MUNGO MACCALLUM. Who could have predicted that Kenneth Hayne would turn out to be such an old softie?

For months the stern, uncompromising judicial figure has presided over his royal commission with imperial authority,  a veritable Judge Dredd inspiring fear and trepidation among scores of witnesses ever wary that at any moment he could reach for the black cap.  And when his verdict was delivered, it was appropriately full of fire and brimstone, excoriating the pit of depravity that is the banking system and all those associated with it.  At least, those were the words, but the reality turned out to be something so reassuring that bank shares across the board leapt in relief.  Kenneth Hayne was actually a pussy cat. 

The malevolent elephant in the room, identified by Paul Keating (who else?) — the integration of financial products and the advisers who spruik them— remained untouched. But more importantly for the public, those who ran the conspiracy, which involved, as has been revealed, years of  lies, fraud, theft and associated offences which would have landed normal people in jail for years.

Some were admonished with a slap on the wrist and a warning not to do it again. Others, like the NAB’s dynamic duo Andrew Thorburn and Ken Henry, were given a more severe tickle with the Hayne feather; he was not convinced of their understanding and contrition, naughty boys.

This was reported as a terrible tongue lashing, which self-evidently it was not. In the end the miscreants left their current positions, lugging bucket loads of ill-gotten gains while they contemplated their next depredations.

A come-down, especially for Henry, once regarded as the hero who rescued Australia from the GFC crisis, but hardly the kind of punishment the victims expected and demanded. And, as one cartoonist suggested, he can always fill in the time by offering mortgages to his beloved hairy-nosed wombats.

Hayne did mention the possibility of criminal proceedings, but if they are to occur it will be through APRA and ASIC, the two toothless poodles Hayne had already dismissed as failing to do their job – we are not holding our breaths. It is hard not to believe that Hayne was a judge at the Nuremberg trials, he would have let off Hermann Hesse as a first offender.

In the short term this can be seen as deeply disappointing, even a cop out. But the longer term danger is the message it gives to the other fat cats of the system:  if you are a blue collar crook you will be arrested, charged and imprisoned, but if you are rich and powerful, you won’t really have to worry; your elitist peer group will look after you. Too big too fail, too big too jail.

Justice is not seen to be equal — indeed, it is not even seen to be justice. And so the ethical desert, the moral vacuum, prevails, and the lesson will not be lost on our political masters: whatever it takes, whatever you can get away with.

Which leads us to the gold medal shonkery of Tim Wilson’s so-called inquiry into Labor’s policy on removing tax refunds for those who do not pay tax.

From the start this exercise was mean and tricky; parliamentary committees were established to analyse and examine major issues of policy on the behalf of the parliament, and by definition very few of these will involve promises from the opposition.

Wilson’s travelling road show is not remotely interested in examination or analysis; it is a populist Liberal campaign, pure and simple. It could fairly be described as an updated version of Scott Morrison’s blue bus tour, equally vacuous and equally phoney.

But in fact it is far worse than that; the taxpayer-funded jaunt does not have even a veneer of justification. There is no agenda, no witness lists; the idea is to scare self-interested and largely uninformed victims into voting for the Liberal Party. And if there is any doubt about,  they are to be handed out party applications and urged to contribute to the party coffers.

Well-heeled lobby groups have been co-ordinated to reinforce the meetings, and others have been formed to pretend that they are grassroots movements resisting a tax grab. There have been accusations that Wilson has handed out confidential information from the electoral roll to assist them, but he denies that – obviously it was pure coincidence.

However, there is to be no serious debate at the meetings, and definitely no dissent: one objector who correctly described the party rally as a sham and a scam, was summarily ejected. Your taxes at work.

The idea is to distract from the uncomfortable fact that a large majority of those who benefit from the concession devised by Peter Costello are the wealthy; in spite of the best efforts by the Murdoch mob to unearth some battlers in their ranks, these are hard to locate. On one occasion they targeted the long-time Liberal party apparatchik Jon Gaul, who is not short on either the ideology or a few bucks.

And those who trouser the loot are invariably described as hard-working Australians who have saved all their lives in order to save the taxpayers the expense of taking a pension. Well, perhaps; but lining up for the taxpayers for this unique perk hardly qualifies them as “self-funded” retirees. If you are after a government benefit, it doesn’t really matter to which department you apply, the effect on revenue is precisely the same.

And the  tax concession destroys the whole point of retirement income as retirement; whether it is shares or superannuation or both, the idea was that they should be drawn down as needed for living expenses, not squirreled away for the kids’ inheritance. This is not providence, but a tax lurk.

But such niceties are not for Wilson’s circus, and perhaps we should not be surprised. He is, after all, a celebrated alumnus of the Institute of Public Relations, the secretly funded right-wing lobby group which calls itself a think tank but whose principal purpose is to push the Liberal Party to yet wilder extremes. As they say, you can take the boy out of the IPA, but you can’t take the IPA out of the boy.

It would be interesting to hear Kenneth Hayne’s take on Tim Wilson. He might at least murmur, “tut tut”.

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6 Responses to MUNGO MACCALLUM. Who could have predicted that Kenneth Hayne would turn out to be such an old softie?

  1. David Allison says:

    Another good one. Thanks

  2. Richard Ure says:

    Unlike barristers who tend in the opposite direction, judges can be given to understatement. I suspect more pain to ensure for greedy bank operatives as the recommendations are legislated—probably by a Labor government.

  3. John Power says:

    Wilson ignoring and rejecting the conventions of government shouldn’t come as any surprise. As Mungo identifies he is IPA, a nihilist organisation, to the core.

  4. Michael Price says:

    A minor point, but “Herman Hesse”? Herman Goering perhaps.

  5. Len Horowitz says:

    Great article Mungo – tells it like it is. Just a couple of minor points:
    I think you mean Rudolph Hess, not Herman Hesse, and the Institute of Public Affairs.

  6. Barry Reynolds says:

    To be fair, Ken Hayne was hamstrung from day one by the terms of reference for the RC. To make matters worse the terms were apparently drawn up by the very people if was formed to investigate. I can only hope a future Labor government reopens it and expands the terms of reference.

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