A tale of two Royal Commissions: why double standards reveal a greater truth about priorities

At last Australian businesses can rest easy, confident that their government has taken controversial, but long overdue action to restore the rule of law to one of our most crucial sectors.  No more will our economy be held to ransom by the thugs and criminals whose scant regard for the law has done untold damage to our national prosperity.  And the politicians who pander to these Neanderthal bully boys will finally be held to account at the next election.

That’s right friends, the Banking Royal Commission is finally getting its job done.

The contrast between the Heydon Royal Commission into Trade Unions and the Hayne Royal Commission into the Banks couldn’t be more stark 

One was conceived of with the singular goal of weaponising the criminal justice system to take out the Liberal Party’s political opponents, most notably my union, the CFMEU. 

Theatrical police raids on union offices, designed for the evening news;  John Setka pulled over on a Sunday afternoon at the Queen Victoria Markets – not at his office, not during work hours -- while out with his family and arrested as his frightened kids looked on in horror; Unsubstantiated smears that have ruined the reputations of individuals with no findings of misconduct, no charges laid, no prosecutions upheld.  The Commissioner himself a Tory poster boy and keynote speaker at a Party fundraiser.

The other – vehemently opposed by the Liberal Party – a systematic and finely-honed inquiry into serious misconduct that has jeopardised the integrity of our entire financial system.

In just a few weeks of hearings, serious allegations of lying to regulators, forgery and bribery have come to the surface.  This, on top of already revealed cases of hundreds of millions of dollars wrongly taken from customers, and the 53,700 alleged breaches of money laundering and terrorism financing laws now the subject of legal action by Austrac.

As a former Finance Sector Union official I have been acutely aware of bad practises in the banking and wealth industries for two decades.  None of these revelations comes as much as a shock, and the underpinning concept – that financial service providers have an overarching and paramount duty to act in the best interests of customers – has been the core pillar of the FSU’s political advocacy since the mid 1990s.

But there will be no arrests at the Queen Victoria Markets and no televised office raids.  The banks will never be dismissed as outlaw organisations and their executives will never be branded criminals.  My opponent in the seat of Banks (yes, he is literally the Member for Banks – David Coleman – voting 25 times against setting up the Commission and largely silent on its findings to date.

And so it goes.  The unionists who want safe workplaces and good wages are thugs and bullies, but the bankers who have broken the law in the relentless pursuit of ever more profit are good chaps who have made a few mistakes 

The hypocrisy is galling but don’t let them make you believe that this is just about political double standards:  there is something far more dangerous at play here.

Our conservative opponents don’t just want to beat us, they fundamentally and sincerely oppose our core mission.  Putting people first, as the slogan goes, necessarily means putting something else second.  It is an ideological line in the sand that says the interests of workers and consumers, retirees and students, men, women, children, Anglo, non-Anglo, Indigenous, must be placed ahead of corporate welfare, share prices and marginal returns.  And they find that horrifying.

When the CFMEU fights for safety, they see the cost of safety.  When they see a death on a building site, they look for ways to share around the blame because sharing the blame shares the cost of stopping the problem.  When the FSU fights for customers, they see the lost opportunity to sell a debt product.  When they see a dodgy loan foisted on a vulnerable person they see personal responsibility rather than a lender’s responsibility, because to see otherwise would be to reframe the entire debt industry.

That is not to say we are, or should be, anti-business.  The people who employ us are business people, the people we buy ever improving products and services from run businesses.  Good business that people work hard to see thrive.  We are the beneficiaries of a strong, dynamic, entrepreneurial spirit.  Indeed, the people we put first must include small business people who are as much the losers out of this government’s policies as other working people.

Just don’t be surprised when the full force of the State is brought down to protect the top end of town.  In a society and economy that bends towards the interests of big corporations their needs will get a generous hearing and their crimes will be dealt with generously.

Instead, let’s redouble our efforts to build a strong and effective collective voice for workers through the union movement, and let’s elect a Labor government that lifts people up, listens, and puts the interests of everyday people at the centre of our national discussion.