CAMERON K. MURRAY and PAUL FRIJTERS Rigged. Reviewed by Susan Francis
Cameron K. Murray and Paul Frijters reveal how Australia is run by the ‘Game of Mates’, the cosy relationships at the centre of power.
Given current discussions about a federal ICAC, and a continuing avalanche of corruption allegations against former members of the NSW parliament, Rigged seems particularly timely. Cameron K. Murray and Paul Frijters provide a comprehensive account of how a culture of political favouritism works across all sectors of our society (including but not limited to property investment, banking and mining). They reinforce what we all understand at some level: that it is who you know, not necessarily what you know. That we are a classless society is a myth that these writers murder early and bury deep.
Observing Australian politics and the disintegration of the ideals of public service has been a longstanding interest of mine, so it was with great anticipation I started reading Rigged, which the authors claim is ‘how politics in Australia truly works’. Most Australians understand the premise (and have perhaps observed it playing out around them). The first chapter sets out the book’s remit:
Rigged is the story of how Australia became one of the most unequal societies in the Western world, while a generation ago it was one of the most equal. It is the story of how groups of Mates have rigged our corporate and political sectors, and managed to rob us, the Australian majority …
We know this already, right? And somehow accept it. Or do we?
On a superficial level, ‘the system’ favours men in expensive suits who went to the same private schools and landed influential positions in government or business. They are frequently on the television news, and often feature in stories about government corruption scandals. I like to think that it’s part of the reason Australians turned away from the coalition government in the most recent election. We’d all had enough of the ‘jobs for the boys’ culture – the stink of politicians and businessmen lining their own pockets.
But seeing just how thoroughly this mutual back-scratching has been normalised in our society is an eye-watering experience. Murray and Frijters use each chapter to argue how mates favour each other in a particular industry and usually ‘return the favour to … others in the club’. Example after example is provided, both recent and from the previous ten years: Campbell Newman ‘failed to disclose … indirect property interests and was embroiled in allegations of corruption over favourable government decisions given to his father-in-law’. There is the Leppington Triangle case, where:
… [the] Australian government purchased a 12-hectare triangular parcel of land adjacent to the new Western Sydney airport … Though independently valued multiple times to be worth $3 million, the landowner was paid $30 million …
Nonetheless, an AFP investigation in 2021 found ‘no evidence of a crime’. And in terms of Mates helping Mates, there is former defence minister, Christopher Pyne, accepting a job ‘as a defence consultant … 18 months after leaving parliament’.
The power of Rigged lies in seeing these cases lined up side by side, and seeing the connections across the whole of our society. Often, once the most recent story falls out of the news cycle, or the government changes, or a particular corrupt official is sacked (or not), the links in the pattern are broken and the game is put back in the cupboard away from the public gaze.
If this aspect of our current political landscape seems familiar to you, and you want to understand what made it so, then you might want to read this book. Rigged is a handy guide to who is connected to whom.
Ultimately, one of the most significant questions the book raises is why more Australians don’t care about this grand and intricate system of cronyism. Why do we watch it happen and not call it out? Why do we look the other way? Is it because the system seems too entrenched? The problem too complicated? Too overwhelming?
Helpfully, Murray and Frijters provide suggestions of ways to disrupt it. For example, readers are urged to:
… seek out alternate sources of news and information [because the Mates] own the mainstream media … [so] an independent publicly funded news organisation seems crucial to ensuring the media maintains a critical stance and calls out the blatant lies used to conceal the Game of Mates.
The appendix lists former politicians and staffers who shifted across to mining or petroleum organisations and demonstrates the relationship between Mates in politics and business. The authors remind readers that the Mates are ‘normal people who succumb to the temptation of looking after those closest to them at the expense of others’. This might be arguable – I’m not sure how ‘normal’ some of these actions are.
Notwithstanding that, this book will enable Australians to better understand the way corruption works in our country and how the place might better resemble the fair nation we want it to be.
Cameron K. Murray and Paul Frijters Rigged: How networks of powerful mates rip off everyday Australians Allen & Unwin 2022 PB 296pp $32.99
Susan Francis’ debut memoir, The Love that Remains was published in 2020. She is working on her second book. Find her at instagram.com/susanfrancis29/
You can also check if it is available from Newtown Library.
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