Scott Morrison Liberal Party crises

The government’s embarrassment over the constant stream of shocking revelations about misconduct within major financial institutions — shocking even for veteran finance watchers in both the scale and the seniority of involvement within major corporations — isn’t the only political impact from events unfolding in Melbourne.

The long period of hardline defence against royal commission calls — including outright mockery of the idea by figures like Scott Morrison — is already yielding a goldmine of quotes for Labor as each day produces new shocks. Morrison, foolishly, kept doing this just two weeks ago when he dismissed the whole exercise as, in effect, producing nothing new. He’s had to go from saying the government wasn’t hearing anything new to claiming he was “deeply disturbed” in just 14 days. It’s not a good look. Barnaby Joyce has already said uncle and declared he was wrong. But it’s easy to admit such things from the perspective of the backbench.

That will only get worse with this morning’s revelation that some planners at a Commonwealth Bank subsidiary were charging dead people for advice — in one case, for more than a decade. As it turns out, bloodsuckers can prey on the dead as well as the living. And one assumes they were charged for the ouija board as well. Watch that one catch fire for the public.

This is all unfolding against a backdrop of the government wanting to give the perpetrators of these financial crimes a huge tax cut that will hand the banks and AMP hundreds of millions of dollars a year. That is, the people who deliberately set out to defraud customers by charging them for a product they had no intention, and in some cases no capacity, to deliver, and even charge customers who had long since gone beyond the need for any earthly advice at all, would be rewarded with a company tax cut worth billions by the time it is fully rolled out in the late 2020s.

It will also be very messy given the government wants to boast of its economic management — a shrinking deficit, personal tax cuts, strong jobs growth — but none of that will help if people keep hearing about what colossal bastards the banks are.

A few observers, and doubtless some politically savvy minds within Liberals ranks, suggested right from the get-go that a banking royal commission was going to be hard to avoid and the government shouldn’t waste precious capital resisting one, but should instead look to control it as much as possible. That included timing. If a commission had been set up in 2016, the government could have claimed credit for it, the worst revelations would have emerged after the election that year, and the whole thing would be heading to completion well ahead of the next election.

Instead, the government decided to mount a furious defence against it — a defence that became harder and harder as people inside the fence began turning their fire on the government. A defence that delayed the commission so that it will keep popping headlines like “I charge dead people” into the political narrative for most of the way to the next election.

Another great moment in the Turnbull government’s storied history of poor judgement.

Peter Fray

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