Article by Slade Brockman courtesy of The West Australian.
The phrase “don’t bite the hand that feeds you” was first seen in print in the 18th century, though it is thought to significantly pre-date this time.
Political theorist Edmund Burke, one of the Enlightenment founders of conservatism and liberalism, used the phrase to reflect the tendency of humanity to take for granted what it has.
I could not help thinking of this phrase when reading of climate activists claiming a “win” from what they describe as a “fossil free festival season” (The West, 3/1).
After a five-year campaign they claim it as a success that no corporate sponsorship from oil or gas companies is flowing to major WA art festivals.
But wait a moment. In the absence of generous corporate sponsorship, where do these events — such as Fringe and Perth Festival — get their funding? A quick look at their websites reveals a pattern. The money now seems to come from predominantly government sources; government departments, Lotterywest, local governments and the like.
So, it is the taxpayers and the ratepayers who end up footing the bill. Plus, society faces an almost invisible opportunity cost with Lotterywest picking up these sponsorships at the cost of many smaller community projects.
Let’s ponder a little more deeply still: where do the activists think the money in our tax coffers — both State and Federal — is coming from?
It is coming, in significant measure, from our mining and oil and gas companies both directly — through company taxes and royalties — and indirectly — from the people employed in high-paying jobs thanks to these industries.
Let’s look at a few numbers.
In the State Budget, royalties contributed over $12bn in 2022-23. Mining represents around one-third of State Government revenue. Federally, ATO data reveals that the mining industry contributes more than $40bn in company tax — around 5 per cent of ALL company tax paid in Australia in the 2021-22 financial year.This remarkable contribution should not just be seen in terms of abstract numbers. Mining not only represents jobs and growing wealth, it also represent money for schools and hospitals, defence funding, investment in new roads and other infrastructure, and on and on.
However, the activists apparently don’t see the hypocrisy in attacking sponsorships from major companies, but ignoring where significant government revenue and societal wealth comes from.
We have seen this similar activist attitude in other areas. The attacks from activists on Woodside’s key sponsorship of the Freo Dockers, for example. Thankfully sense prevailed, and this great WA company was not ‘dumped’ by Freo as those activists wanted.
We saw ideology at play again in the loss of Gina Rinehart’s generous and long-lasting sponsorship of Netball Australia. And who stepped in but the Victorian Government (or should I say taxpayers) — one of the most indebted governments in history.
Corporate sponsorships are not only an important way of companies building their place in society — something they can and should do — they also take the burden off taxpayers.
Governments cannot and should not be looked to as a never-ending cash cow of largesse. Governments have an important role, but civil and corporate society have just as important a role (if not more so). Activists’ attacks on success — attacks the hardworking hands that have created the wealth and success of our society — are biting the hand that has “fed” us.
If you kill key industries off in WA — as the activists want — not only will we be poorer and have less government services, we will also be much less likely to be able to enjoy things like festivals.
There is also a lesson for governments here. Labor governments, State and Federal, have allowed the activist approach to become embedded in their thinking.
This has led them to be hesitant and hypocritical about the mining industry — funding organisations that bog approvals down in years of litigation, ignoring its contribution to our nation’s wealth and government surpluses, and willingly stepping into funding gaps created by the activists.
This is not a sustainable approach.
As Edmund Burke also said, “When the leaders choose to make themselves bidders at an auction of popularity, their talents, in the construction of the state, will be of no service.”
Governments that think this way, inevitably see taxpayers (corporations AND individuals) as mere sources of tax revenue. Taxpayers become the cash cows to be milked at the whim of the noisiest voices.
Most Australians understand and celebrate the success of our mining and gas industries. They understand that society would be poorer and dirtier without their success.
Instead of listening to the activists’ voices that attack them, let’s instead acknowledge the valuable contribution they make to our vibrant society.
Slade Brockman is a Liberal senator for WA.