Contributed by Jim Hayes
Qantas, and its now retired CEO Alan Joyce, are the current targets of a frustrated nation. They deserve to be. After all, they have been exposed for a host of rotten business practices, like overcharging for poor service, deliberately cancelling flights to lift the bottom line, terrible labour prices, the inappropriate use of covid government funding, and an obscene multimillion dollar payoff for Joyce, and generous political donations to those that can help them along the way.
Photo by Bianca De Marchi/AAP: Retired Qantas CEO Alan Joyce
The once government owned and Australian airline deserves the punishment it is now getting. But this shouldn’t delude us into believing that this is about just one bad player. Everything that Qantas has done is the normal way of doing business for many of the biggest corporations. This is what Australia must understand.
Mention of the practices of the big banks and insurance giants is a good case in point. They have been ripping their customers off for years, reduced the quality of service, eroded working conditions, and made their own political donations. They suffered their own community backlash, which resulted in a Royal Commission.
We can go on to talk about mining companies like Rio Tinto ignoring regulations and deliberately destroying sites of importance to Frist nations people, Crown caught money laundering and the systematic exploitation of those with gambling problems, and petrol companies price gouging during the pandemic. Supermarket monopolies have now been caught out with their own price gouging practices. We might recall that not long ago, Chemist Warehouse had its reputation sallied by how it was treating its workers. There is Harvey Norman, its own misuse of Covid money and punish for a dramatic fall in wages.
These same corporations cultivate media dependent on advertising revenue. Most times, their misdeeds are glossed over.
What is most telling about this collective misbehaviour is that it happens with impunity. Even when some are caught out, there is virtually no punishment. This means two things. The regulations that exist are toothless tigers, and much of the political elite is on the take and unwilling to act and put a stop to it.
No wonder Australia is frustrated.
The Albanese government has introduced new legislation in the parliament to take some of the rough edges from existing industrial law. A good idea. Although it won’t be enough on its own to make much difference.
The problem is that the misbehaviour is extremely profitable. The guilty corporations are posting record profits. They won’t willingly give this up when their shareholders are hungry for constant stream of dividend payouts.
The record profits of this section of the business community come from having the power to manipulate the market and its political connections, rather than on providing better goods and services. They increasingly rely on wage theft. This is the main reason why wages have been stagnant, and the wages share of national income has been shrinking over time.
This hurts individuals and families who are forced to pay the price. It also hurts the economy and therefore the future of Australia because it creates unhealthy patterns of investment, when the emphasis shifts away from genuine productive growth, to profit at the expense of others.
Only though anti-monopoly laws and regulation, sufficient punishment of wrongdoers, and breaking the symbiotic ties with the political establishment, can this come about. Change won’t be brought about by politicians on h take. Royal commissions have come and gone. Promises have been made. Nothing has changed.
The solution depends on the rest of us building a resistance against corporate greed over time. A big part of this is to continue to expose wrongdoing and make it as difficult as possible for these corporations to continue operating as they are, and for the political system to remain at their service.