Now that the political platitudes about good ol’ Aussie mateship have been packed away until next Anzac Day, time for a cold shower. We have become a nation of spivs and shonks, con-artists and lurk merchants.
If we can pull a swifty, we will. If we can run a rort, stage a scam, or just plain lie or steal to satisfy our greed or ambition, then let it rip. Ethical behaviour and common decency are trampled in the rush. The only crime is getting caught.
The Melbourne Storm scandal is the latest example of this national epidemic of dishonesty. Any way you cut it, a football club owned by the country’s biggest media octopus deliberately set out to cheat its way to the top. As ever, the end justified the means.
”This was about if we want to be competitive … everybody else does it, we had to do it,” said Brian Waldron, the Storm’s now very ex-chief executive. News Ltd, snared in a monumental conflict of interest, would like you to believe it was all Waldron’s fault, that nobody in that grim Murdoch fortress at Surry Hills had a clue what was going on.
The finance industry has always been a moral cesspool, but never more than in the wake of the global financial crisis. Storm Financial, Opes Prime and Westpoint crashed in a welter of sharp practice and the fine print of lawyers and bankers, plunging thousands of investors into debts beyond their worst nightmares.
And the rot spread to the bluest of the blue chips. To give just one small example, in 2006 the Huon Valley Council in rural Tasmania put $4 million of its ratepayers’ money with the Commonwealth Bank, in three exciting new products known as collateralised debt obligations.
These were exactly the same as the junk investment concoctions that led to the crash on Wall St. In four years, the Commonwealth managed to shrink the council’s $4 million to a little less than $18,000. The bank, however, announced a $2.91 billion half yearly profit at last report. The good folk of the Huon Valley can whistle for their dough. Nowhere has the stench been stronger than in the federal government’s home insulation scheme. Billions of dollars were sloshing from the Canberra pipeline. Any mug lair who owned a ute with a bullbar and a dog on the back could become a qualified installer virtually overnight, raking in the loot.
It was open slather for incompetent workmanship, the use of inferior or even dangerous materials, criminal disregard of an employer’s legal duty to ensure a safe workplace, and a blizzard of fake invoicing.
Allan Hawke, the bureaucrat called in to investigate, pinned it in one scathing sentence. ”Despite some safeguards against fraud, no one foresaw the possible extent of potential malfeasance which was simply alarming – a classic example of why governments need to regulate markets to ensure their proper functioning, ” he wrote.
Tony Abbott and his media cheerleaders would have you believe it was the government that botched the scheme. In a typical piece of wretched excess, Abbott at one stage demanded that Peter Garrett be charged with industrial manslaughter.
In fact, the insulation scheme was a good idea, a worthwhile economic stimulus. The blame for its failure lies with the small business crooks who stuck their snouts in the trough. Time to throw the book at them.
The good news of the week was that Melbourne will overtake Sydney as Australia’s biggest city sometime in 2037. This prediction came from the economic forecasters BIS Shrapnel, in a report entitled Going Nowhere, done for the grandly named Urban Taskforce. Not everyone was happy. The Taskforce chief executive, Aaron Gadiel, was in a lather. Sydney was ”a global city in decline,” he wailed. ”I don’t think Sydneysiders want to see Sydney relegated to a second-order city.”
Oh yes they do. Checking the reader comments on the Herald website, I found most people either could not care less or actively looked forward to a quieter life. Let Melbourne have all the pressures of property booms, traffic snarls and massive infrastructure spending, they said.
It might help to know where Mr Gadiel is coming from. The Urban Taskforce is a roll call of Australia’s biggest property developers and their hangers-on. Gadiel himself is a former Labor Party apparatchik, a onetime chief of staff to the famous Eddie Obeid, a good m-a-a-te of Joe Tripodi, and brother-in-law to Tanya Gadiel, the state Labor MP for Parramatta.
Not that he need worry too much. The predictions are almost certainly wrong. As everyone knows, economic forecasting as a science ranks only slightly ahead of astrology for accuracy, and well behind the form guide for today’s races at Caulfield.