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Howard's End: Politicians’ Perks That Bite Back

Politicians in Australia are enjoying millions of dollars of free hospitality, free travel and free tickets to top sports events, while in the US the collapse of energy giant Enron, the symbol of how big business and politics sometimes conspire to fix the game, is turning ugly for the Bush administration. Maree Howard writes.

In Australia, companies like cigarette giant Philip Morris, are lavishing gifts of access-all-areas tickets on MP's from both major parties.

Investment giants AMP, Testra, Visy, Optus, and Westpac were also some of the biggest spenders on political gifts.

An investigation has also found that several ministers have accepted hospitality from companies within the scope of their portfolios.

Free tickets to the Olympic Games, the tennis and motorsports events were among the favoured events for corporations to show politicians a good time.

The packages have included oysters, lobsters and fine wine with wives and children also invited to attend. Some gifts have included free flights and accommodation.

It is also revealed that MP, Peter Cook, was given an all-expenses paid trip to New Zealand for the 2000 America's Cup yacht series by brewer Lion Nathan.

AMP spent $100 million on Olympic sponsorship including hospitality for 16 mainly government MPs. Philip Morris shouted 14 MPs to sports events and Telstra footed the bill for six coalition Ministers at the Olympics.

Under Parliamentary rules members are allowed to accept hospitality but must declare freebies above $200.

Independent MP, Peter Andren said corporate perks were a dangerous trend that should be curtailed.

"There's always a very, very hazy line between hospitality from a corporation and one's duties as an impartial representative," he said.

Meanwhile, in the United States, things are turning ugly for the Bush administration with eight separate congressional probes into the collapse of Texas energy giant Enron, and its relationship to President Bush.

The Justice Department also has an investigation underway with many of the unanswered questions concerning the White House.

What the public will learn about in the coming months is how business gets done down in Texas. How a small group of business leaders exerts enormous clout on the Bush team in getting rules changed to their benefit.

It will explain why Bush has locked up presidential records and wiped out any opposition voices. It will explain what influence Enron Chief Executive, Ken Lay, had on the administration's energy policy when Lay and advisors met six times while the vice president was putting together the energy policy.

It will explain the source of hundreds of thousands of dollars of donations to political campaigns.

Enron will be a real thorn in Bush’s side for months to come particularly with the congressional elections later this year.

It's an ugly story and one which explains a lot about what's going on in Washington - and it's only just begun.


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