The banking industry under the Howard
government has become Australia’s most powerful and profitable cartel,
and donating more than $20 million to political parties since 1990 has
been a vital strategy for the bankers.

But Crikey can today reveal that Andrew Robb, the former Liberal Party
federal director and now member for Goldstein, was an early player in
the notorious cash for comment saga.

After
running the 1996 campaign, Robb went out on his own to make his
millions and this included working for the likes of Kerry Packer and
taking on lucrative consulting work. One such gig was for the
Australian Bankers’ Association and Crikey has been told that he
advised the ABA to act like an aggressive political party with tactics
such as pushing an agenda through shock jocks.

John Howard has
long been a fan of the power of radio and has used the likes of Alan
Jones and Neil Mitchell to his advantage. Robb watched this first hand
and then advised the bankers to follow suit. Lo and behold, it wasn’t
long before Bob Miller, the recently sacked 2UE boss, was conceiving
the original $1.5 million John Laws cash for comment contract with
Chris Stewart, Tony Aveling and co at the Australian Bankers’
Association.

Alan Jones was also dragged through the inquiry,
but never really suffered because he retained his ratings and most of
the major politicians, including Howard, Beazley and Carr, kept talking
to him. We’re not aware of anyone who took the high moral ground and
said: “I don’t approve of all those adverse findings in the cash for
comment inquiry, so find someone else to interview.”

Similarly,
the Howard government took no action against the banks over cash for
comment, nor has it taken action over any of the excesses that have
seen bank market capitalisation triple over the past decade to about
$200 billion.

Labor’s banking policy was surprisingly weak
before the last election given all of Mark Latham’s rhetoric about
club-busting and helping the battler. At first we thought this was
because the only two CEOs he reportedly took advice from ran listed
banks: Dr David Morgan from Westpac and Rob Hunt from Bendigo Bank. But
both have today denied that claim in Bernard Lagan’s book and you can
read Morgan’s letter to TheAFRhere.

Peter Fray

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