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The Coalition now serves foreign corporations first and foremost

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Former Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop and former Defence Minister Christopher Pyne both took jobs with foreign corporations upon resigning from Parliament (Screenshot via YouTube)

The accumulation of evidence that the Liberal and National parties work for foreign interests is now higher than ever. Alan Austin reports.

FORMER FEDERAL MINISTERS Christopher Pyne and Julie Bishop have taken jobs with foreign corporations. They follow previous Coalition ministers who now work directly for interests abroad.

These add to recent confirmations that the Coalition parties no longer prioritise Australia.

Ex-ministers rorting the system

Former Defence Minister Pyne took a defence advisory role with UK-based consulting firm Ernst and Young a month after leaving Parliament. Former Foreign Minister Bishop joined the board of multinational consultancy firm Palladium — an organisation which benefited from decisions she made as Minister.

Earlier, former Trade Minister Andrew Robb took a high-paying job with China the day he left Parliament.

Former Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane retired in 2016 and was soon thereafter appointed CEO of the Queensland Resources Council. This is the peak body serving that State’s minerals and energy corporations. These include Adani, Glencore Coal, Rio Tinto, Bengal Energy, Itochu Minerals and other foreign companies.

Former Abbott Government Minister Jamie Briggs resigned after a scandal, then lost his seat at the 2016 Election. He is now a partner with London-based consultancy firm Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PWC).

Former Abbott Government Small Business Minister Bruce Billson not only took a lobbying job with the Franchise Council but accepted regular payments before leaving Parliament. That body advances the interests of 7-Eleven, Caltex, Hertz, KFC, McDonald's and other multinational and local franchises.

Ex-Prime Minister Tony Abbott would love to be on this list, having made it clear to the moguls that Coalition ministers who faithfully serve their foreign masters should be rewarded with high-paying jobs after politics.

On the occasion of Ian Macfarlane’s departure, Abbott said,

“The member for Groom Ian McFarlane was the Resources Minister who scrapped the mining tax ... It was a magnificent achievement ... and I hope that the sector will acknowledge and demonstrate their gratitude to him in his years of retirement from this place.”

Unfortunately for Abbott, no corporation has yet seen fit to hire him. No "magnificent" achievement, perhaps?

These jobs all breach current ministerial standards.

As Monash University’s senior law lecturer Yee-Fui Ng wrote with regard to Pyne and Bishop,

‘The phenomenon of ministers taking up plum positions that create actual or perceived conflicts of interest has continued unabated for many years. To restore public trust in government, it is time to tighten the rules and be serious about enforcement.’

Trade deals favouring foreigners

There is a reason Andrew Robb’s immediate move to the government’s payroll – the Government of China – looked so dodgy. He had been accused while minister of favouring China in the trade agreement he negotiated. Critics included the Productivity Commission, the Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network (AFTIN) and other analysts.

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) currently under negotiation is another example of the Coalition appearing to serve foreigners above Australians. Opposition to this treaty – both its content and the secrecy surrounding its formation – comes from AFTIN, the Transnational Institute, trade unions and some regional governments.

Tax evasion permitted

The number of large foreign corporations which now generate vast profits in Australia without being required to pay any tax is higher than ever.

As shown in this report (with ATO details here) from Michael West:

‘For the fourth year running, the biggest of the U.S. oil majors, Exxon, paid zero tax. Despite revenues of $8.4 billion, Exxon managed to entirely eliminate every skerrick of taxable income. That is, zero tax paid despite more than $33 billion in total income booked over four years.’

Political donations

Potential motivation for Coalition MPs to serve foreigners above Australians extends beyond personal enrichment of ministers.

If it were possible to track the donations to the Coalition parties from multinational corporations, some intriguing patterns would almost certainly emerge. Did that dubious drug approval follow a gift from big pharma? Did that mine’s exemption from regulations follow a hefty payment? Was that military contract awarded after a party contribution?

Unfortunately, these things are all hidden — despite laws requiring openness. But as has been documented here, here and elsewhere, the Coalition parties have sneaky ways of taking money from foreign corporations without anyone finding out.

We can see from company reports, the ATO transparency reports and donation records released by the electoral commissions that many donors pay little or no tax.

In 2016-17, the last year for which we have ATO company tax details, U.S. giant Dow Chemical paid no company tax on a total income of $235.1 million. It somehow managed to scrape together $55,000 for the Liberal Party.

Netherlands-based KPMG makes it virtually impossible to discover how much tax – or how little – it pays in Australia. It paid the Liberal Party $55,000 in 2017.

Multinational tax minimisation advisor PWC – Jamie Brigg’s new employer – paid $1,422 in taxes in 2017 on total income of $742 million. They also paid the Liberal Party $135,000. That’s 95 times what they paid in tax.

This is what we know. There is too much we don’t know. Until the Coalition parties comply with the spirit of the law in this area by supporting greater clarity they must expect the suspicion of guilt.

Sweetheart deals and exemptions

Other areas which demonstrate Coalition governments, state and federal, are more committed to foreigners than Australians include:

  • rapid, questionable approvals for mines, including Adani, Minyerri and now Yeelirrie;
  • refusal to replace the minerals tax abolished in 2014;
  • declining to collect $882 million in tax from Murdoch’s foreign media company;
  • the direct $30 million hand-out to Murdoch;
  • favourable deals over scarce water resources with foreign interests;
  • foreign ownership of Australian land;
  • foreign ownership of Australian water;
  • selling public hospitals to foreigners;
  • continuing sell-offs of transport infrastructure;
  • outsourcing Centrelink services to US-owned Concentrix;
  • "limited tender" military contracts with selected foreigners;
  • "limited tender" data contracts with selected foreigners; and
  • secret security contracts.

Are there more? Let’s hope this does not become a regular series.

You can follow Alan Austin on Twitter @AlanAustin001.

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