Time to bounce the bank chiefs

Sunday Herald Sun - - Opinion -

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

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