Feb 29, 2012

Cabbies & Corruption

It was a line I wish I could take credit for. A line I wish, desperately, that I had invented.
I was travelling in a cab on Wednesday morning, scrambling to get to an Anna Bligh media conference. I’d had to leave behind the nice Irish electrician working on a full refit of the lights in Chez Clumsy; his job made particularly interesting by a sudden power outage.
After I gave my destination as the Executive Building in George Street, the cabbie - a pleasant enough chap around 60, with a broad nose and belly to match – began laying into our current crop of politicians.
At first I wasn’t paying close attention as I tried to remember if I’d packed everything in my case for our next campaign trip away. But I perked up a little as he started referring to Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen as “the only politician I had any respect for”, due to the trains running on time, and power problems like today’s being fixed within minutes. But it was Joh’s abolition of death duties, according to my erstwhile escort, that made Queensland what it is today, and really helped out his family with their farm at Gin Gin.
Also, there was something about his great-grandfather’s brother’s niece being someone rescued from the Titanic. “Cross my heart,” he said, “But that’s a different story.”
When I sought to question his unfailing devotion to Sir Joh, asking “Surely his government had systemic corruption issues, though?”, this was his immediate, glorious response:
“Yes, but it was good corruption. Because you could see it.”

I kept quiet after that, as he started going on about the “faceless men” and the recent federal Labor turmoil and how nobody voted for Julia Gillard, and they’re going to lose votes, you mark my words.

Good corruption.
It’s intriguing as a concept, but actually somewhat hard to define.
To me, good corruption would be receiving free cosmetics in exchange for testing and reviewing them. That would be truly excellent corruption, ethical decay that I would embrace as firmly as Clive Palmer embraces legal action against politicians, football leagues, and a bloke who once looked at him funny at a Sizzler.
But I doubt a lipstick racket would have attracted Tony Fitzgerald’s attention. Well, unless they were dealing in frosted pinks.
So from the cabbie’s perspective, brown paper bag drops, illegal gaming dens and police colluding with underworld figures to control drugs and prostitution was “good” corruption, because at least if you wandered through Fortitude Valley circa 1987 you could feel safe and comfortable in the knowledge police and other government officials all had far more interesting things to do than bust you for walking down the wrong side of the street or being a SEQEB worker.
If only Richard Nixon had embraced good corruption. Imagine the immortal phrase “I AM a crook!” ringing out with pride, as Tricky Dicky stripped naked and rubbed himself with 18 minutes’ worth of tape, Checkers the spaniel licking the spittle from the side of his mouth. Perverse? Yeah. Morally bankrupt? Sure. But damnit, at least you knew it for what it was. Good, honest corruption. Put him on the dollar bill, already.
"I got this chandelier in exchange for some pandas."
But maybe the cabbie had a point.
No, okay, he didn’t, but go with me.
I’m on the campaign trail at the moment, which requires me travelling with politicians.  Both the Bligh and Newman buses have had treats onboard to hand out to passengers, including us journalists.
Technically, I could be accused of corrupt behaviour, by accepting either red frogs from the ALP or homemade brownies from the LNP.  Who knows how sugar might persuade me? What if I was a drinker, and accepted a friendly alcoholic beverage from a party adviser? After all, power corrupts, but Absolut power corrupts Absolut-ly.
Sorry, what are we talking about again?
It’s somewhat sad for me to say that only thing being damaged by these travels is my waistline. I’m still reporting the facts objectively.
But I could have lied to you, or said nothing about the sweets.  But then, would that stop it being technical good corruption, and take it into the realm of – gasp – bad corruption? The corruption of boardrooms, banks, bigwigs: scandalous payouts; tax rorts; secret dealings.
I’ve travelled to many countries – not just third world – where judicious greasing of the wheel is a regular part of life. An extra handling fee here, a convenience payment there.
Sometimes it seems like the world runs on corruption, both “good” and “bad”, according to my cabbie’s definition.
So what’s better? Having it out in the open, being treated almost as a curiosity? Or forcing it underground? If it is the human condition to gather as many big ones as one can for oneself and one’s loved ones - legitimately or not – then is it worth the fight against our own nature?


  1. I remember the Joh days...
    Nothing like shutting down a protest with a bunch of fat cops wielding batons around like inflatable toys at a chez clumsy pool party.
    Good times.

  2. Ah yes...Good times...
    You always knew who's side the cops were on
    Damian, where are you??? We need you !!!
    The Ancient Man

  3. Remember the Joh days well - grew up with the unspoken acknowledgement of what a joke the place was (Dad swearing at the TV on an almost nightly basis gave the game away). It was like the elephant in the room.

    I think those days were worse. There was such an inevitability about the whole thing. Elections were held but there was no hope of anybody else winning so what was the point? You just lived for the day when something, anything would bring the whole thing down.

    And it did ... but God it took long enough.

  4. Forgot to mention that a point of pride to me is that in the 70s, while chatting to a woman at a bus stop, my grandfather detoured into one of his anti-Joh spiels. The woman started going purple. Turns out she was actually some relative of Joh's

    Saved by the bus to Wickham Terrace.