Did the big miners topple the Prime Minister?

I haven’t heard all that much gloating in the last couple of days from the big mining companies, despite the fact that their bitter media war against the RSPT was the decisive factor encouraging Julia Gillard’s powerful co-conspirators to sink their knives into Kevin Rudd’s back. Perhaps they are now feeling just a little sheepish. Looking back over the last couple of months since the Budget, it is difficult to believe that the government’s polling would have been quite so bad or the Prime Minister’s personal political situation so dire if the government had won the media war or else managed to forge an agreement with the miners and the Minerals Council of Australia. The televised ad campaign against the RSPT was as audacious as it was relentless; never before in Australian political history has a cabal of multinational companies banded together so effectively with the aim of overturning the policy of a democratically-elected government.

It’s worth reminding ourselves that one of the most big-mouthed public opponents of the tax, mining magnate Clive Palmer, has a long political history with the Liberal and National Parties, and also happens to be Australia’s largest political donor. As Adele Ferguson and Rafael Epstein reported in a somewhat revealing profile piece for The Age on Saturday:

In the year to June 2009, Palmer and his private company, Mineralogy, gave $400,000 to the federal Liberal Party, $280,000 to the Queensland Liberal National Party, $110,000 to the West Australian National Party and $50,000 to the federal National Party.

That is why Kevin Rudd responded to the tax debate intervention with the accusation that Palmer had bought the Coalition ”lock, stock and barrel”. And Palmer’s ”communist” gibe, had Rudd turning to history. In the ’80s, Palmer was a friend of Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s, was at one stage a director of the party and in 1986 Palmer was spokesman for the party during the Queensland election, helping usher in Bjelke-Petersen’s seventh consecutive term in office.

One wonders how many average folk knew, when watching Palmer’s bulbous face bleating about communism on the nightly news, that he was not only a mining magnate and therefore hardly an impartial observer, but also a conservative political stooge from way back, and therefore even less impartial. The whole episode has been a timely reminder about just where the real political power lies in today’s Australia: with those who have the most financial capacity to influence people through public relations and advertising.

The people of Australia don’t have any serious institutionalised mechanism for relegating the Clive Palmers and the Twiggy Forrests of the world to the backbenches; we’re just stuck with them. In contrast our politicians, in thrall to the almighty ubiquity of the latest polling figures, are left scurrying around like so many primitives, fighting amongst themselves and skulking around behind each others backs. After last week’s events, the trading room floor is looking just that little bit more like the centre of real power in this country, and the Federal Parliament, just that little bit less.