Month: April 2018

Seldom has a government looked more ridiculous. Or more compromised. More incompetent. Less trustworthy.

turnbull monash centre

If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever, wrote George Orwell, foreseeing, our Border Protection policy, in the news this week as Australian War Memorial Director, Brendan Nelson proposes the creation of a type of shrine or monument to paramilitary thugs; the weaponising of compassion to enable us to deny our own innate humanity.

Similarly highlighted this week is the tender loving care our government lavishes on loan sharks, insurance touts, embezzlers and other predators in “the financial advice industry” at the expense of “ordinary hardworking Australians”. Yet nothing shows our open, transparent, democratic, government so clearly as its suppression of criticism; dissent.

Group hugs must surely break out all round at Sunday’s news, that the Coalition has pressured the UN to excise from its expert report on irrigation, a critique of the government’s $13 billion failure to restore our Murray-Darling river system.

The “Australia chapter” is now cut from the UN report “Does Improved Irrigation Technology Save Water?” published online by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). Down the memory hole it goes; extinguished.

Water allocations to irrigators will in fact increase an extra 605 GL under innovative “on-farm efficiency: schemes but nothing may distract us from the government’s carefully orchestrated inquisition into usury and other money-lending malfeasance this week in Melbourne, an antipodean Malleus Maleficarum, which can turn grown men to water.

Banks Behaving Badly-or Business as Usual, a spell-binding, live-streaming, morality play, stars Royal Commissioner, The Honourable Kenneth Madison Hayne, QC, AO, as Grand Inquisitor, brilliantly assisted by Ms Rowena (shock and) Orr, QC.

The show, so much better than anything Labor had planned, government ministers keep telling us, continues its blockbuster run, as a hand-picked cast of spivs, charlatans and rogues and other financial advisers show open contempt for corporate cop, ASIC, and expose Coalition nobbling. Yet mystery shrouds this week’s show. Where are the big guns?

Conspicuous by their absence, possibly in witness protection, as secure as if in Monash fox-holes, are any CEOs.

Schadenfreude seizes the nation. Outrage. The drama has our full attention. True. Bonkers Brendan Nelson does his best to distract with his proposal to honour Border Force; to extend The Australian War Memorial to commemorate those brave souls who served in the war on compassion; our nation’s glorious battle with innocents; those compelled by cruel fate to seek asylum by any means. Some troops, he says, even jumped into the water to save people from drowning.

By Monday, the plot of Banks Behaving Badly includes dead people, knowingly being charged for financial advice; The CBA pockets $118 million for advice it doesn’t provide; NAB bribes people – its innovative “Introducer Program” -pays commissions to unqualified “spotters” – no financial expertise necessary- for home loan referrals, a subplot which includes forged payslips to settle loans, and envelopes stuffed with cash. The Introducer nets NAB $24 billion in loans.

(Former banking lobbyist, Scott Morrison’s tough new fines are capped at less than 1 per cent of that. Offenders will be brought to account, thunders former Goldman Sachs banker Turnbull. NAB is laughing all the way to the bank.)

Fee for no service turns out to be a nice little earner also. AMP’s head of financial advice, Anthony Regan, says he’s lost count of how many rip-offs; how many thousands of customers are charged fees for services they don’t receive. Lives are destroyed by bad advice; or when advisers’ financial ineptitude is compounded by avarice and duplicity.

It’s bad timing, however, for government by and for the banks, a Coalition which has to sell the electorate the last $35 billion of its $80 billion tax cut package, a gift of $13.2  billion in savings to our big four banks over the next ten years.

Even worse, its big business pals are no help. In the parallel universe where senate enquiries are held, Business Council of Australia’s CEO, Jennifer Westacott is asked, this week, by The Greens’ Lee Rhiannon.

“Can you give us an example of another country where tax cuts have resulted in wage rises?” 

Westacott wimps out. She’ll “take that question on notice”, despite the claim’s being a central plank of the BCA and the government’s campaign for the past two years. But let’s be fair. There’s too much business bashing around these days, as Westacott often wails. Above all, even the BCA can’t provide evidence that doesn’t exist.

Examples abound, however, from Canada or from The UK where, despite ten years’ company tax cuts, real wages continue to decline. The National Bank conducts one of Australia’s largest business surveys only to report that a mere 8 per cent of businesses would give workers a significant wage rise if they received a company tax cut.

One-in-five say they don’t need a tax cut to secure their company’s future. But who needs research in an age of neoliberal faith? The Coalition takes heart in the recent dismissal of The White House Chaplain, Jesuit Patrick Conroy who has held the job for seven years.  No reason has been given for Father Conroy’s sacking. Nor is it needed. In a Trumpian universe, it’s heresy to frown upon trickle-down or laugh at the Laffer Curve or even just express dissent.

Best explanation, reports The New York Times, is that the priest is being punished for his prayer last November, at the opening of a debate on the Republican tax bill. Conroy asked God to make sure that the members’ efforts “guarantee that there are not winners and losers under new tax laws, but benefits balanced and shared by all Americans.”

Amen. Fairness is the last thing our government needs in its agile, innovative business-friendly zeitgeist but former Xenophon team member, now the more prosaic Centre Alliance, Sterling Griff, (a name that conjures confidence) is quick to remind listeners of government trumpet ABC Radio National that some top BCA companies pay no tax.

Australia’s effective company tax rate is 12% already. He warns his audience, moreover, where cuts will come from.

“It’s hard to see how a reduction in corporate tax is not going to lead to a reduction in public services like health and education.”

“The economic case for these company tax cuts never stacked up. The benefits were largely to foreign shareholders, with a huge long-term revenue cost to the budget,” says The Australia Institute’s executive director, Ben Oquist when the Coalition withdraws the tax cut legislation it fails to get through the senate last month.

“It’s a tactical retreat” explains former HealthGuard and HBF Insurance companies’ general manager, Mathias Cormann.

Desperate to stop the rot, Malcolm Turnbull mounts a type of apology for his government’s howling down the very idea of a Royal Commission into banks, an opposition it kept up for two whole years. His government would have been “better off politically” to have called the Royal Commission, “several years ago”, he calls in from Berlin, Monday.

Not that he’s accepting any responsibility (Westminster or otherwise) for any malfeasance that his government has effectively enabled by its two years of spirited opposition, evasion and delay,

“The responsibility for wrongdoing lies with the people who did the wrongs. Let’s be clear about that,” he says, hopefully.

It is too little, too late and will do nothing to appease his critics who rue his dreadful political judgement; nor those who ask why his government protects wealthy banks and big businesses, while hounding and gouging the poor.

ASIC’s official boast is that it’s “Australia’s integrated corporate, markets, financial services and consumer credit regulator”. The Coalition hypes the regulator’s powers. Two years ago, Treasurer Scott Morrison claimed that,

“ASIC has the powers of a royal commission and, in fact, it has greater powers than a royal commission.”

But just in case, penalties will now be increased; jail time provided for some offences, a hollow response that overlooks the core problem. ASIC has neither the will nor the resources to act. It’s launched but one criminal case in ten years.

As this week’s testimony shows, ASIC’s the financial sector’s family pet, lying doggo or sitting up and begging to play fetch or rolling over to have its tummy tickled. Of course there’s a weasel-word for it. In ASIC- speak it “negotiated” rather than prosecuted misconduct cases which is why it’s brought only criminal prosecution in ten years.

Does Hayne’s royal command performance have more power? While a royal commission can refer suspected offences to the Director of Public Prosecutions who can then prosecute, in practice, criminal prosecutions rarely result from recommendations of either a royal commission or a parliamentary inquiry.

Key to the commission’s power are its terms of reference. Here is a huge weakness. Its terms of reference dictate that it is not required to look at anything the commissioner believes “has been, is being, or will be, sufficiently and appropriately dealt with by another inquiry or investigation or a criminal or civil proceeding”.

