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Labor senator Sam Dastyari made the statement this week that there is something “fundamentally wrong and rotton” with the influence corporate Australia has over the Australian political process, while speaking at a Pub in Canberra.

From SBS:

Labor senator Sam Dastyari has hit out at ten top Australian companies, accusing them of hijacking democratic debate with their interests and agendas.

In a speech to a politics in the pub event in Canberra on Wednesday, Senator Dastyari urged progressive voices to speak up because there was “something fundamentally wrong and rotten” within the political system as a result of the power the big companies wield.

He attacked the corporate influence of the big four banks, mining companies Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton and Fortescue Metals, supermarket giants Coles and Woolworths and Telstra.

While it may be an opportunistic play, given the popularity of Bernie Sanders right now in the USA, it’s still worth having a look to see whether Sam genuinely does have a concern in this space. One can also take the opposite view, namely that Sam has been aware of the issue for a while and is choosing to say something right now because there is a higher chance of people listening, due to current events in the USA. 

Irrespective of the timing or the motivation, his comments raise questions.

  1. What are the methods these ten companies use that allows them to influence your decision making process and the decisions your colleagues make?
  2. If the biggest source of direct influence these ten companies have over your party is their ability to make large donations, surely that can be solved within one week by capping the maximum gift allowed?
  3. If your team is not prepared to cap the maximum donation amount because it appears to reduce your advertising budget at the next election, what integrity do you have to voice concern about the ten most influential companies?
  4. If Bernie Sanders can get as far as he has up to this point without depending on a political structure that accepts large corporate donations, would that not raise the possibility that your party could do the same?
  5. How can you lay blame on ANZ, NAB, CBA, WBC, BHP, RIO, FMG, CGJ, WES and TLS for influencing the way Labor & Liberal create and vote on Bills in Parliament? What are the tactical moves they employ aside from donations and media campaigns?
  6. As someone who has a strong understanding of how to exercise power within your own party, which comes in part from having a clear understanding of how that power can be applied given the rules of your party structure, can you see that to empower other citizens aside from yourself on how to better understand and possibly change the power dynamic between political parties, the media and corporate Australia, it will require more than statements such as, “there is something wrong”, “they have too much influence.”
  7. You mentioned in SMH that the corporate voice is holding back economic progress. Could you provide some detail? 
  8. Are your comments simply about the ability of those ten companies to influence the discourse in the media? “we’ve ended up with this complete crowding out of a proper political discourse in this country because there is one sectional interest that is so much louder than every other voice out there combined.”
  9. Can you be more specific about the above comment? Surely your team is not submissive to the point of simply doing whatever the loudest person says? There must be a lot more to that comment for it to make sense.
  10. If you are a small man, and there is a much bigger and stronger man standing over you loudly telling you what to do, should you complain to others about the man? Or would it be more productive, if you can’t think of any tactics to circumvent his influence over you, to describe in detail your situation, so others can assist?


David Collett

Image above by Don O’Brien