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Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Whatever you can get away with

It’s nothing new that “history is always written by winners.” But rolled into this assessment is a disturbing new “morality” at work both in business and politics.

Winners are now those who can successfully get away with, well, anything. Pulling the wool over voters’ or customers’ eyes is not particularly new – but the brazenness of it is.

“Winners” are increasingly those who can get away with self-interested hitherto dodgy dealings. The problem for them is that this pushing of the ethical envelope can unravel spectacularly when reality bites by way of exposure of their appalling behaviour or dishonesty; or to put it another way, when the truth comes out in such a way it can no longer be denied with impunity.

So in the United States we have Donald Trump desperately trying to call black white and to transfer onto others what he himself is accused of in spades. For example, in the 2016 presidential election campaign, Trump encouraged his supporters to an almost religious fervour as they chanted at his rallies “lock her up”; the “her” was Hillary Clinton. The Republican presidential candidate, Trump had no qualms calling her “crooked Hillary” for numerous, often confected allegations over misuse of charitable foundation monies, private emails and favours for friends. His own charitable foundation is now closed down for exactly what he accused Clinton of. Trump is the first presidential candidate in recent history who refused to release his tax returns or records. He even claimed if he paid no tax it was “because I am smart”.

Hillary’s supposed misdemeanours pale into insignificance compared to the latest revelations that Trump used his presidential office to heavy a foreign government in the Ukraine to dig up dirt on a domestic political opponent, Democrat Joe Biden. Evidence before Congressional hearings has even Trump’s supporters, for example the ambassador to the Ukraine, Gordon Sondland, who donated a million dollars to Trump’s campaign, calling out the president’s shameless abuse of his public office.

Closer to home, we have the seemingly never ending revelations of the unconscionable behaviour of our major banks. The latest is Australia’s oldest bank, Westpac. With every new shocking disclosure, the government shifts uneasily on its feet. Not only did the Abbott/Hockey Government try to unwind reforms busting financial advice conflict of interest working against banks’ customers, it cut funding to the watchdogs and extracted some of their teeth.

Now we have the Prime Minister Scott Morrison adopting a double standard. It’s well to remember as Treasurer he resisted a Royal Commission into the banks till he was almost blue in the face. Morrison says it’s not his place to tell Westpac to sack its CEO after 23 million breaches of foreign money transfers laws worth $11 billion, yet he was outspoken calling for the sacking of Victorian construction industry union boss John Setka for breaches that pale into insignificance by comparison.

The banks, by contrast, are too big to fail and, it seems, too big to jail.

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