In other words, it will ignore the findings of at least 38 other inquiries held into banking and financial services since 2010. Sensational, shocking as it may be, the misconduct Hayne has revealed, so far, is but the latest scandalous chapter in a long series of instalments, all of which have also exposed ASIC as a Clayton’s corporate regulator; a paper tiger.

When The CBA ruined many clients with bad financial advice a 2014 Senate inquiry criticised ASIC for being “too slow to act, lack[ing] transparency and … too trusting of the big end of town”. The verdict still applies today.

In the meantime, by popular demand, – and the instigation of The Nationals helped by The Greens and with the late support of Labor, the show must go on.  And on. Talk abounds of an extended season. Yet can it fix anything?

Crusty Justice Hayne’s superbly orchestrated production is in danger of being upstaged by its own lurid revelations of the graft, fraud, usury, collusion, extortion, embezzlement, cheating, lying and bare-faced robbery integral to our banking system; as a series of wretched pin-striped small fry from the big four take turns to spill their guts.

Equally distracting are the sideshows. A stampede to steal the glory includes the two-bob populist Pauline Hanson, even though it was her hapless former colleague, Rod Culleton, a bankrupted WA farmer who campaigned for a royal commission. Perhaps she’s getting confused with her repeated calls for a Royal Commission into Islam.

Also confused is Hanson’s new pal, Tony Abbott who channels the Queen of Hearts. “Off with their heads”.

Tin-pot general of the monkey pod rebels, Abbott is pumped. He’s led his peacock peloton and mobile media squad coal revival cycle tour through the Latrobe Valley of death-by-coal-fire, his latest sortie in his “no sniping or undermining” war of revenge by attrition on Turnbull. He’s just back from the $100 million Monash Centre he had built in France.

He goes off like a frog in a sock. “Sack ASIC”, he shrieks, despite his own role as ASIC’s chief nobbler.

Abbott’s government snatched $120 million, a cut of 200 workers, from the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, a pillaging which left the watchdog unable to do very much at all effectively, let alone chase up the banks. Instead, the corporate regulator would get banks to self-report. What could possibly go wrong?

At the same time, in July 2014, Mattias Cormann attempted to weaken Labor’s Future of Financial Advice legislation (FOFA) which sought to ensure that advisers acted in their customers’ best interests, amendments put up by the banks but lost only when two cross-benchers voted them down.

ASIC hit the panic button. It complained that all advisers would be caught on the hop. It would do nothing, it said until July 1 2015 – two whole years after the new law was supposed to apply.

This, the corporate regulator supported Cormann, giving advisers two extra years in which to charge commissions and evade their duty to put the clients first. This week has seen how AMP flouted the FOFA law with impunity.

“Through AMP’s dealings with ASIC regarding the extent and nature of its fee-for-no-service conduct, AMP adopted an attitude toward the regulator that was not forthright or honest, and demonstrated a deliberate attempt to mislead,” Ms Orr sums up Friday.

AMP and its advice businesses misled the regulator 20 times from 2015 to 2017 about the nature and extent of its fees-for-no-service practice.”

The Coalition is responsible. It can’t pretend now that it merely got the timing wrong. Surely. But that’s just what it does.

Time to chuck a U-turn. Not far from Hitler’s bunker in Berlin, in the Reichstag’s shadow, Monday, Turnbull grabs the Coalition handbrake; burns rubber in a tyre-shredding U-turn. The government’s been driving the wrong way up a one-way street for two years but a quick U turn will fix it. Memo: Get updated talking points to Kelly O’Dwyer.

Facing overwhelming evidence that its concerted opposition to a Royal Commission into the banks was palpably not in the public interest, a willful misreading, if not contemptuous defiance, of public opinion in defence of the top end of town, the PM and his minions hastily abandon their epic, sandbagged, campaign to defend their banking mates.

Seldom has a government looked more ridiculous. Or more compromised. More incompetent. Less trustworthy.

Tragically, Terry McMaster, of Dover Financial, a pillar of the financial advice industry, oxymoron of the week, is taken ill, mid-sentence – but quickly recovers sufficient self-possession to sit bolt upright in his ambulance stretcher like some grandee being ferried up above the masses upon a palanquin. He’s excused from further participation in Hayne’s show.

But not before he’s been able to defend hiring advisers who were under investigation and later sanctioned for serious breaches. At least, he makes some incoherent response. Perhaps he’s just choking.

McMaster’s also questioned on Dover contracts which purport to give client protection yet which, in fact, attempt to indemnify Dover advisers from accusations of bad conduct. Doubtless ASIC plans to catch up with him on that, too.

Dover is the only big financial advisory group to decline to assist the Royal Commission. It has not supplied adequate documentation. Yet McMaster has dramatically collapsed in the attempt. His clients will wish him a speedy recovery.

You can’t fault the performances. The Royal Commission into crony capitalism is an orchestrated confession of wrongdoing; a lavish smorgasbord of malfeasance even if the grubby money-grubbers of the “wealth industry” themselves, are cynical, untrustworthy, grossly overpaid, self-interested spivs who’d sell their own grandmothers.

The formidable Rowena Orr, QC, continues to impress as she leads a brilliant supporting cast in homage to the English theatrical tradition of personifying justice as a Judge, a trend since Respublica, the mid-15th Century, morality play which has the body politic under insidious, deceptive attack from Avarice, Indolence, Oppression and Adulation.

By Monday, however, our political masters are back on song, a Hallelujah chorus of shock, surprise and outrage, the necessary ritual disclaimer and distancing which will enable them to snatch the whip hand back from Hayne.

“I have to say I have been surprised. I have to admit some of the revelations in recent times, I have been surprised.”

Mathias Cormann tells Sky News, Australia’s Fox News of government spin, while Matt Canavan, Minister for Coal, is “shocked“. Kelly O’Dwyer is “appalled” in a in a duet with Barrie Cassidy on Insiders. At the Self-Managed Super Fund expo in Melbourne on Friday, (no irony in the venue?) the assistant treasurer is back on stage and on song.

“The royal commission has highlighted in the most profound way, some of the devastating personal consequences that have resulted from corporate misconduct in the financial services sector,” she says.

“The government did get the timing wrong.”

That’s it, then. Just dud timing. Could happen to any government bank protection racket. As Helen Razer notes in Crikey, not one MP is surprised, or shocked, or appalled, or devastated enough to call out a scandal when they see one.

As Bob Katter fears, Karen Middleton reports, the real problem remains. Banks will continue to transfer loans between them, unilaterally dictate and then change the terms, downgrade property values and then foreclose without negotiation, seize and offload the properties at fire-sale prices, leaving borrowers still owing them the difference.

And it’s all perfectly legal.

Routed by the sheer force of numbers, rubbery figures, lies, impersonation and other evidence of illegality elicited from bankers so far, by beak of the week, Justice Hayne and his crack team of silks so far, Monday, Malcolm Bligh Turnbull beats a retreat on his quixotic Coalition forces’ foolhardy ideological charge against Labor and The Greens’ impregnable position; that there be a Royal Commission into Banking. It’s also a retreat from credibility and legitimacy.

News of the PM’s surrender from Berlin where he commends John Howard’s Pacific Solution (2001); lecture Germany on how to deal with refugees as he fills in time before opening yet another monument to John Monash and to honour his government’s militarisation of history and fetishising of war.

Some may admire his chutzpah. Germany took in a million Syrian refugees. The nonsense that border control helps build a multicultural society is insulting; demeaning to any audience. But it’s all designed for domestic consumption.

Turnbull makes no apology for his government’s enabling of what clearly amounts to a banking oligarchy; helping our new robber barons hold the country to ransom, destroying careers, wrecking families and ruining the lives of thousands.

