Labor’s corporate governance and banking policies are two of the reasons Crikey feels more sympathetic to Labor going into Saturday but Labor’s Financial Services spokesman Senator Stephen Conroy was very risk-averse when he debated his opposite number Joe Hockey in Sydney on Monday.

Perhaps the amount of time these two gentlemen have spent doing overseas road shows, demonstrating bipartisan support for Australia as the Asian Financial Centre, has developed a comfy relationship not seen elsewhere on the campaign trail. None of the underlying invective of the Costello Crean National Press Club Debate was too apparent. But good humoured interjections. Sure.

Excitement for the day was provided by not one, but two, Australian Stevedoring Union gatecrashers who lobbed into the Regent Board room in well thought through disguises to evade the pervasive security- navy blue suits. They yelled a number of questions to Mr Hockey about Walker Corporation, its CEO and its bid for Ansett in relation to Hockey’s portfolio responsibility for ASIC . Moderator Michael Pascoe tried to call them out of order but Hockey was glad to take them on, telling the assembled bizoid crowd that a Labor victory would bring this sort of union thuggery to their very front doors, receiving a muted but positive response. He might not be connect Malaysia with the ringhit, but he can work a crowd, our Joe.

Things Hockey and Conroy agreed on:

That the financial services sector is now 7% of GDP, bigger than mining and agriculture combined.

That the sector will be different in the future as it was differing in the past.

That being the third time zone after Europe and the US gives us a natural advantage.

That Axiss is doing a good job in promoting Australia as somewhere more than just a good place for a back office.

That Banks need to do a better job in their social responsibilities.

That both their parties started the reform of the financial services sector.

That there ought to be a Minister for Financial Services in the next Government- perhaps even at Cabinet level. Lots of agreement on that.

But where did they differ?

It’s hard to pin down anything to specific other than predictable party positions. For example, Hockey stands for better regulation, not more regulation. Conroy stands ready to regulate where, for example, the Banks don’t voluntarily take up his social charter.

Hockey says ASIC gets more money when it needs it for specific investigations [HIH was his example, but he didn’t dwell]. Conroy wants to give them $6M over three years because there are uncharged breaches out there by naughty directors.

Conroy wants to increase super contributions beyond 9%, but won’t say how, leaving it to a far ranging Super Inquiry. Hockey didn’t want to talk about super because his boss had that script today.

And Conroy mentioned people outside of the sector, pensioners, that sort of thing. But neither really dwelt on these and what the portfolio might do for them, unless you happen to be a forex dealer, or work for expanding JP Morgan.

Perhaps where they really differed was their style and expectations as politicians.

Conroy was a committed party warrior with street cunning and tendency to some vicious left hooks. Hockey was a focused steamroller, a one man reform machine. Conroy said “we”, every time. Hockey said “I” just as often.

Hockey served up some really big claims that went unchallenged – for example, that every Wallis recommendation had been delivered by the Howard Government. Well, except that four pillars thingy, but clearly he meant every reform they wanted to deliver.

Hockey also claimed that the Government “delivered” over 100 Wizard home loan branches, the community Bendigo Bank and that he had personally signed the license for Elders to conduct banking services across the rural Australia.

But not content with agreeing and disagreeing, Conroy wanted a bit of tough stuff. He slam dunked Hockey with a claim that his office strong armed media releases from companies in the sector or face being named by him in Question Time. This caused a mild collective intake of breath – but Conroy’s dogged follow up that Hockey pressured directors into retaining a CEO caused a swirl of comment.

Then, as he finished his summing up, Conroy suddenly asked why former Senator and Consul General Michael Baume was appointed to the Board of the Superannuation Complaints Commission when his name wasn’t even on the short list. Smiling, Hockey simply said the Government appointed on merit.

So if all you did in this election was tune into this debate, it wouldn’t be too bad a summary of the broader campaign. The Government is thumping its record but being coy about its plans for the future. Ministers have a look of What Porftolio Will I Get, not What Do I Do To Win? Labor is dogged, not sure if its swinging king hits, or outlining a bold new balance of economic and social reforms, or both, not really sure it’s going to win. Monday’s debaters fitted that bill pretty snugly. And at the back of the room, the cameramen stared blankly into the middle distance as their cameras recorded, waiting for the unexpected disaster, not the meritorious winner.

Feedback to [email protected]

* Crikey is Australia’s most successful independent ezine with 1860 subscribers who for $55 get a tee-shirt, 5 sealed section emails a week and access to our 2.4 million word searchable archive so why not join the Crikey army by clicking here and help us fight the good fight for better corporate performance and accountability.

Peter Fray

Fetch your first 12 weeks for $12

Here at Crikey, we saw a mighty surge in subscribers throughout 2020. Your support has been nothing short of amazing — we couldn’t have got through this year like no other without you, our readers.

If you haven’t joined us yet, fetch your first 12 weeks for $12 and start 2021 with the journalism you need to navigate whatever lies ahead.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW