My following book review appeared in last weekend’s Melbourne’s Sunday Age and Sydney’s Sun Herald:
The news late last year that Australia’s richest man, Andrew ”Twiggy” Forrest, had not paid any corporate tax for seven years was unsurprising.
Fortescue Metals’s tax manager, Marcus Hughes, conceded to a parliamentary committee in December: ”We have not cut a corporate tax cheque to date.”
Author Matthew Benns would have a few words to say about that. He begins this striking, investigative book, Dirty Money: The True Cost of Australia’s Mineral Boom, with a sordid tale about copper company Anvil Mining’s alleged complicity in a massacre in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2004. Examples of Australian company criminality are shown from the Philippines to Papua New Guinea.
Tragically, these are not atypical stories. Many Australian firms scour the globe looking for cheap resources and exploitation. It is often not illegal but it is largely a reality hidden from the population. We want cheap petrol and minerals; we rarely want to know from where they come.
Benns documents a litany of dirty deals, grubby environmental catastrophes and health scares. The only conclusion from this essential book is that Australia has a bipartisan belief in giving the resource industry whatever it wants and screwing the long-term expense. Our political leaders preach about a budget surplus but give little thought to building our Future Fund from the revenue.
It is a point equally well made by fellow writer Paul Cleary in his recent book Too Much Luck. At the Sydney book launch, Cleary told the audience that Australia preaches to a country such as Papua New Guinea – a land truly cursed by a resource boom that benefits few locals – that they should establish a sovereign fund for future generations and yet we neglect our own Future Fund.
Benns would share this argument. ”We are dancing on the deck of the Titanic,” Benns writes. ”The rest of the economy is being run down in favour of minerals. But mining companies only employ 3 per cent of the Australian population.”
Such points are rarely heard within the mainstream political and media elites, too keen to promote ”growth” and ”development”. The three-year election cycle has turned us into lemmings approaching the cliff.
William Heinemann, $34.95