“It was a poor political decision“, is the best the former merchant banker can manage.







Hockey golfs with Mafia Don Trump while our banks reveal endemic corruption.

trump hockey golf

“He’s a good golfer and good company”, reports Joe Hockey, all atwitter at having played golf with Donald Trump


Our nation thrills to news, Monday, that our own $360,000 PA, Ambassador to the US, (plus $90,000 PA parliamentary pension), Joe, “The Age of Entitlement is Over”, Hockey, is golfing with Donald Trump, joining the president at the links, if not the hip, in yet another diplomatic coup for Tony Abbott’s failed treasurer.

Doubtless, “Sloppy Joe” will be talking up the president’s incredible success with his illegal Syrian missile strikes, a week ago, timed to distract from Stormy Daniels’ testimony and to beat weapons inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons with their pointless, pedantic search for evidence of chemical weapons. 

Who needs facts when you have tribal support? Our brave new world is characterised by the flight of reasoned empiricism before a tide of what David Roberts in Vox calls “tribal epistemology”. He quotes Russ Limbaugh

“We live in two universes. One universe is a lie. One universe is an entire lie. Everything run, dominated, and controlled by the left here and around the world is a lie. The other universe is where we are, and that’s where reality reigns supreme and we deal with it. And seldom do these two universes ever overlap.”

In Limbaugh’s view, Roberts explains, the core institutions and norms of American democracy have been irredeemably corrupted by an alien enemy. Their claims to bipartisan authority — authority that applies equally to all political factions and parties — are fraudulent. There are no bipartisan authorities; there is only zero-sum competition between tribes, the left and right. Two universes. A similar mindset is emerging in Australia.

Clearly, only one’s own tribe can be trusted. (Who wants to trust a “universe of lies”?)

Tribal epistemology informs Peter Dutton’s dismissal of The ABC and The Guardian as dead to him. Sheesh! All he’s trying to do is spread false stories about the persecution of white South African farmers and arrange preferential immigration treatment so that they can swell the ranks of the right wing in his marginal, Dickson, QLD, electorate.

“There’s lots of outrage. Some of the crazy lefties at the ABC and on The Guardian, Huffington Post, express concern and draw mean cartoons about me and all the rest of it.”

Poor Peter. How wretched it is to be held to account. Erik Jensen, The Saturday Paper’s editor, lists seven refugees who have died under Peter Dutton’s regime as a result of the failure of his duty of care as Immigration Minister. They are also dead to him.  Yet it is clear from Dutton’s comment that he views himself as blameless.

Trump also acts as if he were beyond reproach. Always. His delusion is that he is a warrior in an ongoing battle against mainstream media – a media former chief White House strategist Steve Bannon called the opposition party.

Even assuming some empirical basis to his accusation of chemical warfare, however, Trump could explain to Hockey how his professed concern for the Syrian people; his empathy for their plight, is reflected in his accepting only 11 refugees from that nation, this year.

Trump’s hypocrisy in taking the high moral ground does not stop with his abandonment of the Syrian people, however. Joe would be well placed to ask why Assad’s use of chemical weapons provokes such a response when in Yemen, the US turns a blind eye to Saudi Arabia’s use of white phosphorous. Are Saudis also “gas killing animals“?

Joe may also raise American troops’ use of depleted uranium, (DU) a weapon known to cause cancer and birth defects. DU was used in Syria in late 2015. U.S. Central Command (Centcom) spokesman Maj. Josh Jacques tells Airwars and Foreign Policy a report also confirmed by The Pentagon in The Washington Post, 16 February, that 5,265 armour-piercing 30 mm rounds containing depleted uranium were shot from Air Force A-10 fixed-wing aircraft on Nov. 16 and Nov. 22, 2015, destroying about 350 vehicles in the country’s eastern desert.

Joe could ask his latest, bestie The President, moreover, how it is that in Saudi Arabia’s neighbour, Yemen, 8.4 million people are on the brink of famine; how 11 million children, require humanitarian assistance, because of a Saudi-led, US, UK and Australia-backed military blockade, using hunger and disease as a weapon of war, in a country that imports 90 per cent of its food and most of its medicine, as Dr Lissa Johnson writes in New Matilda.

What a top opportunity to raise how 6.5 million Syrians have been internally displaced by war; the largest internally displaced population in the world. Hockey could explain how Illegal US airstrikes, prolong the war.

All Trump’s Tomahawk “strikes” will do for Syrian people is to lower their wretched existence until it matches the living hell suffered by Yemen’s population where 15 million people have no hospitals, no doctors, no drugs.

“Shoot first. Ask questions later” is the new State Department’s motto. It’s been a long time in the pipeline. In Clinton’s administration, development and diplomacy were cut 30%.  Hockey also cut Australia’s foreign aid budget by $7.6 billion in his 2014  budget, followed by a further $3.7billion reduction in his December budget update.

Now, the Coalition  expresses concern after David Wroe of Fairfax suggests China is building a military base in Vanuatu.  Shock horror. It’s a drop, a planted story to enable Turnbull to sound off – and to gauge the reaction.

“We would view with great concern the establishment of any foreign military bases in those Pacific Island countries and neighbours of ours,” postures Turnbull. Unless, of course, they happen to be American bases.

The US operates permanent military bases throughout the Pacific, including in Australia, Japan (21 bases), Guam and South Korea. Australia is being highly selective about its megaphone diplomacy.

Perhaps Joe could talk economic equality and justice and how it is that the global increase in billionaires’ wealth in 2017 alone is enough to end extreme poverty seven times over. Tax cuts (or subsidies) for the rich will accelerate the process of burgeoning inequality, a symptom of both US and Australian politics’ toxic neoliberal infection.

Doubly subsidised by taxpayers in his political retirement, Hockey, as Treasurer, was quick to call out bludging mothers who “double dip” by claiming both workplace and taxpayer-funded paid parental leave schemes.

Of course it’s more than a stroke of luck that Joe scores a nine-hole round with the notorious cheat who is “unethical and untethered to truth”; a Mafia Don who is “ego-driven” and “about personal loyalty”, as former FBI Director James Comey flatters him, reports the Australian Financial Review. Joe’s always put in the hard yards.

“Since Hockey arrived at the Australian Embassy in Washington two years ago, the former treasurer has taken up golf to network with Trump officials, members of Congress and foreign diplomats.”

Hockey was also the sole guest to brave the rain; standing throughout Trump’s entire inauguration ceremony.  Why, Toady Joe can spot a “significant historic moment to ingratiate himself as effortlessly as he can judge a “good” golf “companion”.

“He cheats like hell,” 15-time LPGA Tour winner Suzann Pettersen says of her president. Unlike Comey, Pettersen does not make a big deal of Trump’s small glove size nor his too-long tie; nor the half-moons his tanning goggles leave under his eyes. She’ll leave such observations to the Trumpentariat.  Instead she says tartly,

“He must pay his caddies well, as drives that are headed for the woods always end back up on the fairways.”

“So I don’t quite know how he is in business. They say that if you cheat at golf, you cheat at business.” 

Australia must have a lot of golf cheats, Suzann. Cheating at business, it is clear this week, from testimony of some of the “industry’s” key players, is the only game in town – especially when it involves our banks; an oligopoly that controls all lending and borrowing of money or giving advice on what is quaintly termed “wealth creation” – or “wealth management’. Many Australians are ruined by being sold dud investment advice.

Sensational revelations of blood-sucking extortion, usury, bare-faced lying, robbery and a long litany of larcenies and law-breakings amaze and horrify audiences in this week’s installment of the long-awaited darkly, comic opera The Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry.

Round Two of the hearings, opened Monday in The Commonwealth Law Courts Melbourne and will run until 27 April. “Financial advice” is its focus, a service, bank staff attest, which is  always in the interests of the bank and not its customer  – a policy direction which has ruined more than a few clients.

