“Game of Mates”, by economists Cameron K. Murray and Paul Frijters, starts off by warning the reader that it is a “Loathsome Tale”. And it is.
It’s the story of how Australia has become “one the most unequal of societies in the western world while merely a generation ago it was one of the most equal”. It details how well connected “mates” manage to infiltrate themselves into our system and skim off huge wealth. In fact, the authors calculate that as much as half the nation’s wealth is syphoned into the pockets of these parasites.
The villain of the story is called “James” and he personifies the network of well-connected “mates” who have infiltrated the transportation, property development, mining, banking and superannuation industries. He is named after James Ruse who benefited from the first land grant in 1790 and then went on to make a fortune by exploiting the system. “James” continues to influence Government decision making and continues to reap ever greater profits. A typical example of what the authors describe as “grey-gifting”is the vast increase in real estate values that can result when land is rezoned from rural to urban. A well connected mate can make a fortune. Well connected mates do make fortunes.
The authors cite many real life examples of specific individuals who have moved in and out of industry and government. Names we all recognise. Among them Eddie Obeid is one of the very few who overstepped the mark and got nailed but most operate just within the bounds of the law. After all the law is not very limiting: there’s plenty of scope for abuse.
The book is an easy read and avoids technical jargon. It not only clearly describes the problem and the current situation but also points to remedies. A good example is how the ACT taxes land owners 75% of the increase in value of their land when it is rezoned to their advantage and reaped $183million in 2014-15 . By using the ACT figures the authors calculate that, Australia wide, “James” and his mates may have sucked up some $11 billion in that time. A useful sum.
For those of us who want to better understand how the system works and how it is manipulated this book is a “must read”.
*Pat Synge has long been concerned by issues of equity and political integrity. He co-founded Funding & Disclosure (Inc) in 2014 to encourage awareness of issues relating to political donations and the associated potential for corruption. With both local and state government elections due in 2018 here in Tasmania this are issues that will be very much to the fore. F&D can be found at https://www.facebook.com/groups/fundinganddisclosure/ and at https://fundinganddisclosure.org.au