Bert Kelly, The Australian Financial Review, November 11, 1977, p. 3.
I have never made any secret of the fact that the quality that I envy most in my political colleagues is their fast footwork.
I laboriously clamber on to high points of principle and stand there like Horatio on the bridge or the boy on the burning deck, but my colleagues, being cleverer and fleet of foot, quickly retreat to some other point of political wisdom, leaving your poor Modest Member standing alone, polishing his halo and not quite certain who persuaded him to stand for something about which he is not certain.
But even more I envy the agility of those captains of industry who are so eloquent about their devotion to the cause of private enterprise in public, but who are so quick to sell their principles down the drain in private negotiations with governments.
When I remonstrate with them their answer is quick: “It’s easy for you to upbraid us,” they say, “but our first duty is to our shareholders.”
“They elected us to our positions on the board. We must obtain for them the maximum dividend. So if we appear to sell our principles for 30 pieces of silver, it’s for the best reasons.”
So one first point of principle after another disappears down the drain of immediate financial and political advantage.
And the bigger the companies, the bigger the temptation.
If captains of industry can then be seen to be co-operating with the Government they are seen as men of vision, people able to operate the system, able to influence the Government.
So their position in the company hierarchy will be assured. They will be seen as cunning manipulators of the political machine.
So they will be retained in their positions of power and regarded with affectionate cynicism by the Government.
So the principles of private enterprise are not eroded away, by the small capitalists, the battlers, the farmers, the chap with the corner store.
No one worries much about people of that like, they do not loom large in the political scene.
The big companies are the people with their mouths close to the Government’s ear, they have most to gain by keeping in with the Government.
Whatever Government is in power the process is much the same — the bigger they are, the more likely they are to know which side their bread is buttered.
So the big mining companies retreat from one point of principle to another, full of good intentions, full of determination that one day they will stand and fight for the principles of free enterprise which they so loudly proclaim.
“But not just now because there is a chance that the Government will give us another tariff subsidy if we were subservient,” they say.
“Or if we are polite, some civil servant will see that our import quota is left undisturbed and that’s worth a million or two to our company.”
So the big companies wander along the path to their inevitable doom, knowing in their hearts that they are betraying their principles, but proclaiming that they are doing so for the best of reasons.
“It is our duty to our shareholders,” they say, and almost believe it.
But they should know that the bigger they are the easier they will be picked off one day.
When the real crunch comes the real enemies of socialism will not be the big powerful multinational companies, they will be easily dealt with later.
The capitalists most feared by the socialists is the small man, the chap with the corner store, the farmer, the little factory owner, the people who don’t know how to behave, who aren’t cunning enough to compromise.
I have an uneasy feeling that when the time comes to hang the capitalists, the hangman will be killed in the rush of big capitalists trying to sell him the rope.
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