ASIC, bankers, CEOs—they’re all in it together

The Banking Royal Commission has revealed that the big banks are engaged in systematically scamming their customers, issuing misleading financial advice to increase their profits and even charging fees to the dead. But the Royal Commission has also revealed banking regulator ASIC’s abject failure to prosecute offenders.

Barrister Niall Coburn who spent 13 years working at ASIC told Fairfax that investigators were punished for zealously pursuing the banks. He said, “if you were outspoken you were basically shut down and isolated”. Another former employee, James Wheeldon, described the cosy relationship between banks and the regulator saying, “I saw ASIC literally changing the law, amending the Corporations Act to benefit the banks and the lobby groups for the banks”.

The Royal Commission heard, via ASIC’s own senior executive Louise Macaulay, that the regulator had prosecuted only one holder of an Australian Financial Services Licence in the past ten years. Macaulay also admitted that, on average, when a member of the public complains about poor advice it takes two years for ASIC to reach a decision.

This shouldn’t come as any surprise when ASIC is stuffed full of former bankers. Its previous chairman Greg Medcraft took on the role following eight years in New York as managing director at Société Générale, Corporate and Investment Banking. Current chairman James Shipton was a managing director at Goldman Sachs. He was described by the Financial Review as “a child of the Melbourne establishment”.

Turnbull to spend millions on Cook memorial

Turnbull’s budget has set aside almost $25 million for a memorial to Captain Cook. The massive project involves the redevelopment of the Meeting Place Precinct in Botany Bay, Sydney which falls within Treasurer Scott Morrison’s electorate of Cook.

It includes $3 million for a new statue of Cook plus an “aquatic monument”, a new visitor centre, cafe, exhibition space and ferry wharves.

The project is supposed to be completed ahead of the 250th anniversary of the first encounter between Cook and Aboriginal people on 29 April 1770. It forms part of a total of $49 million the government will spend to mark the anniversary, including money for a replica voyage of the Endeavour, a “digital platform” and other “educational material”.

At a press conference NSW Attorney-General Mark Speakman anxiously insisted that the huge project venerating the colonial invader was definitely not about “nostalgia for an imperialist past” or “white triumphalism”.

Contractors cost double public servants

Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) bosses have admitted that their use of labour hire contract workers can cost twice as much as employing staff directly.

Agency officials told a recent parliamentary enquiry that IT contractors cost twice as much as employing staff through the public service to do the same work.

Non-IT staff cost 50 per cent more. The ABS spending on labour hire has exploded from about $200,000 in 2012-13 to around $4 million last year. The ABS cut 410 staff in 2016-17 and its staffing cap will fall again in 2018-19.

Big government departments have doubled their spending on contractors in the last five years, as the Liberals slashed thousands of jobs and introduced staffing caps.

Liberal says she can live on $40 a day

Liberal MP Julia Banks has claimed she could live on the $40 per day Newstart recipients are currently forced to survive on. She made the claim in the lead up to the Liberals’ budget which failed to increase the dole, making it 15 years since there has been an increase in the payment in real terms.

She told the ABC that she could, “live on 40 bucks a day knowing that the government is supporting me with Newstart looking for employment”. Banks has a base salary of $199,040 and her interest register says she owns five properties including three investment homes. When she travels to Canberra she receives an additional $285 a night from the taxpayer.

Blackmail charges against CFMEU officials dropped

The Victorian Director of Public Prosecutions has withdrawn blackmail charges against Victorian CFMEU union leaders John Setka and Sean Reardon.

The move came after the poor performance of two key witnesses, Boral managers Paul Dalton and Peter Head. The prosecution alleged that the two were blackmailed by the union officials at a coffee shop meeting in April 2013. At the time the CFMEU were in a major dispute with construction giant Grocon. Setka and Reardon were charged with threatening Boral with industrial action unless they stopped supplying concrete to Grocon.

But under questioning the Boral managers couldn’t explain why they had waited a year before pursuing charges regarding the supposed threats. As the lawyer for the CFMEU officials told the media:

“It’s been exposed that neither of Boral’s men took the coffee shop conversation as any kind of threat… for over a year and after a year their recollection got changed”.

“It got changed only after various lawyers got involved, lawyers for Boral, lawyers for the ACCC, lawyers for Dyson Heydon’s royal commission… all of these lawyers were given their riding instructions by men who were on a mission for the extreme right of our politics.”

A successful attempt to use criminal law to prosecute union officials for actions covered by “secondary boycott” provisions in the Fair Work Act would have been a serious escalation of judicial action against unions. But the decision means the only major case coming out of the Liberals’ Trade Union Royal Commission has collapsed in an embarrassing heap.

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