ASIC James Shipton banking royal commission
ASIC chairman James Shipton (Image: AAP/Mick Tsikas)

“But wait, there’s more!” That’s about all you need for a daily headline at the moment.

It’s hard to remember a time when we’ve had such an avalanche of shocking scandals damaging the top echelons of government and the corporate elite in such a short space of time. Even the media is finding it difficult to keep up with the daily — no, hourly — litany of atrocities.

On Thursday we heard all about Christine Holgate, the AusPost CEO who had been stood aside over handing out an armful of Cartier watches to her managers in the government-owned entity. Then, just 24 hours later, Friday was another red letter day.

It was hard to top but Senate estimates managed it with another bombshell revelation: our top corporate cop, ASIC chair James Shipton, was also standing aside after taxpayers footed the $118,000 tab for handling his tax affairs.

This wasn’t his tax bill — God knows what that must be — but just the bill to accounting firm KPMG for organising his financials after his move from his previous Harvard job in the US. The original approved amount was a mere $4000.

As if that wasn’t enough we also found out that his deputy, Daniel Crennan, had received $70,000 in excess relocation expenses when he moved from Melbourne to Sydney back in 2018. 

Perhaps we should be grateful he was only moving interstate to the same tax jurisdiction.

In the time-honoured tradition of pollies who repay the offending funds, so too did our two guardians of corporate behaviour — although there will be another inquiry to add to the Holgate one.

Jumping the gun, Crennan announced his resignation this morning, stating he was already planning to retire in July next year but would leave effective immediately “in the best interests of ASIC” so this would “not disrupt its important work”. Will Shipton be next? Stay tuned.

Not surprisingly the ASIC debacle overshadowed another story later on Friday from the current AusPost chair: he could find no board minutes of approval for the Holgate watch purchases. And for good measure, the total cost of the watches was actually $20,000 — not the $12,000 she claimed in the previous day’s evidence.

That didn’t stop some commentators jumping to her defence, starting with Eddie McGuire of all people.

In a lengthy rant about his “superstar” Collingwood board colleague, he attacked “hacks and dullards” and wasteful government members who engaged in the “politics of envy”. Given McGuire’s controversial and lengthy 22-year tenure as president of the football club, he is hardly one to lecture on good governance.

Meanwhile the rest of the media was doing contortions trying to work out which side they should be on in the fast-rising tide of muck. Right-wing business commentator Terry McCrann attacked the Liberal PM’s treatment of Holgate as being “peak stupid”, “hysteria on steroids” and worse, and said it proved Morrison did not understand how businesses work.

He was backed up by another veteran business writer and stablemate Bob Gottliebsen, while the AFR went full conspiracy mode with the headline “Did someone have it in for Christine Holgate?”

Morrison meantime continued frothing about Holgate — “appalled, shocked, outraged” — which only inflamed debate over degrees of disgrace. He was attacked for his selective attitude to accountability and hypocrisy over his different treatment of recent scandals.

Shipton was far worse than Holgate, the argument (rightly) goes. But neither were apparently as bad as giving $30 million to Lib donors for a $3 million parcel of land, which is currently being investigated by the AFP. And what about those sports rorts?

Speaking of which, there was another damaging story overshadowed by the others on this Black Friday of news. It was at yet another parliamentary inquiry: this time a NSW one into Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s involvement in her own version of sports rorts.

In staggering evidence, two of her key staffers admitted they destroyed key documents shown to the premier to approve a controversial council grants program favouring Coalition-held seats.

“Poor Gladys” is now “Shredder Gladys”.

So it was no surprise that Premier Investments chose late Friday to drop the news that CEO Mark McInnes had pocketed a $5.4 million salary and Solly Lew some $24 million in dividends when the company was raking in $67 million from JobKeeper.

There were no “appalled, shocked, outraged” comments from Solly’s close personal friend Treasurer Josh Frydenberg. (It’s hard not to do the degrees of disgrace thing).

Thank goodness the Crown inquiry wasn’t sitting on Friday. Or did I miss something?

Peter Fray

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