Evidence given is a dagger to the heart of de-regulation and laissez-faire capitalism, a core article of faith in the Coalition’s neoliberal religion. Yet they were warned.

Labor’s reforms, The Future of Financial Advice (FOFA) were meant to address the conflicts of interest inherent in vertical integration but were undone by Finance Minister Matthias Cormann who talked Clive Palmer into supporting their repeal.

As Bernard Keane points out,

The big banks and AMP hated FOFA, because it directly undermined their vertically integrated model in which financial planners were paid commissions for steering customers into their wealth management products.

Yet in November 2014 Sam Dastyari, angered by how much of Labor’s FOFA was repealed by regulation, was able to exploit a rift between Clive Palmer and Jacqui Lambie to bring Ricky Muir with him to kill the repeal. It remains Sam’s finest hour.

Yet full credit must go to Adele Ferguson’s account of the fiasco which ensued when The Commonwealth Banks’s wealth management arm, Commonwealth Financial Planning (CFP), gave evidence before a Senate inquiry into the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, ASIC.

Labor’s Mark Bishop and Nationals’ John Wacka Williams led and focused the inquiry on ASIC’s bungling of the CPP case. The encounter irreparably damaged the reputation of ASIC and of the CBA.

Westpac and ANZ quickly divested themselves of their wealth management – and later their insurance arms both areas of conflict of interest which have caused negative publicity. Only Westpac now continues to run either.  Now, we are told, banks will go back to core business, their virtue restored. But can anyone believe that?

Self-regulation, clearly, is a sham. The Australian Securities and Investment Commission, (ASIC), the corporate regulator or “tough cop on the beat” which Scott Morrison, Malcolm Turnbull, Kelly O’Dwyer, Josh Frydenberg, Peter Dutton (and any other government member with a set of talking points) never tire of pretending is more powerful than a Royal Commission stands exposed as utterly ineffectual, conflicted.

Perhaps it suffers Stockholm syndrome. Captured, like the ATO, by the sector it is set up to regulate, ASIC ministers to the needs of industry not consumers. It remains chronically under-funded, suffering” efficiency dividends”, under Labor and more funding cuts during the ill-fated Abbott government experiment —cuts which, despite government rhetoric, have never been fully restored.

300 ASIC staff have been shed since 2014.

Starring the Honourable Kenneth Madison Hayne AC QC, who, again, wins Beak of the Week for incomparable diligence, his talented assistant, Ms Rowena Orr QC, puts the cross back into cross-examination, in a crucifying performance which steals the show in a multimedia production live-streamed on the web. It’s damning.

Customers’ signatures are forged, admit the pin-striped suits, clients are impersonated, power of attorney is got by fraud, documents are falsely witnessed, customer’s funds transferred to advisers’ personal accounts.

Even the grave is no protection from these “Greed is Good” post-truth Gordon Geckos on steroids.

The Commonwealth Bank (CBA) confesses that it has taken fees from some deceased clients, including one who’d been pushing up the daisies for ten years- fees, moreover, it was never entitled to had its client been alive.

Fee for no service“, explains Peter Kell, deputy chair of ASIC, the bankers’ lapdog, in his written testimony, or “fee for no service” is used “when a customer is paying a periodic ongoing service fee for services that the licensee or adviser does not actually provide and that the customer does not actually receive.”

Naturally, as you would expect with self-regulation, CBA is on to it in a flash. A good four years goes into stonewalling; ignoring complaints. Two more years, it stalls; paper-shuffling “reports”.

Finally, some bright spark notifies The Australian Securities and Investment Commission, (ASIC), a financial regulator whom the Turnbull government has been telling us for years is more powerful than a Royal Commission.

The nation thrills to the inimitable Ms Orr QC, in her knock-out role as assistant to the commissioner. Orr demands straight talk; honest answers from a gang of knaves, liars and thieves as played by a cast of villains’ fall-guys and patsies from AMP, CBA and Westpac in Corporate Lies, Fraud, Extortion and Boundless Greed – this week’s episode.

Not only is Ms Orr on song, she is an impeccably researched inquisitor who knows what the banks are up to.

Bankers hang themselves out to dry in a show which, exposes, as Tony Abbott, might put it, The Great Big Old Hoax of corporate self-regulation. The hearings so far have shown banks can lie with impunity to the regulator. Evidence so far shows it is neither a few bad apples nor the corruption inherent in diversifying into insurance and investment advice, but rather that banking suffers a systemic blight.

As Keane notes, the Royal Commission is not exposing flaws in the system – this is the system. Concentration has not benefited the consumer but has led to banks seeking greater power over the customer. ASIC has been a Clayton’s regulator; too timid to blow the whistle and so anxious to avoid litigation that it prefers to collude or as Keane kindly puts it, “work with” the industry.

Political protection is built into the system.  AMP, Macquarie and others have contributed $3.85 million in donations to the Coalition since 2010, while $2.66 million has been invested in Labor.

Above all, Anna Bligh, a former Labor premier heads the Australian Banking Association while NSW Mike Baird received $900,000 after his first six months at the head of NAB’s corporate and institutional unit.

Finally, taking a leaf out of Coalition energy and economics policy spin, our banks shrewdly deploy “independent reports” which are in fact heavily skewed in their favour. The Commission hears that the independent report AMP commissions from Clayton Utz is repeatedly edited by a variety of AMP staff right up to board level.

Top marks to the producers, too, for their magical realism, especially Screaming Scott Morrison who rubbished the call for commission into banking as a “populist whinge” in 2016 and which he and his PM voted against 23 times but which the Turnbull government now hails as a triumph of its own invention even demanding applause for setting the terms of reference so wide they’re bound to catch every banking shonk and shyster in the land.

The Royal Commission into banking unfolds a byzantine tale of deception and betrayal, helped in no small measure by a stellar line-up of performers including AMP’s libretto of lying to ASIC, fiddling reports, dudding clients and charging fees for no service.

For the government it is more than an acute embarrassment; it is an indictment.   Proved hollow is their faith in the powerful corporate regulator, ASIC, now revealed to be a toothless tiger while their spin that a few rotten apples must not cause us to fear that the root and branch of the banking system seems patently absurd. In fact, the Commission is providing abundant evidence the opposite is true.

Sadly for Malcolm Turnbull’s Coalition, the stench of corruption in our banking system comes just as it must persuade just a few more cross-benchers that a great big new tax break, to adapt Tony Abbott’s anti-carbon slogan is urgently needed  – when it will in effect reward the banks’ failure to operate a fair, open and accountable system – adding, Bill Shorten argues, $7 billion dollars to the big banks’ bottom line.

Of course, screaming ScoMo rants, there’ll be hefty fines and even ten-year prison sentences. But when did you last hear of a banker going to jail? As for the fines, they’ll be HUGE – up to $10.5 million, three times the illicit gains or loss illegally avoided. 10 per cent of annual turnover. But fines will be capped at $210 million. And they won’t be retrospective. CBA’s profit was 9.9 billion last financial year. The proposed cap is 2% of that.

Yet by Sunday we hear that the Royal Commission is all the Coalition’s idea. It’s breadth. Turnbull’s brilliant broad-ranging approach plus the hard work done earlier and the sterling offices of ASIC have directly led the big four to spill their guts. It wouldn’t have happened under Labor. (Nor under The Greens whose call it was.)

Baloney. As a number of commentators note, the government must take us all for mugs. The new spin is contradicted by the evidence. Labor’s plan was rejected because the Coalition said it was so wide-ranging it would destroy our confidence and wreck the whole banking system. Now wide-ranging is good?

In truth, the Coalition was dragged kicking and screaming into setting up the Royal Commission. What the government runs instead is a protection racket for a banking industry that breaks the law with impunity – a mob who knows shrewdly that even after the show trial and the ritual blood-letting, it’ll be business as usual because “they are too big to fail.” Too tightly integrated into each major party’s machine.

