that this influence reaches out into straight out corruption. Revelations about the privileged access Treasurer Joe Hockey gives to business executives shows this influence (whilst not illegal in this case) goes well beyond the mining industry and into the far reaches of most of our business community.

In an odd way, Tony Abbott was right to defend Hockey over this donations system. Just like the the ALP is right to defend the access they provide for people who donate to them. These systems, just like many of the other parts of the power and influence game, are considered completely legitimate within our political game.

But that is exactly the problem. Politics has, at the most basic level, become a very dirty game. A game that benefits a very particular class - politicians who get support from big businesses and businesses who get the influence they need. A game whose rules are written by those who benefit most from it and a game that has become deeply disconnected from regular people in every way, shape and form.

It’s no wonder so many people are now feeling so disconnected. Dissatisfaction in our political system is probably higher than it has been for years - a real crisis in politics. People are looking at what is going on and rightfully find it revolting.

Something clearly needs to change. There’s a chance that what is happening in ICAC may force this - open up the crisis in politics to the point where it has to shift. Many are already making call policy shifts - whether it is changes to donations policies, or the establishment of a national ICAC equivalent. The problem with this approach however is that it puts the solutions into the hands of the very people who benefit from the current system. That’s why neither major party has agreed to either a national ICAC nor any significant changes to electoral funding. 

That suggests that this goes well beyond basic policy. This is about our political culture - a culture of influence, power and money. A political culture that has become disconnected from real people. A political culture that needs changing - change that goes beyond basic legislation. Unfortunately, that is much harder to achieve.

But it is becoming clearer every day that we have to do it.

Simon Copland is a freelance writer and climate campaigner. He is a regular columnist for the Sydney Star Observer and blogs at The Moonbat.