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Has Australia become a nation of crooks?

By Ad astra

I’ve been an Australian for a long while now. I always thought that Aussies were a decent bunch, wedded to the notion of a fair go for everyone, always willing to give their mates a hand up when they were down. I’ve seen example after example of this mateship among ordinary folk.

We’ve all seen how generously Aussies offer help in times of crisis, when someone has been dealt an unfair blow by circumstance, when someone needs funds for specialized medical care, and when a family or a town or an area has been devastated by drought or fire or floods. Helping hands are everywhere, generosity abounds, and goodwill is abundant. We are seeing this right now as the widespread drought worsens.

Think though about whom the generous ones are. They are ordinary Aussies like you and me, ready to help our mates when they are in strife.

Then ask yourself why these basic Australian traits are missing from the giants that dominate our economy and our society. Some of them are banks, some are corporations, some are religious orders, and some are clubs and sporting organizations. All have engendered our trust over the years. Yet so many have now destroyed that trust though dishonesty, even criminal fraud.

To our astonishment and our dismay we have discovered that they have deliberately set out to mislead their patrons, to defraud them, to gouge them financially, to take money from their pockets and erode their entitlements, to deprive them of the benefits they were promised. Their actions are no accident, no administrative mistake, no inadvertent error carried out by a junior employee. They are premeditated and carefully calculated to benefit the big guy and disadvantage the little.

In the case of religious orders they have besmirched their principles and defiled their morality as they abused the young and the old alike, the very ones they have always pledged to protect. And then they knowingly covered it up for decades, putting the reputation of their churches ahead of the welfare of the powerless and the vulnerable.

I know I don’t need to write page after page describing in detail these corporate crooks. You know them, but here are a few reminders.

Can you recall how shocked you were when the revelations of the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and the Financial Services Industry unfolded day after agonizing day. How many of you, like me, had an abiding faith in the pillars of the financial world, our four large banks, only to find that they have been actively defrauding us all in pursuit of their own profits and filling the pockets of their employees through incentives that always favoured the employee against the client. Everyone in the banks knew about this fraud from the boards and top executives down. They willfully and shamefully set about gouging their clients. It was hard to believe, but believe it we now must.

Now that the banks had been done over by the Royal Commissioner and his assistants through incisive questions and humiliating answers from the bankers, superannuation and other elements of the financial industry are to be put under the hammer. They will be found to be just as bad.

It’s hard to believe that such malfeasance could have infected every corner of the banking industry. And it was all deliberate, intentional fraud that everyone in the industry knew about and worse still, except for the occasional whistleblower, stealthily concealed.

And just last week, AMP, longstanding pillar in the edifice of our financial institutions, having been forced to make a humiliating mea culpa about its fraud, is now publicly attempting to reset its business after its chief executive Craig Meller quit, Board Chairman Catherine Brenner and other Board members resigned, and AMP executives were threatened with years in jail for fraud.

While all this was filling the headlines, the revelations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse competed for prominence.

Who knew how widespread the abuse was, how many had been involved, and how assiduously it had been covered up by the top echelons of these institutions? Who has not been shocked? Although we usually use the word ‘fraud’ for financial misdemeanors, it applies equally to the behaviour of religious and related institutions caught up in child abuse. The decency and righteousness they have been promising for eons has not been delivered; the opposite has. They are religious crooks.

More recently we have had the ACCC report on the steep rise in energy prices, which it attributes in part to market manipulation by the big players and monopolies. The ACCC wants a cap on any further merger or acquisition of a company with more than 20 per cent market share of generation to stop monopolies arising, and also wants the Australian Energy Regulator to have greater monitoring powers “to target market manipulation”. The energy market is deliberately confusing. ACCC says it’s ‘broken’! We have crooks and frauds in the energy market too.

Let’s look for a while at the sporting arena. Test cricket, long regarded as the pinnacle of decent sporting behaviour, has now been permanently diminished by the ‘ball tampering’ affair in South Africa. Captain Smith, Vice Captain Warner and perpetrator Bancroft have been lastingly shamed, as has Australian cricket and all those cricket officials and administrators right to the top, who knew about the unhealthy ‘win at all costs’ culture that encouraged this unseemly fraud. It is galling to see that our sporting heroes too are frauds and crooks.

We are well aware of the drug scandals that have afflicted the Tour de France, and recently there have been rumours that match fixing may have occurred at Wimbledon, the home of tennis, where some doubles matches were under suspicion. No Australians are implicated.

Recently, we discovered that Facebook and Optus has been deviously capturing intimate details of their clients’ behaviour and surreptitiously selling this to third parties so that they can secretly manipulate our choice of all manner of products. This is fraud, and the perpetrators are crooks.

The restaurant industry has surprised us with countless episodes of underpayment of staff wages, superannuation and entitlements. Details were provided in The merchants of venality. You can read more about this sorry tale in an article in The New DailyThe Melbourne food strip where hundreds of staff are underpaid. George Colombaris of MasterChef fame was involved in this fraud. He underpaid staff in his restaurants by $2.6 million. And when caught out, solemn promises to repay his workers their entitlements were still being dishonoured in mid July.

