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Game of Mates: How Favours Bleed the Nation

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James is our most mundane villain. His victim is Bruce, our typical Aussie, who bleeds from the hip pocket because of James’ actions. Game of Mates tells a tale of economic theft across major sectors of Australia’s economy, showing how James and his group of well-connected Mates siphon off billions from the economy to line their own pockets. In property, mining, transport, banking, superannuation, and many more sectors, James and his Mates cooperate to steal huge chunks of the economic pie for themselves. If you want to know how much this costs the nation, how it is done, and what we can do about it, Game of Mates is the book for you.

210 pages, ebook

Published April 5, 2017

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Cameron Murray

2 books9 followers

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5 stars
84 (35%)
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107 (45%)
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33 (13%)
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11 (4%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 36 reviews
78 reviews7 followers
February 27, 2018
This is a difficult book to rate. There's enough wrong with it to justify an extremely negative review,* but I still think it was worth reading.

It's a somewhat convincing, reasonably approachable account of grey-area corruption in Australian politics and business. I think a lot of the content will be at least somewhat familiar to most of us, but the book helps to crystallise some important patterns. Having read it, I will be more likely to identify the telltale signs of corruption, favour-trading and rent-seeking, and less likely to uncritically accept the usual justifications peddled by those who stand to benefit.

However, it doesn't contain enough hard evidence or careful, detailed analysis to make anything close to a watertight case. If I wasn't already inclined to believe the main thesis of the book, I would not have been convinced by it.

It's also extremely sloppily written. It's full not only of typos and misplaced words, but of ungrammatical sentences. Some sections read like university essays written by a passionate, smart, but careless and not particularly eloquent student. The book seems to have been self-published, and I suspect that the authors did not employ an editor. (Really the problems seem to be more at the subeditor/proofreader level; honestly I don't know how the publishing process works. But whoever normally saves authors from their own sloppiness did not work on this book.) Most of the time this is a minor annoyance, but eventually my inability to trust that any given sentence would actually make sense made the reading experience rather stressful. And, fairly or not, it makes the authors seem less credible.

Game of Mates is an inelegant polemic, but a sincere one grounded in an important reality. Perhaps it's stuck in a no-man's-land: it's not sufficiently rigorous to convince sceptics or academics, but (even if we ignore the desperate need for an editor) nor is it quite punchy or exciting enough to become a bestseller. I recommend it, but I hope it will soon be superseded by better books on the same topic.


* but not this one -- www.cis.org.au/app/uploads/2017/09/33... -- written by a consultant & former public servant who:
- tells us that Murray and Frijters can't possibly be right because Australia scores well on the global perceived-corruption index, is not exceptionally unequal by OECD standards, and is still a rich, functional country;
- writes that "the authors note 'In the strict legal sense, [those who play the Game] may not be corrupt' (p. 16). In which case, it is difficult to know exactly what they are complaining about.";
- calls the rather tame final chapter "a Communist Manifesto-style call to arms"; and
- concludes by blithely assuring us that "To an extent, a lot of what the authors have identified is obvious. Well-connected people do better in life. That has been observed for a long time".
Profile Image for Matt Wright.
66 reviews
June 22, 2017
I was recommended this book by the operators of the Macrobusiness.com.au website, where Cameron Murray is a contributor.

Overall I found this an interesting albeit unsurprising look into the way that public interests are often usurped by the interests of small groups of wealthy industrialists through a 'game' of reciprocal favours including 'grey gifting' that occurs between government decision makers and those that they are supposed to be regulating. By having a close look at the actions of trusted insiders within the industries of property, Private Public Projects, transport, superannuation, transport, university, health and defence the authors claim that these 'mates' have siphoned off enormous wealth for themselves and for the wider circle of mates by making it easier to give each other 'grey gifts' and then erect huge barriers to entry (through personal connections, manipulation of the population at large through enormous media campaigns and finally industry regulation) against other profit-minded groups who might try to muscle in on their gig, or shut it down.

Murray and his team do not claim that there is just a small group of individuals to blame for growing inequality in Australia, instead they show that a pig at the trough in one industry might be getting ripped off as badly as the rest of us when other industries are brought into focus. The overall effect of all these leeches is that there is less wealth available for those without some skin in this 'game' and they will continue to suffer economically and personally.

The book doesnt name names (at least many of them) and instead keeps things general so that the average punter like I can grasp things. It suggests a number of ways that we could potentially improve things so that these groups have less room to manoeuvre and spin their stories to justify their actions.

In summary this was a light, easy read that is deserving of your time even if you have only a passing interest in the economy and growing inequality. Hopefully Murray and 'his mates' will be encouraged to continue to write and discuss the Australian economy again in the future.

2 reviews
April 30, 2017
This book is a manifesto for everything that's wrong in Australia's politics and economics. The authors not only describe how the average Australian is being ripped off by the 'Game of Mates' of the elite classes, but also name many of the people who are doing it. A must-read for every Australian voter.
Profile Image for Einzige.
285 reviews11 followers
November 2, 2021
A fun little primer on 21st Century corruption in Australia

What does corruption look like in a society that “isn’t corrupt”? This book answers this question (albeit simplistically) showing how more classical forms of corruption such bribes or direct theft of public money by politicians has evolved into a sophisticated culture of mutual favour sharing of grey gifts/favourable discretionary treatment and where a revolving door between private and government employment exists. In such a system, instead of money being taken directly policies and projects are created which shifts the future tax burden and costs away from the well-connected to the government those on the outside which keeps it largely hidden even if the effects are broadly felt.

It does this by showing the unfortunately common examples of this in action in Australia in the property development, infrastructure and mining sectors and a handful others.

Even as I write this review the today’s news furnishes me with what looks to be an unusually blatant example of this. As part of the response to COVID-19 Australia initiated the largest economic support plan in Australia’s history – the Jobkeeper allowance, which was designed to provide employers who faced sustained lower turnover with payments to keep people employed. It is now emerging that of the $89 billion allocated to this program $38 billion was provided to companies which didn’t meet the minimum turnover loss threshold and that of this 1.3 billion dollars went to companies which tripled their turnover during the process.

Lastly it does have a populist flair to it that starts to wear thin after awhile
119 reviews
December 9, 2020
The Game of Mates is as the title suggests - just like Game of Thrones without any of the good stuff.

Jest aside, the book is written in a very casual way. It is easy to follow, and all the concepts are communicated very clearly. The elites in a certain area or field are described as 'James', while the common Australian is marked as 'Bruce'. The writers deserve credit for making the book quite accessible, although the writing style had its own cons of being overly simplistic at times (which I'll get to later). As an aside, I had some issue with the common Australian being a 'Bruce', which really does not pay much homage to how diverse the country is within its capital cities.

The topics in the book range from property development, to taxes, superannuation and mining rights. All areas which are either debated issues or vital to the Australian economy. The authors do a good job in breaking down the rules and regulations of these industries, and the 'grey gifts' (or hidden benefits) which the elites receive as part of the "Game of Mates". A Game, which involves a lot of political favours, and movement between private and public sectors.

There are instances where I feel the authors made some claims which were highly questionable. For example, the appeal to the jury system as a model for making government decisions, or the assertion that people know how to save . Presenting opinions of this nature as incontrovertible facts without exploring them further in-depth did not help the objectivity of the book, and resulted in some raised eyebrows. The black and white approach the authors took, while assisting the reader understand the book, in my view was not nuanced enough for a book of the nature to truly be incredible. It reads more as a well-researched opinion piece rather than a dissertation on the Game of Mates.

Even with the apparent flaws, I did feel that the book overall was enjoyable to read. I applaud the authors for shining the spotlight over some of the issues that are present in Australia, and raising awareness about best practice guidelines which are effective elsewhere.
March 6, 2020
The authors managed to turn a good feature article founded on solid journalism into a drawn out book that allowed their agenda to come through too strongly. No need to spend the time
Profile Image for Tyson Adams.
Author 5 books18 followers
October 10, 2019
I don't want to see the final season of Game of Mates, I've heard the entire thing falls flat.

Cameron Murray and Professor Paul Frijters set out to expose the inner workings of the Australian economy in Game of Mates. Through a series of case studies, they outline how a few (the Jameses) take from the many (the Bruces) by blurring the line between business and the regulators. Then, knowing that their readers will be suitably gobsmacked and annoyed, call for the masses (Bruces) to make a change.

As with any book about real-life grifting in the halls of power, this book made me annoyed and disillusioned. There is nothing more galling than to have someone show you how the grift is endemic and then realise you kinda knew. We kinda all know. There is no surprise here. And that means there is no "justice". Cue scene of me staring out the window as rain drips down it.

Murray and Frijters conclude with some ways to stop the grift:

1) Reclaim the value of grey gifts for the public.
Essentially, when the grifters rig the system they gift themselves advantage/money/power. We have to tear that down. One example was Public-Private Partnerships on infrastructure developments, which essentially end up being a gift of public assets to private businesses with a guaranteed profit underwritten by the public.

2) Disrupt (James') the grifters' coordination.
This is fairly obvious, stop the revolving door between public and private interests, put in oversight, make sure the oversight isn't part of the problem, etc.

3) Bust the myths (James) the grifters use.
This isn't just about addressing the claims cherry-picked "experts" will make, such as promoting projects that aren't needed (examples are given, there are plenty). This is also about reclaiming the narrative from these grifters. In Australia, this is particularly difficult as many of the media outlets are either owned or have close links to the same people grifting.

4) Fight back.
Disillusion can lead to apathy. That's what keeps us on the losing end.

Speaking of the losing end, the costs of this game are:
New Housing - 70% of the gains from rezoning;
Transportation infrastructure - 68% of the investment;
Superannuation - 27% gobbled up;
Mining - 48% of the profits;
Banking - 60% more expensive for the masses;
Taxes - 23% extra taxation borne by the masses (I've seen a figure suggesting this is a global issue and sees the average person taxed proportionally more);
Pharmacies, medicines, and health - 10% more expensive;
Higher education - 100% more expensive...

Okay, so clearly this book hit the mark and is enlightening. Why only three stars, I hear someone say? Well, while I appreciate your question, I'm wondering what you're doing in my house.

I think the problem I had with this book was the polemic style to it. We are told. I listed the figures above, and whilst those numbers are backed up, they are big claims that require fairly solid evidence. I felt the evidence was a bit flimsy. Not wrong, but maybe selective, or misrepresentative.

Another example was around how to stop the revolving door which amounted to banning people from getting a different job in the same industry. That's probably not as well thought out as it needs to be.

Game of Mates is worth reading but it felt underdone.
78 reviews
November 13, 2020
This should be compulsory reading in every secondary school in this country.
Profile Image for Pete.
896 reviews55 followers
March 14, 2022
Game of Mates : How Favours Bleed the Nation (2017) by Cameron Murray and Paul Frijters is an interesting look at how Australia really works and how public choice theory plays out in Australia. Murray and Frijters are both Australian economic academics. Murray is an interesting contrarian who was strongly against lockdowns, doesn’t think zoning drives up housing prices, seems to be for lower Australian immigration and who has tweeted favorably about Michael Schellenberger. Frijters also seems to agree with Murray about lockdowns.

The book described two groups in Australia, the connected mates, whose members are called James and the public who lose out with members called Bruce. For reference Australia is ranked as the 18th least corrupt country in the world in the corruptions perception index.

The book looks at how favours between mates in government and property sector are given for redevelopment. The system in the ACT where 75% of the profits from rezoning are taken by the government is seen as ideal. The book also references Henry George positively. Sadly however, the ACT now has very high housing prices, the ACT government having taken to increasing their own profits by reducing new supply. The game of mates between the ACT government and apartment builders is also pretty terrible now.

Game of Mates then makes a very strong case the Public Private Partnerships for roads have lost the public a lot of money. Then the Australian Superannuation system is examined and found to be full of overcharging by mates in Unions and the private sector. Also the tax exemptions for super in Australia are now so large that the whole system has become questionable.

The book moves on Mining and how mining leases are obtained and how the authors think that taxes on mining should be higher because it’s a resource that is being taken away from general use for the profit of businesses. They suggest Norway’s petroleum taxes as a model. They make the case well. They also honestly point out how the ALP government in Australia was undone when they tried to alter the system and the miners got what they wanted instead.

The Australian ‘big 4’ banking system is also described as something that takes money from everyday Australians by having higher rates than necessary despite having government guarantees on their profitable home loan businesses. The Australian restrictions on pharmacies are also described and how they lead to higher profits for pharmacists and costs for the public.

Finally the authors say how the public do periodically clean these things up, such as was done by the Hawke-Keating government in Australia, that set up the superannuation scheme and sold the Commonwealth Bank that the book complains about. They also suggest a panel of international experts be used. There seems to be little self-awareness that such a group would be subject to the same incentives that set up the game of mates as it exists now and would likely wind up the same way.

Game of Mates is well worth a read though. It makes a lot of good points. It shows how public choice theory explains things. Government is full of people who are very much interested in their own success and wealth. Many politicians and senior bureaucrats leave office and join firms that they had been making laws for, often drawing substantial salaries. Even in a place like Australia that is, on the whole pretty well run, those in power are often very much out for themselves to the detriment of the general populace.
Profile Image for MargCal.
471 reviews4 followers
November 30, 2017

Finished reading ... Game of mates : how favours bleed the nation / Cameron K Murray and Paul Frijters ... 26 November 2017
ISBN: 9780648061106 … pp.204 (incl. Appendix and References)

If you think you're being ripped off by the government – you are! But it's not just the government – politicians are in cahoots with Big Business, industry associations, unions, regualatory authorities and the public service. The appendix includes page after page of named individuals who have rotated through several of those positions thus ensuring that the bottom 80% have little chance of changing how this top 20% control your finances – both directly and indirectly through paying both more taxation and paying more than you should for a whole host of goods and services.
It will come as no surprise that the biggest offending industry groups are property 'development', mining, transportation and roads, superannuation and all sorts of insurance, health, education, and any PPP (public private partnership) at all.
What this book does is slot into place all the jigsaw pieces that you can see but find it hard to grasp in a comprehensive way. It's a game of “you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours” and players do favours for each other in expectation of longer term benefits even more so than instant benefits … which explains why some major players make political donations to both major parties, not just the one that would be their 'natural' home.
Examples are given of what could be done while saying in the next breath that it won't happen because of the near impossibility of breaking up the incestuous cabal-like structure. It points out that the only real way to stop the rot is prevention. It also says that where a cabal is broken it will soon appear again – that new players are no better or worse than the old, that anyone, no matter how good or moral is likely to do a favour for a mate … and only one favour can lock you in to ripping of most of us. And they do it using language in opposite ways to their normal usage meaning, words like fair, ethical, benefits.

A negative note on the production of the book. Game of Mates has been published by the authors (good on them!) who clearly didn't fork out for proper editing. There are enough spelling errors, typos and grammatical mistakes to be annoying.
Also, names are given to the manipulators and the manipulated. James for the top 20% and Bruce for the rest. As handy a shorthand as anything else possibly. But the variation on James is especially annoying - James, James', James's, Jameses. Sometimes it's used incorrectly and not always used consistently.

Highly recommended - This book will clarify your thinking, make you even more angry, raise your blood pressure – but should nevertheless be read by as many people as possible.
While written in an Australian context, this book is also relevant to UK and USA readers ... or any country really.

Borrowed from my local library.
Profile Image for Grace.
248 reviews1 follower
December 27, 2018
I felt like I was reading a manifesto or something similar with the “rise up and take back the money!” Vibe of this book. I think most people in Australia know they are living in a game of mates where James is constantly stealing from Bruce. Sometimes it’s overt, sometimes it’s sneaky like the first home buyer grants. This book isn’t shocking in revealing just how much Bruce has been fleeced and I feel that the sometimes simplistic review of certain issues took away any real persuasive power to incite Bruce to rise up. Property development was one I felt needed greater analysis with a greater focus of the powers of Councils/local government. Despite what the author may think Town Planners and engineers are more and more pushed out of rezoning and consent, rather it’s senior administrative staff who over rule technical staff or just do favours for mates. Would be interested to read the author’s analysis of the banking royal commission.
Profile Image for Lee Belbin.
1,031 reviews6 followers
September 10, 2017
This is certainly a must read for any Australian 18 years old or older (or anyone really). Why? It outlines the economic significance of 'it is WHO you know'. It clearly explains why the gap between the rich an poor in Australia (and in many other countries) is growing. The authors illustrate how the system works across government, property development, transportation, superannuation, banking, mining, education and many other sectors of society. They not only detail the issue, the identify best current practice worldwide and provide mechanism how the corruption and cronyism could be addressed. This is one scary and somewhat depressing read, but not to read it means you are far more likely to be on the loosing end. I'm going to do the best I can to promote this book as the first step for a better world. No wonder why people are increasingly fed up with politics.
Profile Image for Jim Parker.
248 reviews6 followers
October 19, 2017
You'll learn more about how Australian politics, policy and business works from this one book than you will from years reading the 'quality' press. It's a clear-eyed expose of the deeply entrenched, Mafia-style, greasing-each others-wheels that masquerades as policy-making in this country. The authors use the device of two characters - James is the insider, the pokie baron or mining executive or banker who uses his clubby connections with politicians, regulators and bureaucrats to feather his own nest, all the while selling his interest as the public interest (supported by a corrupt and concentrated media). The other character is Bruce, who stands in for the rest of us, the bulk of the population whose pockets are raided repeatedly by the James brigade. Read it. Then write to your MP, demanding a Federal ICAC.
Profile Image for Andrew Thelander.
Author 8 books2 followers
September 17, 2018
This is a book every Australian should read. It describes the mechanism of valuable favours that underpins our political decision-making, decision-making that is falsely lauded as based on "the public good" but is really a servant of private greed. The authors use an entertaining device of pitting James, the recipient of valuable "grey gifts" from mates, against poor old Bruce, the hapless taxpayer whose public monies are shafted away from works in the public good to lining the pockets of a mysterious elite who communicate by signal. The term "grey gifting" is long overdue in the public language when discussing politics and corruption. I can only hope this book becomes widely read and remedies this oversight. A well-researched, articulate and balanced assessment of our political culture. I highly recommend it.
January 9, 2022
I found this book to be an insightful and horrifying glimpse into the sometimes hidden, but often plainly visible, machinations of government and industries across the economy. Although I had read some reviews - which were highly critical of the authors’ writing style as being sloppy, erroneous, and sounding like a spirited but misguided university student - I overall found the book to balance detail and digestible language. The content of the book was absolutely shocking, and will shatter any semblance of naïveté or belief in many of the public and private institutions in our country. One of my favourite parts of the book had to do with the sociology of the main villain of the story (James), which focused not on demonising these people who fill this fictional role, yet justified how their behaviours are human behaviours. One take away from this book would be that it is not productive nor helpful to play into culture wars and class tensions, rather it is vitally important to hold on to empathy, understanding, and a strong desire for principled change.

I am glad that I read this book and would recommend it to others.
79 reviews1 follower
July 21, 2019
Strange book looking at cronyism, regulatory capture and other forms of soft corruption in several Australian sectors (including property development, transport infrastructure, banking and mining).

It's strongest when talking about specific good and bad policy examples, such as the change-of-use fees in the ACT to ensure developers don't get all of the benefits of rezoning. The details are sometimes left out in favor of generalities which seem unconvincing as a result.

I call it strange because, although the authors have strong academic credentials, it reads like the ranting of a crazy person; every second sentence ends with an exclamation mark. Presumably the intention is for lay readers to rise up and put the nearest bloke named James in the guillotine.
Profile Image for Ietrio.
6,643 reviews25 followers
March 14, 2022
A book made for a public that should not think of:
1. Why do incompetents are named in important functions?
2. Why does the Government has such large sums of money?
3. Why there is no legal responsibility for those who give away favor?
4. Why aren't the sums recuperated from the bureaucrats and politicians?
5. Why aren't there limits on how much a corrupt official can spend?
6. Why are the bureaucrats empowered with the money printing machine?
7. Why isn't the working people asked for approval on spending?

No. Murray is just another tool who serves the machine against the public. You should hate those pointed out by this clown, and work harder, because the Government needs more money for their friends.
Profile Image for Eugene Heo.
34 reviews
February 21, 2023
An interesting read for sure. I liked the coverage of different industries and the opportunities for corruption in each industry. It was also dumbed down enough for any average reader (aka me) to grasp the issues. Also liked that every section ended with a recommendation about how policies could be improved.

I think the book’s weakness is also how vague the issues are. Because the author doesn’t divulge much specific information, there is never a deep dive into a specific case in the main section of the book. The way the book is sectioned doesn’t always make sense, especially in the second half of the book.

I’d definitely still recommend as an introduction into how relationships in Australian politics and business could be impacting you negatively in unexpected ways.
7 reviews1 follower
August 12, 2017
Fundamental human instincts to cooperate and trade even when this harms many others. Indirect corruption by favours

Laws and regulations fail to manage control of self benefits due to hidden group corruption. The concept of grey gifts, which governments leave around to enrich those that are in the trading circle. Government foresigh and public benefit is lost by special deals to capture national wealth among mates. Australian government now captured by various cartels of mates, and institutionalised deals that steal half of public wealth. This removes the capacity for fair and appropriate policy and administration. Prevention is far easier than late remedy.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
411 reviews6 followers
November 15, 2017
This book is both compelling and depressing and will probably make most readers angry. Furthermore, it should be mandatory reading for everyone. The only downside is that some of the phrasing was a bit clumsy and there were quite a few typos. I initially wondered where their editor was, and then I realised, they probably didn't have one. The book doesn't appear to have been published by a publishing house, but rather by the authors themselves. I suspect that they probably had trouble finding a publisher for it so self-published it. For this reason, I am inclined to forgive them their clumsy phrasing and typos and give it full marks.
Profile Image for Diana Reynolds.
Author 10 books4 followers
May 27, 2017
OMG doesn't cover it. Shouting that from the rooftops might just! If you the Aussie citizen has been feeling disgruntled, dismayed, uncertain about the political & social landscape we find ourselves in, then this is a book that will confirm and shock you with its insights. I wish every Aussie could imbibe the concerns & perceptions expressed here. Its brilliant, a shocker and a call to apolitical arms for a fast diminishing way of life that we are losing with the wealth of the nation being scewed not in favour of us the people, but the rich, wealthy & powerful.
19 reviews4 followers
May 30, 2021
Makes you look at the way government and the private sector operate in a whole new way.

It is a system that can only be described as legal racketeering to enrich the minority.

This is a very easy read, with lots of real examples and fascinating stories you will hardly believe, I highly recommend this book.

Profile Image for Lauren.
762 reviews1 follower
January 11, 2018
Very interesting, and keen to hear more from this author, especially on twitter. It's good to have this counter opinion, but now I feel frustrated because I don't see anything changing along the lines he suggests.
Profile Image for Matt.
12 reviews
September 10, 2019
This book was both stomach turning and engrossing at the same time.
Profile Image for John Macgregor.
Author 1 book14 followers
October 4, 2019
The best description of the nuts and bolts of plutocracy that I've read, from any country.

It shows you how the game is played, & how we are played, in painful detail. And the way to end it.
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