Left leaning parties in Brazil and Australia are both immersed in corruption scandals. We can only hope our nation shows the same intolerance as Brazil does for those who threaten its integrity.
There’s a scene in Graeme Greene’s novel Our Man in Havana where local military strongman Captain Segura tells British informant Wormald that he wouldn’t be tortured because “there are people who expect to be tortured and others who would be outraged by the idea”.
In other words, the world is divided between people who expect the state to be unjust, and those who do not.
In 1958, when Greene wrote the novel, there was no doubt that a country like Australia would be of the latter while Brazil belonged to the former. But in 2013, as authorities in Brazil and Australia both face off massive corruption trials, it’s less clear on which side of the divide Australia now stands.
Some of Brazil’s most powerful men are now in jail as the country cracks down on corruption. By contrast, in Australia, as the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption starts investigations into the murky dealings of Eddie Obeid and Co, the outcome seems far from certain.
Not so in Brazil, where on 2 August 2012, 25 politicians and officials of Brazil’s Partido Trabalhista (Worker’s Party) were convicted of corruption and other charges by the Brazilian Supreme Court.
The scandal, known as the “mensalao”, or the “big monthly”, involved politicians and officials diverting funds to buy political support for the former president of Brazil, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
The scandal has extended to the highest echelons of the Brazilian Government with Lula’s former chief of staff and top aide, Jose Dirceu, sentenced to serve over 10 years in prison in November 2012 for being the principal of the vote buying scheme.
Judge Joaquim Barbosa, the country’s first black Supreme Court judge who worked as a cleaner to pay for law school, told the former aide that he had ‘defiled’ the role of one of the most important offices in the land.
Judge Barbosa also sentenced businessman Marcus Valerio, who acted as a kind of ‘broker’ for Dirceu, to over 40 years imprisonment for bribery and crimes of corruption.
Incredulous Brazilians erupted in celebration as the accused were jailed.
Judge Barbosa became an overnight hero as protestors chanted ‘the party’s over’. The city’s carnival district began a brisk trade in masks of his face – the ultimate compliment by the Brazilian masses.
After decades of political corruption made possible by a culture of impunity, the sentences represent a fundamental shift in the accountability of the Brazilian state.
It represented an end to the humiliating trials of those of the likes of former Brazilian President Fernando Collor, impeached for widespread corruption in 1992, only to be re-elected as senator in 2006 (he lost office again in 2010).
In turn, they have awakened Brazilians from their political apathy and renewed their aspirations for a state in which corruption is a terrible and unacceptable crime.
In Australia, ICAC is currently investigating whether former NSW resources minister Ian Macdonald provided inside knowledge about coal mining explorations in the Hunter Valley to former NSW minister Eddie Obeid.
Obeid allegedly gained $30 million from selling the land on which the coal deposits were found and is chasing another $30 million from Cascade.
In his opening address to ICAC, assisting counsel Geoffrey Watson SC said that if found to be true, the corruption was on a “scale probably unexceeded since the days of the Rum Corp”.
The Obeids claim they bought the farm because of its beauty (despite only having been there twice) while their associate investor said it was for cattle farming (despite not being able to tell the court whether it was milking, breeding or agistment).
The ICAC is also interested in businessmen Travers Duncan, Brian Flannery and John Kinghorn, who were allegedly set to sell the two coal deposits in question for $500 million, a year after they bought them for about $1 million, before the deal was abandoned under suspicions of corruption.
But far from cowering in fear of a prison sentence, Obeid and his cabal of celebrated financiers, businessmen and their model girlfriends are flagrantly going about their business in the Emerald City. They are photographed in the social columns, live in waterfront mansions and enjoy listings in the Rich List.
Last weekend, the Obeids were even given the dignity of a right of reply in The Australian newspaper, an interview more notable for its contradictions and unanswered questions than its clarity.
They behave in a manner more befitting of a politician in the bad old days of Brazil than a wealthy developed country like Australia.
And why wouldn’t they? As Segura tells Wormald in Our Man in Havana, “one never tortures except by mutual agreement”. And it’s not even the first time Obeid has been investigated.
In 2004, Obeid was caught up in another inquiry into land deals in Strathfield and other Labor controlled zones in Sydney in which developers have allegedly received inside knowledge on proposals to rezone land.
In 2011, the Brazilian newspaper Folha de São Paulo estimated the cost of corruption to the Brazilian state at $6 billion per year. And lest anyone think that Brazil is so culturally diverse from Australia that this would never happen here, corruption is a slippery slope.
As the Brazilians know all too well, it is far more difficult to claw your way back from a corrupt state than to descend into one.
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