Struck by the sound and fury that has attended news of Dyson Heydon’s minor mis-step in accepting, and then rejecting, an invitation to deliver an address before a NSW Bar Association gathering promoted by a group of Liberal lawyers, I was struck by the contrasting and muted response by the luvvie media to revelations of corruption and lawlessness within the union movement exposed by the Royal Commission over which the same,much-slandered jurist continues to preside. Surely, I thought, a journey down memory lane — should that be Chancery Lane? — is in order.
That was when the unworthy thought occurred that, despite being on the side of the rapacious capitalists, conservatives seem to be, well, less venal than their Labor counterparts, despite the latters’ protestations that they are all for the downtrodden working man or, in more recent times, the oppressed of Newtown and Balmain and, some distance to the south, Fitzroy and Northcote.
On the conservative side, former Queensland Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen and, more particularly, sidekick Russ Hinze, came under a cloud, as did a number of National Party MPs convicted of misappropriating public funds. Hinze died before criminal charges could be brought against him. Bjelke Petersen was charged with perjury but a conviction was not obtained after the first trial failed and a second was abandoned because of his age.
The posthumous reputation of NSW Premier Bob Askin also has been dogged by allegations of corruption, specifically that he was a friend of organised crime and acquired great wealth as a result of that association. Nothing has ever been proven against Askin, but I am not so naïve as to believe pocket-lining was out of the question.
On the other side, of course, we have the persistent accusation former ALP Minister Al Grassby enjoyed a long and profitable connection with the Calabrian mafia. Back in the dim, dark 1920s, two Labor Premiers of Queensland, Ted Theodore and William McCormack, were found by a Royal Commission to have corruptly profited from the sale to the government of a mine in which both held an undisclosed interest. Neither was ever charged and it remains more of a political controversy, rather than a strictly criminal matter. One could argue over these matters forever without really resolving anything, so let’s turn our mind to more recent events.
On the conservative side, we had the unedifying spectacle of ten NSW Coalition MPs having to resign from the government for defying former Labor NSW Premier Nathan Rees’ legislation outlawing political donations from developers — in other words, from a section of the business community specifically restricted from exercising the right to support political parties and politicians that remains freely available to those in other fields of commercial endeavour. True, this ban might seem, in principle, a reasonable move, since developers might expect some quid pro quo in consideration of their generosity. But surely the same could be said of donations from the union movement, of which the ALP is easily the greatest and most grateful beneficiary. The ban on developers’ donations was seen, no doubt, by conservative politicians as a partisan contrivance to hamstring their own fund-raising efforts. Nonetheless, the Tarnished Ten broke the law and suffered the consequences.
The irony here is that at the same time these stories were breaking, on the other side of the aisle evidence was emerging that two former and senior NSW Labor ministers, Ian McDonald and Eddie Obeid, had conspired with developers to, allegedly, massively increase their personal wealth.
And, of course, we’ve had the saga of the AWU Workplace Reform Association “slush fund”, which did not itself force then-PM Julia Gillard from The Lodge, but did cost two journalists their jobs for daring to raise a matter their colleagues obligingly neglected to consider a fit topic to investigate and report. Despite being described as a witness whose testimony was not to be preferred to that of contractors in regard to the source of funds that paid for her home renovations, Gillard has not once expressed any regret over her actions, which assisted in the commission of a major fraud. But perhaps that’s all of a piece, given her stubborn refusal to concede that the brothel-creeping Craig Thomson, who splurged HSU members’ funds on a string of carnal consultants, needed to be given a perpetual benefit of the doubt.
Perhaps the best way to resolve which side of politics boasts the most venal politicians is to examine the court record. Surely that should produce an empirical outcome.
Wikipedia (yes, I know it is often unreliable, but this is just a piece of whimsy, not a scholarly work) tells us that since the end of World War Two a total of 17 Australian politicians have been jailed following criminal convictions. The tally is pretty evenly divided: eight on the conservative side and nine from the ALP. But here is the interesting statistic and perhaps the most pertinent one: in total, the sentences handed down to conservative miscreants was ten years, the longest sentence being just two years. By contrast, Labor offenders scored a total of 66 years, the longest earning a 15-year stretch. Other sentences ranged from six years to 13 years. Admittedly, three of these sentences, totalling 32 years, were for child-sex offences, which seems to be a particularly ALP-type predliction and probably cannot be counted as venality. That still leaves 34 years for good, old-fashioned corruption of one form or another.
That Labor’s old lags dominate the field in the Yardbird Stakes seems lay-down misere to me, but I must point out the fly in my ointment. I have failed to mention the case of Thomas Ley, a Nationalist Party (precursor of the UAP and Liberal Party) member in both NSW and Federal parliaments in the 1920s. Undoubtedly corrupt, he was suspected in the disappearance of a number of his enemies. Found guilty of murder in the UK in 1947, he received the death penalty but died of natural causes a few months after that sentence being commuted life imprisonment.
Where does Ley fit in my little theory? How does one equate a death sentence with terms of imprisonment? Clearly, because I am partisan, I would like the impact of Ley to be minimal. I can think of a number of ways to diminish his importance in the scale of things but the best, I think, would be to commission a climate scientist, say Dr David Karoly or Professor Will Steffen, to homogenise my data and eliminate him entirely.