The government can't admit it was wrong to oppose the royal commission

The gall of the government failing to admit it was wrong to oppose the royal commission

If you were looking to understand widespread disenchantment among the Australian public with politics and politicians in 2018 the banking royal commission is hard to go past.

The federal government led by Malcolm Turnbull was vehemently opposed to such an inquiry and resisted calls to establish it for eighteen months. The Prime Minister capitulated in November last year – two days after flagging the fact a royal commission would not happen – and announced an inquiry would be established. The treasurer Scott Morrison said what he had once described as a “populist whinge” was now ‘necessary but regrettable’.

This was driven in part by pressure within the coalition – the nationals threatened to revolt – but also at the behest of the big banks.  The leaders of the big banks wrote a joint letter determining that an inquiry was necessary to restore public faith in the financial system.

To say this commission was borne from the Turnbull government’s sincere commitment to hold banks to account is a folly.  It was dragged kicking and screaming to the process.

So far the royal commission headed by Kenneth Hayne has revealed widespread misconduct pedalled by a number of our largest financial institutions that is more appalling than perhaps many lay citizens had imagined. The brazen and reprehensible tactics that have been uncovered include charging fees to dead people, knowingly misleading the regulators, failing to verify customers’ financial positions and forging documents.

With these shocking revelations, any argument for resisting this inquiry has been entirely eroded which makes the political posturing from those who resisted this process hard to stomach.

The former deputy PM Barnaby Joyce has been the most forthright.

“My previous position of not wanting a royal commission was wrong. So I was wrong,”  Joyce told ABC radio. “The thing that concerns me is not when they give a case of a rogue employee, or a rogue agency did something roguish, or basically illegal, or immoral. It’s when it says that there’s a culture of the whole institutions — that’s what really concerns me, because that goes right to the core of the apple, that one.”

His frankness has escaped others and while his position as a backbencher does afford him greater freedom to speak out, it is dispiriting that in the face of such comprehensive evidence more politicians have not been compelled to say the obvious.

We got it wrong. We’re going to now try and get it right.   

Watching Kelly O’Dwyer evade saying anything akin to these words to Barrie Cassidy on Insiders on Sunday morning was excruciating.

A number of senior ministers have been asked to express regret for opposing this inquiry but the questions are yet to bear fruit. The Prime Minister has conceded it would have been better “politically” to embrace the inquiry sooner but that remains light years from admitting an error of judgement and it’s galling.

Why is sorry so hard to say? Why are errors of judgment so difficult to admit?

It is unlikely anyone in the Turnbull government resisted this process because it knew the depth of the problems in the financial services sector and wanted to conceal it. It is more likely it was viewed as an unnecessary inconvenience for an incredibly powerful groups of businesses. And perhaps it was also resisted because it was proposed by the opposition.

Whatever the reasons for the opposition it is now clear the royal commission was not just necessary but long overdue. Until that is said clearly expecting anything other than incredulity from Australian voters is a folly.

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