DON’T hold your breath in expectation of a government apology for opposing and delaying the Banking Royal Commission.
As they sidestep a proper apology, expect a reframing, embracing and claiming credit for outcomes from the Royal Commission. Expect a rewriting of reluctantly being dragged kicking and screaming to establish the inquiry.
The government would have you believe they were already taking tough action.
They argue: “The inquiry will not defer, delay or limit, in any way, any proposed or announced policy, legislation or regulation that we are currently implementing”.
Announcement of tougher penalties strangely coinciding with revelations at the Banking Royal Commission of unethical, unscrupulous and unprincipled conduct by some of our major financial institutions.
The influence of the finance sector over the government was on show in the lead up to the final decision to establish a “Royal Commission into the alleged misconduct of Australia’s banks and other financial services entities”. The financial sector did not want its dirty laundry or dodgy practices aired in public and the government were trying to protect these mates.
The “rumours” of misconduct did not move Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. It was the Federal Parliament. He saw the writing on the wall. He argued again and again that there was already enough oversight built into the financial systems.
His reluctance, his support for the financial sector, was obvious even in his statement establishing the inquiry: “Ongoing speculation and fear-mongering about a banking inquiry or Royal Commission is disruptive and risks undermining the reputation of Australia’s world-class financial system”.
Speculation and fear mongering! The evidence is now coming through loud and clear. In the banking sector there is much more than “speculation and fear mongering”. Those who pushed for the inquiry apparently do not move in the same circles nor receive the large donations to the Liberal Party.
The Prime Minister’s arguments included: “We have one of the strongest and most stable banking, superannuation and financial services industries in the world, performing a critical role in underpinning the Australian economy. Our banking system is systemically strong with internationally recognised world’s best prudential regulation and oversight”.
The government is now singing from a different hymn book. Former Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce at least had the good grace to apologise “as beyond disturbing” dire revelations surface. He told ABC Radio National Drive program: “My previous position of not wanting a royal commission was wrong. So I was wrong.”
“Point scoring” is the response of Treasurer Scott Morrison. Financial Services Minister Kelly O’Dwyer, who was opposed to a royal commission, has now launched a series of tough laws on financial institutions claiming they were consistent with the Federal government’s long-term intention to pull the financial services sector into line. The penalties include 10 years gaol for criminal offences and for corporations fines up to $210 million.
The government should be squirming. Resisting the Royal Commission was simply daft policy and daft politics. Accepting large donations delivers daft political outcomes. Ordinary folk will see the irony in the Prime Minister’s statement: “Trust in a well-functioning banking and financial services industry promotes financial system stability, growth, efficiency and innovation over the long term”.
Erosion of trust is increasing in both the financial sector and in government.
Michael Moore is a former member of the ACT Legislative Assembly and an independent minister for health in the Carnell government. He has been a political columnist with “CityNews” since 2006.