Tony Aveling, the new CEO of Collection House, an ASX listed debt collection company, has long been associated with large flows of cash.

With the banks taking a PR pounding in the late 1990s, it was Aveling, then chief of the Australian Bankers’ Association, who devised the “commercial relationship” between the ABA and Australia’s two most powerful talkback hosts – Alan Jones and John Laws – to rebuild the credibility of the major banks with their customers.

The result of that arrangement is now part of Australian broadcasting folklore. Aveling’s complicity was fully exposed, with recordings of his scripted on-air conversations with Laws being made public. This from 2UE, 19 February 1999:

Aveling: John I’ve just been listening to what you’ve been saying about how children should be learning more about Gallipoli and the rest of our history…and I got to thinking about how banks have been part of that history for 180 years…So John, the reason I’m calling is to say we’d like to help you do that…

Laws: Well, you kind of catch me on the hop a bit here…I haven’t been one of the big fans of banks for a while, but I mean if the hard questions are asked, will they be answered?

Aveling: Well John…we want you to ask us those hard questions, and if the answers we give you aren’t good enough then we can handle the criticism – I guess we’re pretty well used to it – but provided it’s based on the whole story.

The Australian Broadcasting Authority inquiry into the revelations found 95 breaches of the Broadcasting Services Act, yet six years later Laws and Jones have shrugged off the scandal, their right-wing demagoguery still wooing listeners (and advertisers) with all the power it did prior to the affair.

It has taken Aveling a bit longer to rehabilitate his career. He resigned from the ABA in April 2000, just months after the inquiry concluded, and though he worked as a director at Collection House for five years, he now assumes the role of CEO with a salary upwards of $1million a year, long term share incentives, and a living away from home allowance capped at a measly $2000 a week.

According to Collection House director Barrie Adams, Aveling is “a first class selection.” When the Courier Mail asked if the cash-for-comments affair tainted Mr Aveling’s credentials, Adams played the straightest of bats: “Tony has an excellent record in the financial services, a strong knowledge of the company…he will deliver the goods.”

It must have something to do with the values Collection House professes on its website – excellence, understanding, integrity, and ethics.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey