Suitably goaded by Queensland senator Oswald Mosley, the governing class delivered exactly what he craved yesterday by not merely condemning his deliberately provocative use of Holocaust imagery and lauding of the White Australia Policy but turning it into an elaborate moment of political theatre, featuring that rare political beast, cross-party unity.
Even Pauline Hanson joined in the condemnation, presumably mortified that Mosley had one-upped her party by trading anti-Semitic dog whistling for outright invocations of the Holocaust in the cause of racial purity. Whether Mosley’s party leader, House of Reps MP Bob Katter, helped matters with an even less coherent than usual rant, delivered with his customary zero-to-foam-flecked-fury-in-four-seconds manner, isn’t clear; the Katter brand has been around in federal politics for decades without ever electing anyone else.
But whether the sight of one of the least-trusted institutions in Australia, federal parliament, condemning Mosley while cheered on by another untrusted institution, the media, will do anything but elevate Mosley’s profile with the very people he is trying to target is a good question. However heartfelt and necessary the condemnation of Mosley was, it was exactly what he wanted.
At the same time, in Melbourne at round five of the banking royal commission hearings, we were hearing more details of banking malfeasance, by the Commonwealth’s Colonial First State wealth management arm.
A bit like Trump, we’ve become so inured to outrages that what once would have gripped the country in collective fury now passes with shrug: the increasingly bog-standard theft of fees from the dead, which CFS tried to deal with by slipping out a disclosure that the dead might be charged for three months after they died (a sort of purgatory fee, if you like); the foot-dragging on moving account holders to lower-fee MySuper products in violation of the law; the failure of the regulator — not in this case the disgraced ASIC, but the hitherto-well regarded APRA — to aggressively pursue blatant breaches of the law, but instead have cosy chats about what exactly the punishment for violations should be.
What the royal commission, even in its politically shortened form, is showing isn’t the unusual criminal behaviour of large corporations but how deeply embedded law-breaking is in the financial system, where the law is treated as a guide and enforcement is something to have a phone call with the head corporate regulator about, not to be feared.
Nothing truly bad ever happens to miscreant bankers; there might be some momentary embarrassment from an ASIC media release, but no one ever suffers any consequences and certainly no one ever has to go to court, unless you get especially greedy for yourself and do something egregiously dumb.
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What’s this got to do with Oswald Mosley and his “Fuhrer’s Greatest Hits” antics in Canberra? The banking royal commission is showing late-stage neoliberalism in action: the giant corporations, the helpless regulator, the gouging and rorting of “customers”, the exploitation of market power, the political protection of the whole racket by the industry’s mates and former execs in Canberra. It shows that voters’ suspicion that the system is designed to serve the interests of the powerful and corporations is well-founded.
That of course doesn’t justify racism. The banks and retail super funds are colour-blind — to them, everyone is to be exploited equally. But present people with a political and economic system that doesn’t serve them — look at yesterday’s wage growth figures as well — and parasites like Mosley, Katter and Hanson will arrive to feed off the resentment. The trick is to give people a system that delivers for them. Elaborate condemnation of racists won’t get us very far on that.