Conflict of interest crops up all too frequently in Australian business, political and media life and unfortunately we’re seeing quite an avalanche right now.
Let’s start with Peter Costello’s book deal. Wasn’t our longest serving Treasurer responsible for partially funding Melbourne University during the Howard years? Now this same institution has reportedly given him a six figure advance.
And if the Treasurer really is leaving Parliament to pursue a commercial career, surely it is inappropriate to use parliamentary resources and time to pursue the major private commercial venture that would be a big-selling auto-biography.
We’ll be seeing another conflict playing out in Perth today when the incumbent directors of WA News completely control the electoral process in Australia’s first major company board spill. The board have had the proxy results for two days before all the other candidates, they’ve decided not to webcast the meeting and it was the incumbents who unilaterally decided there was only four vacancies. Where is an independent body like the AEC in a contested corporate situation like this one?
Ironically, the WA News board has run a campaign against Kerry Stokes based on his own conflicts of interest from controlling the Seven Network.
One issue I’ll be raising today is the conflict between Kerry Stokes’ personal interests and the editorial positions of that almighty monopoly known as The West Australian on controversial public policy positions.
There is none bigger than the current ban on uranium mining in WA when Kerry Stokes would love to provide the Caterpillar equipment for the development of the state’s huge uranium deposits.
Moving right along, we have the ASX regulatory conflict of interest that business heavies such as CBA chief executive Ralph Norris and QBE chairman John Cloney are belatedly concerned about.
Surprise, surprise, the ASX has hit back today with a nameless spokesman alleging through The Australian that CBA has its own conflict from a 10 per cent stake in the AXE consortium which wants to compete in niche areas against the ASX.
This conflict claim is rubbish. CBA is not trying to compete as a regulator and with $100 billion of investment funds to look after, it is more than entitled to bag the ASX conflict when it has failed to vigorously pursue its regulatory role.
We’ve barely touched the sides here when you consider the conflicts that come from donations to political parties, companies selecting and paying their own auditors, banks paying huge but reducing commissions to mortgage brokers and the whole mess around ratings agencies.
Alan Kohler summed it all up rather well in this piece for Business Spectator in February. It seems almost standard practice for business to get paid by both sides these days.
Here’s an idea that didn’t get a mention at the 2020 Summit: let’s systematically attack and reduce conflicts of interest in Australian society.
Go here for yesterday’s radio interviews on Costello’s conflicts.