The Liberal Party’s long history of looking after the banks and financial planners springs from deep links between the party and both financial planners and banks.
Malcolm Turnbull is a former banker, although that’s just one of several careers he’s had. Kelly O’Dwyer, who has carriage of the financial services portfolio, is a former National Australia Bank executive; she has retained links to NAB via the bank’s sponsorship of Liberal fundraising events. Her ministerial predecessor Josh Frydenberg was working for Deutsche Bank when he won preselection for Kooyong. His portfolio predecessor was Arthur Sinodinos, who is another former NAB executive; Sinodinos commenced the Abbott government’s attempt to repeal the Future of Financial Advice reforms. Victorian senator Jane Hume is another NAB alumna, who also had stints at Rothschild and Deutsche Bank — although she also worked at industry super fund AustralianSuper. Gold Coast MP Bert van Manen and former Liberal senator Cory Bernardi had both been financial planners before entering parliament.
The financial planning profession itself is closely aligned with the Liberals. Traditionally, that has reflected that the core clientele of financial planners, wealthy older people, are the Liberal party base. But they also share a mutual hatred: industry superannuation funds. Labor’s championing of the hated FOFA reforms also deepened the sector’s already strong affinity for the Liberals — the two major financial planning associations were delighted when Tony Abbott was elected in 2013.
The financial planner view of the political world can be obtained via the industry’s outstanding publication, Money Management, edited by veteran journalist Mike Taylor.
“More than 60% of survey respondents said they believed a Labor government would be unduly influenced by industry funds,” Taylor wrote ahead of the 2007 election, having surveyed planners.
“With the election of the Rudd Labor government in 2007, the industry funds had secured an ally on the Treasury benches in Canberra,” he wrote four years later.
Labor’s calls for a banking royal commission represented “a continuation of a theme pursued by the industry funds movement almost from the very day the Coalition government gained office and began looking to prosecute its agenda,” Taylor said in 2016.
In a (grudgingly admiring) farewell to financial planning’s biggest bogeyman, former Industry Super Australia head David Whiteley, Taylor summed up his tenure as a “period during which the industry funds movement successfully injected hard, trades hall-style politics into the financial services debate”.
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Former and future staffers from all sides of politics often end up working as spinners or corporate affairs types in the sector too. One of the most interesting examples in recent years is Andrew Bragg. Bragg, formerly from the Commonwealth Bank, was a senior executive at the Financial Services Council. He then shifted to the Liberal Party think tank Menzies Research Centre, before becoming acting federal director of the Liberal Party last year after Brian Loughnane’s departure. He then moved to the Business Council of Australia where he is now working with Loughnane on the Council’s campaign for the government’s company tax cuts.
The big banks, AMP, foreign banks and major insurance companies are all members of the BCA; the broader sector makes up a fifth of the BCA membership. The BCA was delighted when the Abbott government established a royal commission into trade unions, but opposed a banking royal commission as “an unwarranted distraction” because the sector had “highly empowered regulators”.
Another former Financial Services Council executive, Martin Codina of BT Financial, became Josh Frydenberg’s chief of staff when the latter was appointed Assistant Treasurer in 2015, with responsibility for financial services (although, amusingly, Frydenberg had moved his super into an industry super fund).
The relationship between the Liberals and the financial sector isn’t merely organic. According to Australian Electoral Commission figures, since 2010, the finance sector has donated $5.8 million to the Coalition; in the same period, it has given $4.4 million to the the ALP. The big banks and AMP, the FSC and the Financial Planning Association have given the bulk of that: $3.85 million to the Coalition, $2.65 million to Labor. The Coalition was a particular beneficiary in 2013 and 2014 when the government was seeking to repeal FOFA (AMP, which is relatively even-handed in its donations, did not make any donations in 2014-15).
For most of the last decade, the relations between the Liberals and the financial services sector have been beyond the ordinary relationship between business, which understandably favour more business-aligned parties, and politicians. The ties of money, personnel and aligned interest are deep and rich. The Liberals, the financial services industry and the Business Council — until political calculation forced the Liberals to shift position — operated as three separate points of the same entity.
Update: NAB has contacted Crikey to advise that it has made no political donations since May 2016, when it adopted a new policy of not donating to political parties. Its sponsorship of Kelly O’Dwyer’s fundraiser was in April 2016.