The situation is not helped by the talking points that the PM’s turd polishing unit has given to the likes of Scott Morrison, Kelly O’Dwyer and even Republican at heart Malcolm Turnbull who, must speak from London as duty calls him away to tweet his way through Prince William’s waffling on to open CHOGM,  – an organisation, which, like the Cheshire Cat is fading away leaving nothing behind but its smile or the promise of good intentions – give or take a few vapid clichés of colourful diversity – or meeting interesting people, or as Prince Will puts it “the mother of all networks”.

The British Empire, it is said was acquired in a fit of absence of mind. It’s devolution into Commonwealth and now its genial atrophy into pleasantries and hearty handshakes all round is similarly out of focus; an exemplary model of indirection and self-extinction.

If only our banking system; that many-headed, malignant, blood-sucking, toxic, monster parasite could exit our nation’s body politic, our commonwealth as painlessly.

Trump reaches for the Tomahawk while Turnbull’s rivals sharpen their knives.

trump on syria


Mafia Don, as former FBI Director, James Comey designates Donald Trump in his best-seller, A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership is ever more desperate, as Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation closes its net on the nepotist-in-chief and his comic Corleone family’s alleged criminal collusion with the Russian government.

Two weeks ago, in Richfield Ohio, the US will exit Syria, he tells a crowd.

 “Very soon, very soon, we’re coming out,” Trump promises, in a riff which echoes The Beatles’ classic, Get Back “We’re going to get back to our country, where we belong, where we want to be…”

But that was then. This is now. Now Trump has as his National Security Adviser, John “mad-bomber” Bolton the stark raving bonkers neo-con, “architect” of the Iraq War WMD disaster, a hawk’s hawk who lusts for war on Iran, North Korea, Syria and regime change in Libya, Syria, and Venezuela.

Apply the emergency brake. In another high-speed Trumpian highway chase U-turn, which evokes our own helmsman, hydrogen gas-bag Mal, another untethered[1] barrage balloon, of whom Essential’s Peter Lewis, writes, “(Turnbull) didn’t walk away from his beliefs, he never had any “, Trump tweets about “our beautiful, smart” missiles a reference to the slow, low-flying, long-range Tomahawk missile first deployed in 1991.

Will he also countermand his instructions to his military commanders to quickly end American involvement in Syria? Who knows what he’ll do when the diversion fails to halt Mueller’s inexorable advance. For now, in the eternal present of the president’s goldfish consciousness, it’s time for a token show of force.  And perfect for chicken-hawk Trump.

A Tomahawk may be large and slow, but it has a long-range and flies below enemy radar.

Unlike James Comey, who is “an untruthful slime ball”, – (at least it’s an area in which Trump can claim some special expertise) – Mafioso Don reveals in 280 characters or fewer why the fading ex-star of The Apprentice is still world’s best reality TV president.

He provokes Russia into threatening to shoot down any US missiles and to respond to any strike on Syria “at the source”, the first threat of direct military action since 1945.

Then it’s on for young and old – especially the old white males of Trumpdom.

“A short time ago, I ordered the United States Armed Forces to launch precision strikes on targets associated with the chemical weapons capabilities of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad,” Trump says on a special Saturday night White House broadcast, Friday our time.

Associated with? No proof is provided that Syria is behind the alleged chemical attack last weekend in Duma, where up to 70 people may have been killed.

The gas allegedly used in the Duma attack is chlorine which is not on the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) list of banned chemicals and is not classified as a chemical weapon. Any country, including Syria, is allowed to possess it, but cannot use it as a weapon.

If chemical weapons were used, the US is being highly selective. A string of such attacks in Syria has been reported in the last five years. The UNHCR’s Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic (even the title is a worry) claims to have confirmed at least 34 chemical attacks since 2013, many of which it says used chlorine or sarin, a nerve agent, and were conducted by the Syrian government.

Syria, Russia and Iran all deny that the Syrian government used chemical weapons.

“The use of chemical weapons by anyone, anywhere, under any circumstances is illegal and utterly reprehensible,” our local Great Helmsman reads from his US kit of talking points, Saturday, despite his government’s support of Saudi Arabia which, The Washington Post, reports uses US-supplied white phosphorous, a chemical weapon, against Yemen. But relax, it’s OK if it’s used carefully. It’s a nice little burner.

Last June, Human Rights Watch warned, “US-led forces should take all feasible precautions to minimize civilian harm when using white phosphorus in Iraq and Syria.”

In early 2017, US Marine artillery deploys to Syria in support of the operation to retake Raqqa, an operation in which “Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)” are also participating.

The Washington Post publishes photographs of the deployed Marine unit equipped with white phosphorus projectiles, as well as similar pictures showing white phosphorus projectiles with US Army units outside Mosul.

A Raqqa resident living in Beirut tells The New York Times in June of an internet cafe in Raqqa hit by white phosphorus, killing around 20 people.

White phosphorus, the US claims, it sells for signalling only. What could possibly go wrong? When used against soldiers and civilians as reports attest, it can kill or maim by burning to the bone. It was used in the Battle of Fallujah November 2004 where Jim Molan helped direct operations in a hopeless attempt to “flush out” Sunni insurgents.

Depleted uranium was also used against civilians. Coordinates revealing where US jets and tanks fired nearly 10,000 DU rounds in Iraq during the war in 2003 have been obtained by the Dutch peace group Pax.

The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health published an epidemiological study in 2010, “Cancer, Infant Mortality and Birth Sex-Ratio in Fallujah, Iraq 2005-2009,” found that “Fallujah is experiencing higher rates of cancer, leukemia and infant mortality than Hiroshima and Nagasaki did in 1945.”  But that was then and this is now. That was them and this is about Trump’s political survival. Bigly.

Turnbull, so pro-USA, he says, we’re “joined at the hip” (and lip?) parrots Trump’s hypocrisy.

“The Assad regime must not be allowed to commit such crimes with impunity.  The attacks are “a calibrated, proportionate and targeted response.”

There’s always a first time. But Turnbull needs a calibrated, proportionate diversion when his 30th Newspoll Abbott petard blows up in his own face this week.

There’s blood in the water. A hapless Turnbull staggers across his own Rubicon of “30 losing Newspolls”, as The Australian’s latest landline phone survey, published last Sunday, reveals Labor leads 52-48 on first-party preferences based on 2016 voting intentions. Blood, too, in news of mass deaths in the live sheep trade, a business essentially, as a senate committee found in 1985, “inimical to animal welfare”.

While refugees can rot in squalor offshore, animal lives really matter to this government, given the power of images of animal cruelty to move television viewers to demand that the Coalition do something. Cue shock and horror; David Littleproud’s debut.

“I’ve seen that footage and I was absolutely shocked and gutted,” neophyte federal Agriculture Minister and Barnaby Joyce protégé, David Littleproud says in an extraordinary outburst of visceral imagery. Talk about going butcher’s hook.

Littleproud’s responding to 60 Minutes’ fourth story since 2003 on the live sheep trade showing WA ship, The Awassi Express, on a three-week voyage from Fremantle to the Persian Gulf with 65,000 sheep. 2400 sheep, it is said, die from heat stress and overcrowding. Lambs are born and crushed underfoot.

There’s no money to invest in a humane live sheep fleet but the federal government announces this week that it will match Victoria in plunging $50 million each into a half- billion dollar pilot plant that will operate for just 12 months to produce “up to” three tonnes of hydrogen from brown coal over a whole year.

Three days after Tony Abbott’s coal-fired power and Lycra revival bicycle tour through the Latrobe Valley, Turnbull is desperate to compete with anything that Abbott may have to offer. Even if it is another, utter con-job. At least he goes for a noble gas.

