03 August 2015
by John Passant

The Bishopric has fallen: now for the wholly corrupt See of parliament

Brownyn Bishop’s escalating expenses row, from helicopters to limosines to god knows what else, the contempt the vast majority of Australian people feel for her, the protection Prime Minister Tony Abbott gave her and the consequent damage this has done to his government and party, all combined to see her resign as speaker of the House of Representatives and Abbott announce a root and branch review of parliamentary entitlements.

Independent MP Andrew Wilkie was blunt. He called Bishop’s actions fraud. He knows full well she will not sue him for defamation. It would expose her expenses claims to independent judicial scrutiny and show the Australian people the contempt she has for them.

Even in defeat Abbott defended his friend. According to ABC News Abbott had this to say about Bishop’s resignation:

“What has become apparent, particularly over the last few days, is that the problem is not any particular individual; the problem is the entitlement system more generally. We have a situation where spending is arguably inside the rules, but plainly outside of community expectations, and that’s what needs to be dealt with once and for all.”

That is a bit like blaming the bank for lax security rather than the thieves for stealing the money. Of course Abbott has to protect her, not just because she is his friend and can muster a few votes in his favour in any leadership contest. He has to shield her from investigation because she is not alone. Many parliamentarians abuse the entitlements system.

Barnaby Joyce explained in a straight forward and honest way why Bishop has to be protected from any criminal or more widespread rorts investigation. He said:

“In this game you start throwing rocks and there won’t be a person left in the Parliament because everyone will have some issue somewhere in the past that is difficult to explain.”

Exactly. That is why there will be a root and crop review of the entitlements system, not the actual parliamentarians’ abusing it.

This is not a case of one rotten apple. The whole system of entitled representatives is part of the problem. Bourgeois politicians when elected are elevated above the common people. This is most obvious in terms of their pay – $195,000 before allowances and entitlements. That salary alone almost puts them in the top one percent of income earners. By comparison the average full time wage in the last quarter of 2014 was $75,603. The median wage is about $20,000 below that.

How can someone in the top one percent of income earners know what it is like for the rest of us, especially the 70% or so who earn below the average wage, in our struggles to survive? They don’t and can’t. They are divorced from the rest of us by income alone.

Not only that but the very institution they are elected to is the epitome of bourgeois society – full of born to rule toffs, and in the case of most Labor Party representatives, wanna be born to rule toffs. Even those with a sense of progressive change often succumb to Stockholm syndrome in a short time, perverted by the illusion that Parliament rather than capital exercises ultimate power in capitalist society and blinded to the reality that change comes from below, through mass movements and strikes, not from on high. Their world views reflects at best that of the union bureaucrat, as an arbiter or retailer of labour power to the bosses, but even this gets lost in tosh about the national interest and the seeming dependence of labour on capital.

When you are elected to manage capitalism, you do. And that means accepting its basic precepts, in the good times and the bad. The beauty of Labor governments from the point of view of the ruling class is that they can often convince the working class to accept prescriptions that if Doctor Liberal wrote them they would reject.

It is no surprise then that bourgeois politicians of all persuasions might be tempted by what appears to be a fundamental element of capitalism – personal enrichment – but which in fact contradicts the capitalist system’s drive to reinvest the profit it has stolen from the working class. Personal enrichment is a crime against accumulation. That doesn’t mean ruling class rich people don’t gorge themselves at our expense. They do. Their politicians follow them.

Across the globe the failure of Labor party style politics to bring about real progressive change but rather to be in charge of austerity to try and restore profit rates has produced a backlash, a backlash which has also engulfed the traditional parties of the right in the long term as they all impose austerity on their essentially social democratic working class constituency.
From SYRIZA in Greece, to Podemos in Spain, to the massive support for Jeremy Corbyn’s bid for Labour Party leadership in the UK, to the rise of the Scottish Nationalist Party, to the popularity of Bernie Sanders campaign for Democratic Party nomination and on to the reforming and radical left in South America and the Arab Spring, there is a yearning for a new politics, a new way of doing things, an opposition to austerity and hopes for a gentler, kinder capitalism if not socialism.

That is why Abbott’s blaming of the system of entitlements rather than the rorters themselves has the potential to blow up in his face. There are questions about his own claims – claims which seem not too different to Bishop’s in the blurring of the lines between ‘work’ and pleasure. (here is one example from 2 years ago.) It also explains why Labor’s fire has been entirely directed at Bronwyn Bishop. They too do not want the flames to break out of their Liberal and Labor staffed containment lines.

If Labor wanted to win the next election hands down they could ride the massive wave of disillusionment with mainstream politics and politicians (at least into the election) by announcing they would in government set up a royal commission into parliamentarians’ abuse of the entitlements system. They won’t because their side would be mortally wounded too.

But that won’t address in the long run the despair many working class and other people feel about their parliamentarians. Tony Abbott in a different context is correct. The problems are systemic. The problem is the capitalist system. Labor and the Liberals, and the Greens, are committed to that system. It is why the long lessons of history are beginning to play out. The first stage is disgust with mainstream politicians. The next stage is I hope questioning why these systemic problems arise and then looking for alternatives, alternatives like the small group of socialists I belong to called Solidarity.

As Goethe wrote, ‘Grey, dear friend, is all theory, and green the golden tree of life.’ That means that workers begin the process of both understanding their own interests and fighting for them. The corrupt conduct of politicians offers another avenue for socialists to put the arguments about the need for class struggle and for an alternative to those in their privileged parliamentary politicians who are sucking dry the trough of entitlement. Certainly capitalist politicians are corrupt. However the whole capitalist system is corrupt.

To end their corruption we need ultimately to end their system. That is not on the agenda today. But demands for charges against entitlement abusing politicians and for a royal commission into them will receive a lot of support. So too will a call to put politicians on the average wage so they too know what the rest of us live like and frame their Budgets and other policies accordingly. We socialists can then use those calls to talk to workers and others about why this corruption is endemic and why we need to overthrow the whole rotten system.

Mass struggle against it in all its manifestations is the answer.