Perhaps we’ve been going about this all wrong. Maybe instead of strong-arming ten million punters to sign up for ScoMo’s battery-burning stalker app, we could get ourselves out of lockdown a lot sooner by simply tagging one or two super-spreaders who seem perfectly free to get about the place perpetrating mischief and shenanigans.
Serial lockdown escapee Kerry Stokes would be an excellent candidate. Having lingered in the offshore hot zone of Aspen, where dilettante Aussie rich listers have done more damage to America’s infection curve than all those unregulated Flu Klux Klan militias watering the tree of liberty with their infected phlegm, Stokes flew home by private jet. Here he somehow dodged iso’ in Perth’s Hilton Gulag “on medical grounds”. This was quite the coincidence, seeing as how the whole quarantine hotel prison system was hastily cobbled together “on medical grounds” too.
Those medical grounds were, of course, the national plan to flatten the curve, which involved snap freezing twenty-five million little Vegemiters in place to avoid spreading the ‘rona about. And a good plan it was too, unless your place has an airstrip, and a couple of Gulfstream jets and you decide to nip across the continent for Anzac Day. This Stokes did in his capacity as chairman of the War Memorial, and owner of a newspaper, a TV network, and a controlling interest in the political system that might otherwise have stopped him.
No word on where the billionaire couch surfer is right now—which suggests that fitting him up with a personally tailored contact tracing app might not be such a bad idea—but he did make an appearance in print on the front page of his newspaper The West Australian to suggest the Commonwealth Government needed “to stop making accusations" about China’s handling of the pandemic.
Complaining that pissing off Beijing “could have catastrophic consequences for the economy”, Stokes demanded that Canberra pinkie promise never to do so again. (And as the guy who has the exclusive license to supply Caterpillar equipment to giant mining companies like BHP and Rio Tinto, he really needs that pinkie promise).
Astute—or to be honest even really fucking dim—observers of international relations might wonder why a private citizen like Stokes was qualified to manage Australia’s diplomacy with the Middle Kingdom.
But Kerry Stokes has always been Australia’s foremost expert on how much money Kerry Stokes makes from China and what must be done to keep making it. Or he was, until Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest challenged him for the crown.
Rather than simply mouthing Beijing’s talking points, Twiggy invited the Chinese Consul General Long Zhou to crash a Greg Hunt presser so he could deliver those talking points in person to a visibly honked off Hunt and the assembled, but appropriately distanced media.
Like the entire back catalogue of Hold My Beer tweets, this did not go well.
Video of the press conference shows Hunt suddenly Hulk-morphing from Health Minister into a would-be dominant silverback gorilla, and refusing to let journalists ask any questions of the Chinese diplomat; a ham-fisted attempt at media suppression which must have made the Consul General quite wistful and homesick really.
Ostensibly they were all there to pimp out a deal to buy ten million coronavirus test kits from the Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI). Twiggy, the Stringer Bell of this episode, whose charitable front Minderoo, had negotiated the buy, spoke of having to fight "sophisticated coercion" to secure the kits. He didn’t say much about the “unsophisticated coercion” of inviting the Consul General along to share a podium with Hunt while Beijing and Canberra were busy poking chopsticks in each other’s eyes.
But he didn’t really have to.
We can take the coercion for granted. Not the state-on-state level aggro, but the deep-throat shotgun-fucking we all got coming on the other side of COVID-19: the cage fight between the owners of private jets, coal mines and media companies, and the seven billion suckers who somehow missed out on those things.
The global economy has cratered. Hundreds of millions have already fallen into poverty. And while our discourse is distracted by images of lunatic fringe pocket nazis demanding the right to manicures and a visit to the seaside…
..the existential question of how the fuck we survive this is being thrashed out right now in boardrooms and super yachts, where by ‘we’ I mean anybody with an open bar tab at Davos and a personal net worth somewhere north of Liechtenstein’s GDP.
Some are just more obvious than others.
Marina Hyde describes ‘motorboating enthusiast’ Richard Branson as seeking a billion dollar rescue for his Virgin Atlantic airline, occasioning “some debate as to whether this is quite the moment for a man who… has not paid income tax in this country for 14 years, to request a taxpayer bailout.”
In defence of the irreversibly priapic tycoon, any such reach-around from the UK government would at least complement the one-and-a-half billion dollarydoos for which Virgin Australia had their hands out down here.
Branson, not so much the father of Virgin as the sperm donor, given his reimagining of air travel as a choose-your-own-adventure at the Playboy Mansion, is an unusual billionaire only in being such a theatrically obvious pirate. Meanwhile the suddenly swollen ranks of the unemployed turn a nervous side-eye on Scott Morrison every time he refuses to promise that unemployment support won’t return to starvation levels. (And he never misses an opportunity to refuse to promise any such thing). The real battle, however, won’t be over a couple of hundred bucks a week in Jobseeker and Jobkeeper payments.
It will rage over the trillions of dollars in dark money hidden away in tax havens like Bermuda and the Cayman Islands.
As huge as the splurge on emergency socialism by the Commonwealth Government is, it’s easily matched by all the revenue which isn’t raised from the largest, most egregious tax avoiders on the ASX. Eventually, the bill for ScoMo’s Bernie Sanders awakening will come due and our politics will quickly descend into a screecher monkey switchblade fight over who pays. Some will fight harder than others.
Fossil fuel bandits in particular have an aversion for reaching into their pockets when June 30 rolls around. Finance journalist Michael West writes that:
Five of Australia’s top coal companies – Peabody, Yancoal Sumitomo, Citic and Whitehaven – racked up $54 billion between them in total income over the past five years and paid zero income tax in Australia.
Dozens of companies with hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue routinely pay less tax than you do every year. They employ hugely expensive (but agreeably tax deductible) armies of accountants and lawyers to deploy a full suite of financial weapons in defence of their tasty cheddar. Debt-loading, transfer pricing, returns of capital, “service agreements”, derivatives swaps and in-house payments for bullshit intellectual property all ensure that no matter how many billions of dollars a company makes, it’s always a loss. Like Hollywood maths.
In this context it’s possible to reframe a piece of theatre like Twiggy Forest’s treasure hunt for COVID-19 testing kits as something more than philanthropy. His Minderoo Foundation didn’t donate those kits. It will seek and receive reimbursement from the government.
But Forrest wanted everybody to know that it was his personal relationship with Wang Jian, Chairman and founder of the BGI Group that secured the twenty million test kits for Australia.
It was Twiggy wot won it, in other words.
And if we want the wins to keep coming we should let Twiggy be Twiggy.
Forrest, to be fair, is one billionaire who does pay tax. A lot of it, according to Tax Office transparency data. But there are more than one and a half thousand privately owned companies in the hands of Australia’s oldest, richest families, for which no data is available, let alone transparent. Some of those families, like the Lowys and the Murdochs, are well known to the public. And to the ATO. Murdoch’s News Corp has been gonged by the Tax Office as the country’s “number one tax risk.” Probably something to do with paying one tenth of one percent of abso-fucking-lutely nothing on nearly $14 billion of total income over five years.
And just as News Corp is leading the charge to force everyone back to work, so it can get to work on avoiding its next billion dollars in tax, Lord Rupert’s janissaries will lead the assault on any suggestion that Rupe or his ilk should have to pay anything to repair the damage from this catastrophe.
Just watch it happen.