The mainstream media are relentlessly – frenetically – in pursuit of Senator Sam Dastyari over a meagre $1,600 donation — but why? Managing editor David Donovan explains.

TURNBULL IS IN TROUBLE. Falling in the polls and beset upon on every side. Then suddenly the mainstream media are fascinated ‒ obsessed, even! ‒ with a political donations scandal.

But which one? There are so many to choose from…

Is it Parakeelia? Money-laundering and rorting on a huge scale? Where Liberal Party MPs fraudulently funnelled their IT allowances, worth collectively hundreds of thousands of dollars every year, through a wholly owned subsidiary into their political party?

No, no-one of the media is at all interested in that outrageous scam.

Was it the NSW ICAC Operation Spicer report being finally handed down last week, which found about a dozen Liberal Party MPs in NSW had flagrantly violated NSW's donation laws. Allegedly committed crimes and engaged in corruption, in other words — although NSW Premier Mike Baird calculatedly changed the definition of corruption in NSW last December so ICAC couldn't call it corruption in the report. Which is even worse corruption, when you think about it.

Operation Spicer also, as Sydney bureau chief Ross Jones reported on Friday, far from cleared forgetful Arthur Sinodinos, despite the self-serving Senator’s squeaks in Parliament last week about ICAC "exonerating" him. 

No, although they did report on this matter a little early last week, the media really isn't very interested in that scandal either.

The donations scandal the media are relentlessly fascinated with is, of course, the one relating to Sam Dastyari. Someone in the media found that Dastyari had, on his register of interests, a bill for about $1,670 having been paid for by a Chinese company. This matter has not become so vital, so key to our national interest, we even saw accomplished wedding singer Leigh Sales move out from under her ABC Ultimo desk to confront Dastyari at an outdoor press conference.

Now, IA wouldn't for a minute advocate a politician having an expense paid for by anyone, let alone a foreign corporation. But then, we don't think politicians should collect donations from any organisation. And we think donations should be limited in amount — perhaps to less than $1,000 from any one individual. Or failing that, MPs should be forced to wear their sponsors' logos on their suit jackets so we can all see who they are really representing. And, most importantly, we think that all donations should be declared in real time — so we can’t be fooled before elections about who is really pulling a politicians’ strings.

And as for organisations responsible to shareholders to deliver a profit, there is obviously an expectation the business will receive something in return from its political donation. Otherwise, wouldn’t it would be in breach of its fiduciary duties to its shareholders to make these payments? This system of quid pro quo is a barely concealed, seldom discussed, but nevertheless extremely real feature of Australian politics. An appallingly undemocratic feature. It is something we have talked about over and over again on these pages. The influence of big business on the Liberal Party is well known, as is the influence of unions on the ALP.

But the media isn't talking about any of that. Well, on the margins, a little, quietly — but not really.

Distinguished former journalist Jim Parker summed it up well on Twitter this morning:

Yes, this is just a typical "pile-on", where the media smell blood in the water and thrash around until they reach fever pitch. They drag the mob along, making every ill-informed and gullible person see, vividly, just exactly who the monster is and forget about anything else. Anything else at all. Truth, moderation, perspective, context — all those things go right out the window, as the media, public and opposing politicians firstly throw their arms up in the air in a sanctimonious display of moral panic — and then fall upon their victim in a vicious and unrestrained shark-like feeding frenzy.

We saw it with Peter Slipper. We saw it with Craig Thomson. Neither were the devils the media painted them. The media overlooked or ignored the real criminals. And now we are seeing it all again.

But here's the kicker. Dastyari did nothing illegal. He didn't break any rules — not as they currently stand, anyway. He did declare the donation. A gift for a relatively small amount. I'm not sure how many favours $1,670 gets you as a donor on the free market of Australian politics, but I can't imagine it would be many. The whole "scandal" would appear to be little more than a political beat-up. And one, moreover, with a distasteful whiff of anti-Chinese bigotry. A storm in a green tea cup, you might say.

So why are they going after Dastyari when, for instance, a Chinese businessman with links to Foreign Minister Julie Bishop gave over half a million dollars to the WA branch of the Liberal Party — even though his business doesn't even operate in Western Australia? Could it be because Dastyari has been the main one advocating for corporations to start paying their taxes? Speaking out against rich people like Malcolm Turnbull dodging tax through Cayman Island tax avoidance schemes? Had been the main proponent for a banking royal commission? Had said in February, in a “fiery speech”, ten big corporations had taken control of Australian politics?

Is it possible that the big corporations he talked about – the ones who donate large sums to the Liberal Party and really run Australia – have decided that Dastyari must be punished? Preferably sacked and silenced, but at the very least discredited?

And, of course, it has given Turnbull, humiliated last week in Parliament and beset upon by even his own side, some cover from which to attack the Opposition.

How very, very convenient.

You can follow Dave Donovan on Twitter @davrosz. Independent Australia supporters and members can also listen to managing editor Dave Donovan in his weekly podcasts in IA's Member's Only Area. In the most recent podcast, Dave speaks to Dr Evan Jones about political and financial corruption.

If you are not an IA subscriber but would like to access all the extras, please click HERE.

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