The PM’s hydrogen mania appears highly selective; contrived. Where was Turnbull when wind and solar-fuelled hydrogen projects – which will create significantly more hydrogen at a fraction of the cost from wind and solar – were unveiled by the ACT and South Australian governments (before Labor’s SA election loss)?

SA’s  50MW wind and solar-fuelled electrolyser at the new Hydrogen Hub would be built by Neoen near Crystal Brook, could provide 20 tonnes of hydrogen a day, at a fraction of Turnbull’s brown coal thought bubble. Giles Parkinson reports the entire complex, including 150MW of solar, about 150MW of wind, a 50MW hydrogen plant along with up to 400MWh of battery storage, would cost around $600 million.

The brown coal hydrogen experiment is located at the Loy Yang brown coal mine complex, where AGL will keep its huge brown coal generator operating until 2048, despite our hopelessly conflicted energy minister Josh Stalin Frydenberg insisting, like a true state socialist, that Loy Yang A and B plants must run until 2070.

For the pilot to succeed, however, depends on carbon capture and storage (CCS), a technology that is still a pipe dream. Like the perpetual motion machine. Not that Andy Vesey AGL boss needs to worry about the pollution created during the experiment. Like the government’s energy policy itself, it’s exempt from any real-world constraints.

Our CCS industry is a metaphor for the Turnbull government’s track record of over-promising and totally under-delivering. Last year’s Auditor General’s report, reveals a total of $450 million wasted so far. All up, over $1.5 billion has been squandered.

There is nothing to show for government funds punted on CCS. Snowy Hydro 2.0 is also likely to be an expensive dud. Think NBN with coal-fired uploads.

$6 billion just disappeared into buying out NSW and Victoria’s interests – (provided the 2018 Budget passes)-  to help the Turnbull government proceed with its untried, unproven Snowy Hydro 2.0 pipe dream – now estimated to cost $4.5 billion – not including the $2 billion estimate it will cost to upgrade transmission lines from the mountains to Sydney and Melbourne.

The Turnbull government can find $12 billion plus if it means feeding its anti-solar and wind ideology, but it has no intention of putting any money where its mouth is on the live sheep trade, a business where farmers’ interest and animal welfare are ever at odds.

Yet the conflicted Agriculture Minister, David Littleproud is beside himself with outrage. It’s easier than admitting as Bernard Keane notes that the Department of Agriculture simply refuses to regulate animal welfare. Dave rushes to defend the farmers.

“This is the livelihoods of Australian farmers that are on that ship. That is their pride and joy and it’s just total bullshit that what I saw is taking place.”

The aptly named Littleproud proceeds to lash his own department, a mob lovingly fashioned in his own image by former party leader in exile, New England’s pride and joy, Barnaby bullshit Joyce.

Minister Littleproud is making “a brave decision”, as Sir Humphrey would say, if not a “courageous” career move.

Agile, innovative and keen to staunch more bad PR, Littleproud says he’ll get the Attorney-General, Christian Porter, himself a paragon of compassion and justice who has endeared himself to all Centrelink pensioners via his robo-debt regime of terror to examine the “skills, capabilities and culture of the regulator”.  Perfect call.

The regulator is the federal Department of Agriculture. It’s will rather than skill that is their deficiency. Yet can they be blamed for just following orders? Ask Nuremberg.

“Staff have diligently reflected Barnaby Joyce’s indifference to animal welfare and preference for the industry to self-regulate. That is Joyce’s legacy on this matter,” writes The Saturday Paper’s Martin McKenzie-Murray, a view echoed by Bernard Keane.

Joyce used live exports to harangue Labor, ceaselessly talking up how its “irresponsible policy plunged the northern Australian cattle industry into extreme hardship” despite a lack of any empirical evidence. The irony is that now Joyce’s indifference to animal welfare has created a real, live, problem for exporters. But he’s worse with people.

Cruelty to public servants is an Abbott-Turnbull signature theme. Agriculture ministry workers ought not to take it personally. Since Abbott, a Coalition committed to “smaller government” and to outsourcing to private contractors avidly slashes funds and culls its workforce, throwing government servants and their families into penury via Orwellian “efficiency dividends”, – if only to rehire some as contractors.

Last September The Australian Public Service (APS) Commission reports there were 152,095 APS staff at the end of June, after a decline of 2.3% over the previous financial year. It’s the lowest figure since 2006. Apart from understaffing and issues of morale and politicisation it’s a fair chunk of knowledge and experience to excise from a public service which increasingly must bear the wrath or the whim of the Minister.

Whim? A whole department may find itself “relocated” from Canberra to Armidale, decimating its workforce by decree as “Joe Stalin” Joyce is doing with the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) which appears now largely crippled and utterly demoralised by a loss of qualified personnel.

Staff departures reached nearly 20 per cent in 2015-16, a national audit report found last year. APVMA was struggling to find regulatory scientists to replace those walking out the door since the Coalition government decision to move it in November 2016.

Yet there are even more disturbing signs. Australia now has a bureaucracy specifically engineered to deliver indifference and inflict suffering, warns Professor Stuart Rees in New Matilda, as “clients” of Centrelink would attest.

“Fear, engendered by cruelties has become central to the operations of an allegedly rational, efficient Australian government” he writes citing the now notorious example of Scott Morrison who as Immigration Minister, in 2013, instructed ASIO to delay security clearances for refugees until he’d changed the law to cruel their chances of citizenship.

Quibbling has broken out this week between Home Affairs Peter Pooh Bah Dutton and hapless Malcolm Turnbull, eternal puppet of the right-wing, over whether cabinet discussed Dutto’s brilliant idea to cut immigration. It’s a great way to seize the headlines and to dog-whistle racists which also allows Tony Abbott to gain some extra unwarranted attention, but it may be attention that the Coalition does not really need.

The Federal Ombudsman reported in December 2017 that on the handling of citizenship applications that required integrity and identity clearance, some people had waited over 18 months for an outcome. There was also an increase in the number of applications where a decision had not been made for over two years.

Bleeding profusely from some ugly self-inflicted injuries, such as making himself a hostage to Newspoll and to his party’s lunatic right-wing in his Faustian compact with Barnaby Joyce, an “unwritten”, secret agreement, whose details he stubbornly refuses to divulge, the underlying reality – despite its incessant crowing over jobs is that his government has clocked up 29 months of economic mismanagement.

To hear its front bench shills, the Turnbull government has created record numbers of jobs. Why 403,000 are  recorded by the Bureau of Statistics in December. But, as Alan Austin points out, with natural population increase and migration, Australia’s population has never been higher either.

“The strongest growth in jobs relative to the adult population in history was actually in calendar 1989 when Bob Hawke was PM. Hawke beat Turnbull’s achievement – relative to population – also in 1985 and 1988.”

The Coalition never mentions unemployment. By September 2015, unemployed numbers shot up to 776,300; a rate rise of 6.1%. After 29 months of Turnbull government, 734,100 are jobless a rate of 5.6%.

Whilst it’s a modest improvement on Abbott’s disaster, Australia’s world ranking has fallen as globally jobs have risen. In 2013, we ranked seventh on our jobless rate in the OECD. By 2015, we slipped to 14th. Now we are 17th.

Underutilised workers, or the sum of unemployed and underemployed, rose in February to 1,841,000, the third highest quarterly figure since this statistic was first recorded in 1978. The only two higher quarters were both since Turnbull became PM and Senator Michaelia Cash employment minister.

The PM comes under fire from his own front bench, Monday, as Julie Bishop, Josh Frydenberg, Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton each declare their very qualified support for their leader. They all have leadership ambitions. Tony Abbott and Barnaby Joyce kindly give Turnbull until Christmas to prove himself or quit. He may as well leave now.

