Time to bounce the bank chiefs
LIKE many Australians — probably most Australians — I was so angered and ashamed when news broke of the ball-tampering scandal in South Africa that I thought there was no way Steve Smith could continue as captain of our Test team.
Two months on and I dearly hope that he can make a comeback to the captaincy one day. That is because it is hard to recall a more brutal and sustained episode of shaming, national and international, than that meted out to Smith. It is also difficult to think readily of a penalty as stiff as the one that he copped for an act that he didn’t mastermind but overlooked and allowed. He is a decent bloke who made a mistake and a bloke who has now received more than enough punishment.
I don’t know if Smith follows politics and current affairs. If he does, I’d suggest that he not spend too much time dwelling on the workings of the banking royal commission, as the contrast between the public humiliation of our cricketers versus the arrogant, shoulder-shrugging indifference of our bank executives is shocking.
Why is it that our cricketers copped more shaming and tougher penalties than anything meted out to those who’ve been found guilty of stealing money from dead that a bank has been caught ripping somebody off. It was a different reaction to the footage of sandpaper being rubbed on the ball at the Third Test in Cape Town. That was jaw-dropping stuff which deserved the toughest sanctions.
Why the contrast? It is because we want sport to provide us with joy and escapism. We want to love our national team and we go after them aggressively when they let us down. Yet when banks stiff someone, even dead people or struggling retirees, it is not so much a jaw-dropper as a pattern of behaviour fuelled by arrogance.
For what it’s worth, my rat furlined theory is that the seeds of the banks’ modern arrogance can be traced back to the mollycoddling they enjoyed from Kevin Rudd and Wayne Swan at the height of the global financial crisis. On financial security grounds, the taxpayers effectively underwrote the banks with public money should they be buffered by ill-winds of the GFC. Backed by public cash, the banks felt no need to be more prudent or parsimonious either with their salary and bonuses, nor with the quality of service they provided.
We had given them a blank cheque to keep acting as they were, or to act even more cravenly.
That was the taxpayer-funded version of that memorable line from Lethal Weapon 2: diplomatic immunity. Having enlisted the public as their patsies, we continued to be their patsies, with no internal imperative to examine their own behaviour.
The whole joint has now come crashing down around their heads.
What sort of penalties should be imposed? Any would be an improvement, set against years of soft-cockery from our so-called regulatory bodies, who have seemed incapable of regulating their way out of a wet paper bag.
Part of this stems from their closeness to those they were meant to regulate. All these folks move in the same circles, which is why they have done such a miserably successful job of parting company with mainstream standards.
Treasurer Scott Morrison knows the politics of this are abysmal, hence his deliberate talking up of the prospect of penalties for those who have erred. The public will await with interest. If the regulators are looking for a precedent, they could start, oddly enough, with Cricket Australia and look at the penalties meted out to three blokes who were doing nothing more serious than trying to rip off 11 South Africans while hitting a ball around a park. DAVID PENBERTHY IS A SUNDAY HERALD SUN COLUMNIST @Penbo