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Tough cop, soft cop

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Nick G.

“One law for the rich, one law for the poor” is an aphorism that every worker knows by heart.

Its truth arises from the lived experience of those kept as wage slaves in capitalist society.

Yet it is denied by capitalist academia, strangled in our schools and suffocated in our media by the continuing falsehoods of “equality before the law” and the “impartiality of the justice system”.

Regulatory authorities, the police and the courts do a great job of keeping the workers in their place.

In the old days, an arbitration system imposed crippling fines on striking unions.  Now striking itself is virtually outlawed and crippling fines are applied not only to unions, but also to individual workers.

Was Clarrie O’Shea a criminal when he was jailed 50 years ago?  He had stolen nothing and assaulted no-one. Yet he was jailed for refusing to hand over his union’s financial records to the Arbitration Court which sought to seize its assets.

Criminals allowed to “negotiate” their penalty

By contrast, the continuing Royal Commission into the banks has revealed, in the words of analyst Ian Verrender, that “Between them, the four banks and AMP in recent years have gouged more than $220 million from clients for services they never even intended to provide.

“And the penalty for this theft? Just over a week ago, a few days before all this blew up in the royal commission, ASIC had the CBA, the worst offender by far, sign an enforceable undertaking for overcharging clients $118 million.

“No court case. No-one personally held to account.

“And it's part of a repeating pattern.”

The “enforceable undertaking” referred to be Verrender is a negotiated penalty.  ASIC and an offending financial institution sit down and do a deal to keep the criminals, who have stolen people’s money, out of jail.  The penalty for the CBA, for this common thief, this criminal organisation?  It has to give the money back and pay a fine of $3 million to a community organisation. (Most commonly, these fines are paid to Financial Literacy Australia to “teach consumers about finance.”  The CBA is represented on its Board!)

In its latest half-yearly after-tax profit result, the CBA raked in $4,895 million. For the previous full financial year, it pocketed $9,928 million. Its $3m fine is around .01 percent of its annual profit.

What happens if a worker takes so-called “unprotected” industrial action?  Is there an invitation to negotiate a penalty?  Perhaps an agreement to pay .01 percent of the worker’s annual savings (his/her “profit”) of say, $4,895?  That’d hurt.  Wow, 50 cents.  That’s the scale of the CBA “penalty”.

“Regulatory capture” and the Tax Office

Swinburne Law School corporate governance research fellow Helen Bird said there are concerns about "regulatory capture", where the enforcement agency is in thrall to the institutions it is meant to be watching over.

And it’s not just ASIC.  Even such a powerful body as the Australian Tax Office is “in thrall” to the big end of town.  It is well-known that hundreds of the biggest corporations in Australia (including some of the largest foreign-owned entities such as the anti-worker EXXON Corporation) year after year pay no tax at all on their Australian earnings.

In 2014, the Business Council of Australia and law firm Clayton Utz held a seminar on European attempts to compel companies to pay tax.

Business participants sought assurances that sections of the transfer-pricing legislation introduced by the Labor government when it held office would not be used to try to recover untaxed Australian profits.

Enter the regulator.  Deputy Tax Commissioner Mark Konza assured business that the tax commissioner would not “go crazy with this power”.  In fact, he said, the powers would be “rarely implemented” because of associated legal difficulties.

Big business was further assured that then Prime Minister Abbott’s decision to slash 3000 jobs at the Tax Office would probably hamper what little effort the ATO may have been planning to put into the task.

It was a “nudge-nudge wink-wink” joke amongst class friends that any attempt to come after the rich would be a pretence.

Imagine if a worker contemplating taking “unprotected” industrial action was assured by the unFair Work Commission that it “wouldn’t go crazy with its power” to enforce its $12,600 penalty, that such a penalty would be “rarely implemented”, and that it was slashing its own staff to further hamper any effort to penalise the worker.

No, in a society that is class-ridden, the law applies unequally to those at the top and to those at the bottom. In theory, there’s regulation and control of workers and the rich.

In practice, for workers, there is always a tough cop on the beat to match the soft cop for the elite.

That’s the way it’s always been, and that’s the way it will always be until we change the system by taking from the rich their right to rule.

That means socialism and an anti-imperialist independent Australia.


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