The Newspoll gap narrows two points in two weeks, but since the 2016 election, Newspoll, Ipsos, Essential, ReachTel and YouGov have Labor leading the Coalition in 127 of 138 surveys. Six ties are recorded, but the government leads in five YouGov polls only, between June and October 2017, which allow respondents to nominate their own preferences. Yet there is no way the Coalition will concede its performance is at fault.

Team Turnbull will ignore all polls as it continues to deliver “good government”. This includes suppressing details of the deal whereby Turnbull gained the Nationals’ support to depose Tony Abbott, by promising to follow the suppository of all wisdom on climate, energy, no conscience vote on SSM, keeping the Northern Australia infrastructure slush fund for coal projects and supporting The Nationals’ outrageous $10 billion Inland Rail boondoggle. Above all, as he shows, Monday, Sally Cray will have her way.

The PM’s Principal Private Secretary, Field Marshal Sally Cray, the Peta Credlin of Turnbull’s Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, (PM&C) and most powerful woman in Australian politics today, next to Lucy Turnbull, Gina Rinehart and her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth the Second, but more of a potty-mouth comes out fighting.

Cray orders her Turnbull to put on his best f***ing shit-eating grin and to parade his loyal troops in his courtyard in a special presser, Monday.

Mal’s ministers blink in the sun of an Indian summer; moles suddenly fetched up unnaturally from their nocturnal subterranean undermining; alternately preening and squinting in the flare of a scrum of mainstream media camera chums, a Canberra club which bears far too much wattage and sheds far too little light.

The runts of his government’s underwhelming front bench are a shallows of Widmerpools, “the most dogged and fearless solipsist in modern fiction”.

Obeying Cray’s directive, each goes out of his or her way to spread the gospel of loyalty on their favourite fawning TV or radio talkback shows not hesitating also to declare themselves candidates should the occasion present itself. It’s a total disaster.

But not to our “Malentariat”, a press claque whose livelihoods depend on servile flattery. Hacks gush that Turnbull is back in town; he’s not only “closing the gap” in opinion polls, he’s safe because, as everybody knows, disunity is death and the nation’s phobic about changing leaders, a myth MSM, themselves have helpfully engendered first to attack Labor’s internecine rivalry; now to defend the government from itself.

Above, all, runs the clincher, his front bench, if not his parliamentary party have less popular appeal and even less talent than Mal. It’s not totally implausible. Mal will remain leader, we are told breathlessly, because there is no alternative. Yet.

Seldom has Turnbull’s tactical dyslexia been so clearly exposed. Nothing confirms a vote of no-confidence in any leader quite so well as a fake display of solidarity.

It’s a formidable performance. Stung by Tony Abbott’s Monash Forum insurrection, a comical ginger-group of rear-guard reactionaries who want to bring back coal, topple Turnbull and install Morrison, the elephant in the courtyard is the Lycra Sniper’s gibe that Truffles must explain why he does not now depose himself.

Abbott, The Incredible Sulk, like any self-respecting narcissist, also demands to be told what he did wrong. Publicly. In detail. But look, hands are waving in the air.

The Mexican Wave his front bench performs Monday turns out to be Turnbull’s cabinet putting up their hands for job – if the opportunity should present itself.

In other words, expect a lot more bitching, back-stabbing and pointy-elbowing for position before a knifing around Christmas; our traditional festive and killing season.


[1] “Unethical and untethered to truth” is James Comey’s character reference for Trump.

It’s just not cricket.

howard cricket for dummies



Is our cricket now as crook as our politics?  Do we play to win at any cost?  Centre stage this week is Ball Tampering,  a post-modern, morality play which features a hapless Cameron Bancroft, a type of everyman anti-hero and innocent abroad, a batsman in a baggy green cap, who is caught putting his hands down the front of his pants, in the third test against South Africa at Capetown’s Newlands cricket ground at the base of Table Mountain.

Howls of anguish erupt across our nation. Anger. Outrage. Our national identity is bound up with the twin myths that not only do we excel at sport; clean-limbed, athletic lads and lasses from the Sparta of the South but, above all, we are good sports, from the land of the Fair Go, whatever our human rights record says about us.

Or The Australia Institute research which shows that the richest 20% have 70 times as much as the poorest 20%.

We also love to think we uniquely obsessed with our sport. Yet, as Fairfax columnist, Waleed Aly, noted at the Sports Writers Festival in Melbourne last year, in the US, for example, 53 per cent of the entire country’s population tuned in to watch the last Super Bowl. Our AFL and NRL grand finals combined don’t get anywhere near that here.

Now we look a mob of cheats and try-hard wannabes. Above all, in our worst national nightmare, we make ourselves look foolish in the eyes of the world. At least thirty cameras are rolling as Australia’s first sandpaper tamper scandal unfolds.

Bancroft, reports Fairfax, Sunday, is exposed on the big screen. Cheating. It’s not a good look by any stretch of the waistband. Cam takes a piece of canary-yellow Bunnings’ sandpaper to chafe the cherry-red ball to make it swing.

Or hasten its replacement; stories vary. In full view of umpires and some of the world’s best photojournalists.

It’s pure “Keystone Cops skulduggery”, former England all-rounder, commentator, Vic Marks, sniggers. The cricketers’ immaturity is equally risible – reflected and reinforced in the media’s infantilising collective, “the boys”.

You can’t man up and cop it sweet if you are a boy. Nor if your MPs give you a bum steer. This is not to suggest that our cricketers are corrupted by poor political role models but there are some worrying crossover symptoms and parallels. And certainly a lack of role models in political life for any young sportsperson to aspire to.

Michaelia Cash’s vile sledging of Bill Shorten’s female office staff meets with no censure whatsoever from her PM. Instead, he defends her baseless rumour and innuendo on the grounds that she was bullied and provoked by Labor Senator Doug Cameron. What was once Question Time is now Sledging Time, where the government uses parliamentary privilege to slander “shifty” Bill Shorten’s supposed lack of integrity.

MPs seldom ‘fess up until caught red-handed – and not always then –  as the case of Michaelia Cash’s wilful misleading of parliament about her tipping off the press to her illegal raid of AWU, or Barnaby Joyce’s spirited public bar defence of water rorting and war on greenies; or Peter Dutton’s recent instant two for one phone call instant au pair Visas, a feat of magical realism he has no intention of explaining or being held to account over.

Batsman Cameron says he panicked and he lied about his sandpaper. He’d have been OK as an MP, however, if his PM, desperately needed his support.  He could have even argued, like Barnaby Joyce, that evidence, like any mere data, is irrelevant.

The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) has lost half its workforce in less than two years as a result of Barnaby Joyce’s pork barrel decision to move the government department 750 km from Canberra to Armidale, in his New England electorate, to boost his vote. Yet Joyce reckons it’s a huge success.

Reality denial begins at the top. Turnbull, this week, is found to have misled parliament over a job for Vikki Campion, Joyce’s companion, a job set up for her in Matt Canavan’s office, according to a document signed 9 May 2017 by the PM’s Office senior corporate and governance adviser, Alison Green .  Denial does the trick, though.

Certainly, there’s been little pursuit of the PM’s prevarication from mainstream media, including our ABC.

So who’s to blame Bancroft being caught dack-handed? It’s just a cloth, he says, to polish his Ray-Bans. No? OK, it’s duct tape with grit on the sticky bit. No? OK, it’s LEADERSHIP’S idea. Echoes of Matt Canavan blaming his mother.

Leadership? Our hypocritical PM, Malcolm Turnbull, blunders in to wag his finger, over- eager to be judgemental but utterly lacking in judgement. The nation winces at another hollow moral homily from the tedious old tosser. Doubtless, he’s on to Cambridge Analytica data harvested by a crack team of advisers marshalled by Lucy.

“Our cricketers are role models and cricket is synonymous with fair play. How can our team be engaged in cheating like this? It beggars belief.”

