Report compiled by the Australian Democracy Network with assistance from contributors Scott Ludlam, Michelle Fahy and Felicity Ruby. We own any errors and are grateful for feedback and discussion with Tim Hollo, Alex Kelly, Professor John Keane, Dr Adam Lucas, Clare Ozich, Guy Rundle, Benedetta Brevini, Jacob Grech, Peter Cronau, Liz Minter, Richard Tanter, Alice Drury, Holly Creenaune, Jolene Elberth and Tom Swann.
Published in February 2022
This report introduces the concept of state capture in the Australian context: what it is, how it applies here, and what to do about it.
The state capture framing has been useful in driving reform in other democracies and is worth adding to our toolbox when confronting how political, economic and social power operates in Australia.
The World Bank defines state capture as “the exercise of power by private actors — through control over resources, threat of violence, or other forms of influence — to shape policies or implementation in service of their narrow interests”.
Under state capture, policymaking doesn’t work the way most people believe it does, and neither do elections. Under state capture, the rule-making machinery itself is the prize, including the ability to define what constitutes corrupt or illicit behaviour in the first place.
In order to make progress against something that operates at such an entrenched and systemic level, we need a better map of its moving parts, dependencies and points of failure.
This report identifies six channels through which state capture by corporate interests is exercised: financial, lobbying, revolving doors, institutional repurposing, research and policymaking, and public influence campaigns.
Two case studies show how fossil fuel and arms companies exercise forms of control over the political process in Australia and firmly meet the definition of state capture.
A key element of state capture is the management of political parties both in government and opposition, with industry punishing dissent and rewarding compliance, ensuring that even in a change of government, industry wins.
Disillusionment with Australian political parties and lack of trust in politicians is not always apathy – it’s a legitimate response to state capture. We need more than piecemeal tweaks to donations reform or anti-corruption initiatives for Australia’s democracy to serve more than the powerful few.
We need a commitment that the Framework for a Fair Democracy will be implemented by our next parliament.
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