The ease by which powerful corporate elites can buy our political democracy is all too familiar, but allowing a convicted criminal to buy a visa was not only morally corrupt, it put the 'safety of Australians at risk' — something Abbott bangs on about incessantly. Managing editor David Donovan investigates the demise of our democracy.
Mark Hanna – the turn of the century iron-and-coal-magnate-turned-operative who leveraged massive contributions from the robber barons – famously said:
"There are two things that are important to politics. The first is money, and I can't remember what the second one is."
~ Kenneth P. Vogel, Big Money
EVERY WEEK, I wait for the mainstream media to do the right thing. And every week, I am left a little more disappointed.
Of course, that is not to say that all mainstream media is disappointing. There are rays of sunshine, such as through the uniformly excellent investigative work of Richard Baker and Nick McKenzie at Fairfax, and the frequently superlative skills of ABC Four Corners. When these two groups team up, as they did this week, the results are always outstanding.
On Monday, a joint Fairfax-Four Corners investigation ‘The Mafia in Australia: Drugs, Murder and Politics’ confirmed something we already knew − that donating money to the Liberal Party buys access and influence – as well as something surprising, which I will get to in a moment.
ABC4Corners: how Australians were put at risk when the Howard Government overturned the extradition of a convicted criminal.
Regarding what we already knew, the joint investigation ironically occurred in a week in which Treasurer Joe Hockey won a defamation case against Fairfax over the headline: ‘Treasurer for sale: Joe Hockey offers privileged access’. I say headline, because Hockey won his case over the words ‘Treasurer for sale’. He also sued and failed over the substance of the story — that he has offered meetings with donors through his fundraising body, the North Sydney Forum, in exchange for big cash donations. So, it seems that it is fair to say that Hockey agreed to meet with donors in exchange for lots of money; what is not permissable, however, is to say that he gave these donors anything in return.
But the blindingly obvious fact is, however, most people do not donate large sums of money to the Liberals (or any party, for that matter) because they just love what they're doing. No, people and businesses donate because they want to gain access to powerful people to lobby them and, hopefully, procure for themselves favourable outcomes.
But what was somewhat surprising about the Fairfax-Four Corners investigation, however, was just how little the Liberal Party care where the money comes from, just so long as it keeps rolling in.
The investigation showed that the 'Ndrangheta (or Calabrian mafia) – the murderous criminal organisation that allegedly imports most of the drugs into Australia − was, through large donations and influential friends, able to gain access to senior Howard Government ministers and, indeed, gain preferential treatment.
To begin with, it showed the Liberal Party accepting tens of thousands of dollars from suspected hitman and alleged mob boss Antonio Madafferi between 2003 and 2006. It showed senior MPs attending fundraising functions organised by the alleged crime figure.
Then, even more troublingly, the exposé showed supporters of his brother, Francesco Madafferi – an illegal immigrant with an Italian rap sheet of violent crimes and drug offences literally pages long − in 2003, lobbying then Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock to overturn a deportation order — something Ruddock, to his credit, rejected.
Undeterred, it then showed his supporters mounting an even more concerted campaign to reverse the deportation order – including enlisting the support of Federal Liberal MPs Bruce Billson, Russell Broadbent and Marise Payne – to lobby new Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone. The efforts paid dividends, because in late 2005 Vanstone did duly overturn the order, in what she later called ''humanitarian grounds''.
The investigation revealed Amanda Vanstone’s South Australian senate office had been deeply infiltrated by mafia figures. This didn't stop then Prime Minister John Howard – who was also pictured in the programme meeting alleged mob boss Antonio Madafferi at a fundraiser − appointed Vanstone to be Australia’s Italian ambassador in 2007. Perhaps he did so because of Vanstone's close links to the Italian community, who knows? In any case, In 2010, Vanstone furthered cemented her ties with the mob by giving the son of a different mafia godfather, Francesco Frisina, a work experience placement in the Rome embassy.
You can read and more about this eye-opening investigation in the Sydney Morning Herald, such as these three articles on 29 June 2015:
These 3 Fairfax articles with disturbing revelations about Liberal ministers and MPs appeared on the same day. Dead silence from Murdoch media.
Unfortunately, those are about the only places you’ll be able to read about these disturbing revelations, because the rest of the mainstream media − including the ABC − has virtually ignored it, as a Google search of “Liberal Party mafia” reveals.
There are a number of possible reasons why the media has substantially brushed over these allegations.
One possible reason is that much of this information has been revealed before. Indeed, Baker and McKenzie first exposed the links between the Madafferi brothers and the Liberal Party in 2009. Of course, the new investigation was far more comprehensive and damning.
Another is that the investigation is only half-finished. Four Corners will air the second part of the series on Monday. Perhaps the media are waiting for all the details to become known?
A third possible reason for the poor coverage – which indeed appears to have been entirely absent in the Murdoch press – is that it exposes the Liberal Party and does not mention Labor at all. However, the ALP does have longstanding and well-known links to the NSW branch of the Labor Party, such as through former NSW Finance Minister Joe Tripodi. If the second part exposes Labor to a similar extent as Monday's episode, I suspect Australia’s media will give the allegations blanket coverage. If, however, the investigation further exposes Liberal Party connections to mobsters, perhaps through certain Queensland MPs connections to alleged drug cultivators in North Queensland, the subsequent coverage may, I expect, be less comprehensive.
A fourth rather dispiriting possibility is that our mostly lacklustre media may be reluctant to hold one of their own to account. Despite her and tarnished record as a minister and her scandal ridden posting to Rome, Amanda Vanstone has somehow undeservedly insinuated herself into the mainstream media. For years, she has been a columnist at Fairfax and, more recently, was given her own radio programme on the ABC by fellow Liberal Party “wet”, Mark Scott.
There are, of course, two other possible explanations. One, that the media are scared of writing about the mafia for fear of retribution. Or, otherwise, that the media have been infiltrated and compromised by "the Honoured Society" themselves. You can reach your own conclusions.
Whatever the reason, the coverage has been disappointing, because the revelations point to alleged corruption by former and current serving Liberal Party MPs. I say corruption, because the same Party that seems eager to expel immigrants for virtually any reason whatsoever, seems ready to bend over backwards to grant visas to hardened, violent criminals and drug traffickers if they stump up hefty donations to the Liberal Party. Vanstone’s assertion that the visa was granted for “humanitarian reasons” defies logic and credulity.
Furniture king Nick Scali investigated over $3m bribe allegations http://t.co/6z49r85tCa - another outstanding Lib "donor"— Schadenfreude George (@GeorgeBludger) June 30, 2015
The question needs to be asked: why should we allow a system where privileges and favours are granted by politicians to people – even innocent, honest, decent people – who give money to political parties. You and I would not be given favoured treatment by the Liberal or Labor Party if we had a problem; we would most likely be ignored, or sent a polite form letter declining our request.
So why should other people get these favours just because they hand the politician a brown paper bag full of cash?
And how are we "keeping Australia safe" when glad-handed, convicted criminals can pay to get their extradition overturned, allowing them go on to commit even bigger crimes?
You can follow Dave Donovan on Twitter @davrosz.
What I can't grasp is that Vanstone granted a visa to a violent crime figure due to a donation to the Libs and this isn't a scandal? What?— Dave Donovan (@davrosz) July 1, 2015
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License
Vanstone: “unacceptable 4 a minister 2 revoke Australian citizen’s rights”, but OK 2 issue convicted criminal a Visa? http://t.co/BbJNClpxa8— Sandi Keane (@Jarrapin) July 2, 2015
Keep Australians safe by ending political donations. Subscribe to IA for just $5.