Cricket is not synonymous with fair play, Mr Turnbull. It’s just your spin. Sociologist Ashis Nandy has noted, cricket is “almost unique in providing ample scope for unjust play as well as having strong taboos against such play.”

Fair play? Martin McKenzie-Murray in The Saturday Paper cannot believe our PM can be so ignorant of cricket’s aggression and corruption, including Bodyline, Underarm, the News of the World match-fixing sting, and Australia’s tour of apartheid South Africa.

Is the PM unaware that cricket has inspired an illegal bookmaking industry so vast and powerful that it may have caused the death of Pakistani coach Bob Woolmer?

Cricket also includes Mark Waugh and Shane Warne‘s payments from “John the bookmaker” on a tour of Sri Lanka in 1994. The players received $4,000 and $5,000 respectively from the bookmaker for pitch and weather information. When the, then, Australian Cricket Board found out about the incident in 1995, it fined the players.

Yet the board did not release the information until 1998, and received widespread censure for delaying announcing the scandal.  Rob O’Regan QC later concluded that cricketers were unaware of the risks of interacting with bookmakers, and in future players should be punished by not only fines, but also by suspensions.

The PM’s role models presumably include the recently resigned Australian coach who, in 2003, referred to his Sri Lankan opponents as “fucking black cunts”?”

What beggars belief, Mr Turnbull, is your confected moral outrage; your retreat to Rupert Brooke’s mythic cricket club on Grantchester’s village green and the sound of leather on willow.

Stands the church clock at ten to three and is there honey for tea?

Alas, nostalgia is not what it used to be.

Even before Kerry Packer commodified the game in the late 70s to suit his short attention span, and to slake his passion for sport as a driver of television ratings, cricket was not always cricket. It could be total war. Nothing much has changed since the game was invented.

According to Wisden, in the late 18th century, players were bribed to throw matches. The late, great, WG Grace, a type of Edward Lear in flannels, was a notorious sledger who could argue the toss with any bumptious umpire.

“They came to see me bat; not you umpire”.

Nothing new about tampering either: In 1921, J. W. H. T. Douglas, England’s captain in Australia, threatened to report Arthur Mailey for cheating by using resin to grip the ball – until Mailey pointed out that Douglas’s own thumbnail had been worn to the flesh picking the seam for his own bowlers.

Turnbull feels the need to wag the finger to signal his own virtue. It helps to blame someone else, too, of course. Blaming and shaming have vastly increased under this Coalition government’s eagerness to wage war on the poor. Delinquent cricketers are another safe target. Unless, of course you value your credibility and integrity.

Vice-Captain David Warner’s wife Candice blames herselfThe Australian sensitively reports. Vile abuse from South Africans about her youthful liaison, with New Zealand rugby star and heavyweight boxer, Sonny Bill Williams, affected Warner’s state of mind during the series. Liaison? The Guardian sticks with tryst, lest we assume they were partners.

Offensive songs, signs and spectators wearing Sonny Bill masks — went way too far. “on a complete other level” she says. She’d be left in tears in the team hotel. So her husband had to go the sandpaper tamper?

“I feel like it’s all my fault and it’s killing me — it’s absolutely killing me,” she tells the Murdoch sympathetic ear, The Australian, stressing she’s “not trying to make excuses for the ball tampering”.

Perish the thought. Candice refers to an altercation between Warner and Quinton de Kock, also caught on film during the tea break on day four at Kingsmead Cricket Ground in Durban.

Luckily, our sporting nation is blessed with an army of powerful, protective bureaucracies, all with autocratic CEOs. Unlike its Warne and Waugh fiasco, Cricket Australia whistles up an investigation that’s over in a couple of days.

Incredibly, CEO Sutherland claims Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft were the only players with knowledge of the plot to change the condition of the ball in the third Test against South Africa in Cape Town.

They are charged with breaching Cricket Australia’s Code of Conduct and are flown home. Captain Stevie Smith is “stripped of his captaincy” as sports writers like to put it in case by his actions he hasn’t forfeited it already. Suspended from the game for a year.  He says he “accepts full responsibility for his role in the episode”.

It’s a “failure of leadership”. He won’t be considered for a leadership position for two years.

No-one’s really convinced. Deceit, buck-passing and laconic cover-ups trigger a welter of finger-wagging, hand-wringing.  Schadenfreude swamps nostalgia. Almost. Cricket’s always been like that.

“I think a lot of what they’re copping at the moment comes from the way they have played their game,” says England’s Australian coach, Trevor Bayliss. “It’s almost like teams and people around the world have been waiting for them to stuff up, so they can lay the boot.” 

Our big-wiggery – from our PM to his republican cobber in the red bandanna, Peter FitzSimons rush to pass judgement, a way of establishing their own moral probity by condemning a new outbreak of contagion .

After penalties are imposed on the lads, up goes an appeal from a chorus of blokes who claim our Cam, his captain and vice have been hard done by. They fail to see anything wrong with cheating because everybody’s doing it. They may well be but normalising corruption is hardly going to cure the game of its badly tarnished reputation.

Nor will drug cheat, mauler of metaphor, Shane Warne who calls the penalties excessive. Cricket Australia is “caving into a tornado of hysteria”.

 Ball Tampering becomes the latest, sensational episode in our long-running national ruling-class melodrama, Bread and Circuses. It provides a wondrous opportunity for inspired interdisciplinary ensemble work from a team of old stagers, Cricket Australia’s young gladiators, awful hams, hacks and stage-struck ingénues.

Yet not everyone enjoys the show. The scandal is more than the product of poor political role models; bad political leadership. Mike Carlton contends in The Saturday Paper. It is part of a larger national sickness.

There is something rotten in the Commonwealth of Australia. A culture of greed, selfishness, envy, cruelty and often criminal corruption is gnawing at the nation’s heart. The notion of the “fair go”, once prized as the very essence of Australianism, has become an empty slogan mouthed by the sharp-elbowed spivs and chancers hell-bent on trampling the rest of us into the blood and sawdust as they claw their way to the top.

One recent case illustrates Carlton’s concern. It’s the outrageous breach of good faith by two Victorian Neoliberal

Sharp elbowed Liberal “spivs and chancers” MPs Craig Ondarchie and Bernie Finn, beg a parliamentary pair to go to church Good Friday but, instead, hide in their offices to return to vote down Dan Andrews’ government’s bill to sort out a fair deal for fire-fighters. It’s just not cricket to use a well-worn-out phrase.

“If people professing with religious fervour their desire to be paired can’t be trusted, and their leadership believes the end justifies the means, no one can rely on the Liberals’ word ever again, says Families Minister Jenny Mikakos.

Tony Abbott and Kevin Rudd get brief cameo roles as our nation’s ongoing melodrama, Bread and Circuses, which helpfully eclipses the Abbott-Turnbull government’s sixtieth straight panning by the News Poll, an epic –  if not monumental failure, which helps insulate us once again from an outside world as markets are rocked by Reality TV President Donald Trump’s tariff war which wipes $400 billion off the US stock market in a few days.

We were led into an illegal invasion of Iraq, by John Howard, Man of sandpaper, a PM who did not hesitate- as it suits the current incumbent, Man of Spiel, Malcolm Turnbull, to eagerly volunteer our unconditional support for whatever disastrous, nefarious, hare-brained scheme our great and powerful friend proposes.

Fairness? Howard falsely claimed to have legal support for the invasion. Equally false was the information on the Weapons of Mass Destruction that US sources told him were sufficient cause alone to wage war on Iraq.

But John is a champion spin bowler. “In the event,” writes the war criminal, picking at the seam of the Kookaburra, “this proved not to be the case. That does not mean, as claimed by Mr Rudd, that my government had misled the Australian people. Rather it means the intelligence was wrong.”