David Dayen is a contributing writer The Intercept and a weekly columnist for the New Republic. He is the author of the book Chain of Title: How Three Ordinary Americans Uncovered Wall Street’s Great Foreclosure Fraud., and he’s shortly to become the executive editor of the American Prospect.
We talked about his article How Vaping Giant Juul Explains Everything that’s Wrong with our World.
There’s a story in the last couple of weeks that, if you’re in Australia, you’ve almost certainly heard, if you’re not in Australia, you’ve almost certainly not heard.
The story is about a political party called Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, that’s its real name, the leader of the party is called Pauline Hanson, but she’s literally put her stamp on the party too. It’s not a very big party, they have no members of Australia’s House of Representatives, but they do have two members out of a total of 76 of the Australian Senate. The party got about nine per cent of the vote in Australia when it was set up, in the late 1990s, then they fell away into obscurity, but they’ve had a bit of a comeback in the last few years.
It’s an anti-immigrant, right-wing populist party, it’s one of those parties that feels the need to clarify that they aren’t racist on a regular basis.
The story is that the party’s chief of staff James Ashby and another senior member, the leader of the party in the state of Queensland, Steve Dickson went to Washington DC and met representatives of the NRA, America’s National Rifle Association. They were looking for funding for their party, and were offering political favors as a result.
What they didn’t know was that one of their party was filming the meeting for the Al Jazeera news channel. It’s a bit difficult, but I’ll play you one clip.
What they are talking about there is that, if they got the money they asked for from the NRA, they could win eight to ten seats in the Australian senate, where they currently have two seats, and a bunch of seats in the Australian lower house, where they currently have no representation.
The lower ambition that James Ashby is talking about there, two seats in the lower house in Australia might not seem significant out of a total of 150, but note that he’s talking about getting the balance of power. The Australian prime minister is elected by the lower house, so if his or her party doesn’t have a majority, they must do a deal to get over the line, to get the 75 votes needed.
What they’re talking about is not getting anything like a majority; it’s just to get into a position where they could extract concessions from a future Australian government, in return for having that government implementing some of their policies. And what they’re promising their potential donors in the NRA is that those policies would be something that the NRA wants.
For the record, Australia has quite strict gun laws. They were introduced after a massacre in 1996 at Port Arthur where 35 people were killed and many others were injured. Later that year, the Australian government introduced a compulsory gun buy-back scheme that took in more than a million firearms. There had been several smaller mass murders in the years before the Port Arthur attack, but there have been none since. Gun owners are required to be licensed, trained and must not be a convict or have a history of mental illness.
But I don’t want to get into the gun debate here. What I think is important is that around the same time those meetings were taking place in Washington DC, the Australian government was passing laws to prevent foreign funding of their political parties. Pauline Hanson, one of the party’s two senators, voted for this law.
At the same time, her lieutenants were prostituting their party in the hope of stuffing their electoral warchest. I don’t want to comment so much on how corrupt this is, what I’m really dismayed at is the price. Australia is a country of 25 million people, it’s in the top 20 richest countries in the world, it’s third in the world on the Human Development index.
And the price to take over some government policies is somewhere between two and ten million dollars. That’s absurdly cheap. That’s getting effective control – at least partly – of a country with an economy of $1.5t for just $10m. That a ratio, in case your calculator is running out of zeros, is 150,000 to one.
Now, this didn’t come off, it seems like this cozy little funding arrangement didn’t work out for Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, but it was plausible. It could have happened; and I have no doubt that on other occasions, it did happen. Think of the consequences of that. There are plenty of lobby groups, corporations, even private individuals who could buy the governments of whole continents at that price.
That’s not democracy.