Thursday, September 25, 2014

Book review: Corporate Corruption

Vanguard October 2014 p. 5

Book review: Corporate Corruption! What happens when we turn a blind eye to bribery, fraud and greed in corporate Australia. by Brian Boyd




Outgoing Victorian Trades Hall Council Secretary Brian Boyd has recently put together a timely book covering the malfeasance and dirty tricks of the corporate world operating in Australia.


The publication entails a mixture of targeted commentary and purposefully selected media reports on big business fraud and corrupt practices (proven and currently alleged) that paint a damning picture  about the big end of town.


While the capitalist media has run for decade after decade regular, negative banner headlines and endless editorial attacks on the activities of selected unions, in the main, the coverage of scandals involving the corporate sector is patchy at best. More often than not these latter reports are only found in the back pages of the newspaper. TV News bulletins hardly ever do a story on corruption charges against a company.


This reality goes to the nub of Boyd’s’ book.


That is, he insists the imbalance in both the reporting of corporate wrong-doing and the placing of proper regulatory weight on the crimes that have received at least some publicity to date, deserve greater exposure.


The book pulls together over 30 illustrations of both proven and ongoing alleged corporate crimes ranging from corruption, fraud, bribery, rorting, rip-offs, forgery and standover tactics that involve many millions of dollars. Some of the stories are amazing. Each story is outlined by lining up chronologically disparate media reports that when pulled together show how slack the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and Australian Securities & Investments Commission (ASIC) have been in bringing key businesses in Australia to book.


One example involving the Commonwealth Bank of Australia affected thousands of Australian retirees being ripped off millions of dollars from their retirement savings. The scandal has been running for years and led to a Senate inquiry in June this year calling for a Royal Commission into the affair. The Abbott Government refused to consider the proposition, with the federal Treasurer and federal Finance Minister saying publicly that the bank should be allowed to “correct” the situation within the market framework!


Similarly another long running example has been the serious multi-million dollar bribery allegations against multinational construction company Leighton. These matters have been around for years and involve paying to ‘win’ contracts in Indonesia, Iraq, India, Malaysia and other locations, worth billions of dollars.


The investigations by the AFP have been sporadic and rarely commented on. In that time the company has been taken over and carved up by Spanish and German interests. In particular many of the personnel involved in Leighton during the alleged corruption period are long gone.


The AFP and ASIC have occasionally complained of lack of funds and resources to chase bribery charges. Where were and are the politicians over the years insisting such crimes are pursued and finalised in the courts?


Last September the authorities announced they were putting together a brief for the public prosecutor with respect to the outstanding Leighton corruption allegations, to be ready by early 2015! This has been announced before.


Other corporates mentioned in Boyd’s expose include household names like – Lend Lease, Rupert Murdoch’s News Ltd, Gina Reinhart, Alcoa, BHP, Flight Centre, Avon (“calling”), Coles Supermarkets, The Reserve Bank, The NSW and Federal Liberal Party and even the Australian Egg Corporation


In his introduction to the book Boyd says:

“This compilation of publicly available material only covers a relatively small percentage of wrong-doing within the corporate and business sectors in the Australian economy. The pulling together of about 30 stories of malfeasance by the ‘big end-of-town’ was not embarked upon as an exercise in itself. The idea was born out of frustration at watching the mainstream media roll-out selected stories, over the last few years ad-nausea, about the likes of bent ex-politicians like Craig Thomson and Peter Slipper and ex-union official Michael Williamson, over a few thousand dollars being misappropriated.


“In turn, a biased selection of these exposes was blatantly used by the Abbott government to justify setting up a Royal Commission into the whole union movement! No prima facie case was put to show that union governance wrong-doing was rife. The greed of a few individuals was magnified to smear the many.


“The media coverage is scant and inconsistent. Only now and again does a corruption or mal-practice story of such magnitude (e.g. Leighton, Thiess, Tenix, Note Printing Australia, Commonwealth Bank) reach the front pages, only to disappear, very quickly. In contrast, the coverage of Peter Slipper’s escapade and Craig Thomson’s pathetic rorting was obsessive…”


Corporate Corruption is therefore not just about big business mal-practice of the highest order but also it is as much about the media itself. Boyd makes a strong case that much of the media treat corporations in general with “kid gloves”.


As an example he cites one report  in The Australian of 16/4/13 regarding one of the Leighton scandals – an alleged multi-million dollar bribe in Iraq aimed at securing a $US 1.3 billion oil contract.


The article, under the heading “Bribery scandal hurt but Leighton is on the mend”, reported the infrastructure company was allowed to ‘remove’ the head of its offshore business sector over “failure to meet governance standards”. No explanation by the authorities demanded. Boyd’s blunt comment is: “Why is the big corporate allowed to be “on the mend’ while lesser crimes are pursued to the limit?”


Boyd concludes that any reading of the material he has collated overwhelmingly suggests “that not only is a blind eye being turned to corporate wrong-doing in Australia but that ‘open for business’ really means ‘open slather’ and ‘anything goes’!


“The material clearly shows that the policing of anti-bribery, anti-corruption and anti-rorting laws in this country pertaining to the business sector leave a lot to be desired.


“It is obvious that, even when media revelations occurred with prima facie evidence being referred to, the authorities were slow to act and investigate or did nothing happened at all.”


Finally the Boyd expose illustrates the class system in Australia is alive and well. There is one law for the rich and one law for ordinary people. The parliamentary system does not deliver a fair and equal rule of law as so often claimed by nearly every politician.


Corporate Corruption is being published by a group of progressive unions for wider distribution in organised labour circles. It will help in the ongoing public debate that is currently lop-sided with the way the daily news is peddled by the monopoly media.

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