As a longstanding Aussie, I’m appalled and ashamed that our society has accumulated so many crooks plying their fraudulent trade. Perhaps they were always there, but I didn’t notice them. But they are there now in such profusion that no one can miss them. We are shocked, embarrassed and infuriated. Can our ‘fair go’ nation ever recover?

What do you say?

Please tell us in a line or two.

This article was originally published on The Political Sword.

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35 comments

  1. corvus boreus

    Ad Astra,
    The British Empire’s colonisation of Australia began with a convict settlement established under blatantly corrupted administration.
    I am not sure that the question is ‘have we become’ so much as ‘are we still’.

  2. Yvonne Robertson

    50 years ago my father told me that people who were rich got that way through ripping it off ordinary people. My first job while at university was as a waitress where I was regularly underpaid. I kept scrupulous records and when it came time to leave, I took them to my union who got the underpayments back for me. We have been conned out of the things we built to protect us.

  3. Judith

    Don’t forget the assault on the environment – not content with stealing from the current generation, this is depriving future generations and creating another type of debt.

  4. Andrew Smith

    Mainstreaming of corporatism, crony capitalism, nobbling good govt. policy (development), consolidation of media (and information), and if not dumbing down, encouraging our ageing population to disengage and focus upon the ‘other’ or fluff. Australia has become more like America where the question is asked ‘are we a plutocracy or an oligarchy?’.

  5. KEITH VASS

    There is no mention of the criminality of the GOVERNMENT above? Are’nt they the worst element in all this? They have allowed the FREE economy whereby there are no longer any restraints on the operation of CORPORATIONS. It is now open slather for corrupt business which is protected by corrupt GOVERNMENTS!

  6. helvityni

    I used to defend Australia when my visitors from Europe were even slightly critical of Oz. Not anymore, last night I turned the TV off when our PM was interviewed on ABC…. Something has changed, for the worse…..

  7. Anon E Mouse

    The Brits sent out their crooks and remittance people to oversee the convicts.

    Seems not much has changed, except the rich have gained more of a strangle hold on power.

  8. Ross in Gippsalnd

    In that ripping SBS German drama series ”Bad Banks” one of the banksters was blithely informed ”top bankers do not go to jail”. How true that little piece of dialogue is. If any of our banksters get even so much as a slap on the wrist it would be a huge surprise to the entire population.
    But that is how it has always been.

  9. Doug Young

    During a battle with the Queensland kangaroo tribunal over a few years (which we eventually won in spectacular fashion), we had conversations with the UN Human Rights Council. In one of these, a Special Rapporteur advised that Australia is the most corrupt country in the world due to the expertise displayed by the legislature, bureaucracy, judiciary and media in covering up malpractice and disabling all possible avenues for recourse. Certainly there are plenty of corrupt countries, but none which go to the same extent to prevent official wrong-doers from being held to account. Consider that the majority of the population have no access to justice (those who differ should try opposing any departmental decision), separation of powers is totally farcical, legislation is written by bureaucrats rather than by legislators and rarely if ever read by those whose job is to prepare legislation, and despite numerous instances of criminality, officials in positions of trust are absolved from any requirement to act honorably. The question must be asked why legislators, bureaucrats and the judiciary are immune to legislation when they should be held to a much higher standard of probity than the hoi polloi, with correspondingly higher penalties for malpractice. I have a special contempt for kangaroo tribunals which do not observe rules of evidence, which ignore all legislation save that which they dream up on the fly, which deliberately inflict serious psychological injury on their victims, which tell victims ‘you have no rights’, and which consort with the criminal organization trading as the Office of the Public Trustee to embezzle the assets of victims. To add insult to injury, neither the kangaroo tribunal nor the Office of the Public Trustee are accountable to any power in Australia.

  10. David Bruce

    I lost my innocence on the banking system while serving in the Australian air force and observing the transfer of gold from Philippines to Westpac Melbourne, then to Perth Mint and finally to the Vatican, in the 1970’s. When you add the Securency Swindles to the list of corporate crimes, is it any one wonder people over seas count their fingers after shaking hands with Australian “officials”. For the past 2 years I have watched ordinary Australians being turned into a society of snitches by Howard, then Abbot and now Dutton! More recently, I have learned it is extremely difficult to get justice on any issue in Queensland.

    Imagine what will happen when corporations can use the Trans Pacific Partnership to fill their coffers?

    Perhaps a Distinction in Ethics 101 will be a requirement for politicians, corporate executives, church leaders and media executives?

  11. diannaart

    Massive catastrophe has always brought out the best in the average person no matter which nation they are from – it is a human quality not exclusive to Australia.

    For a brief time in history even our leaders were more or less humane – wedged in between the feudal system until the creed of greed. Now compassion is seen as weakness.

    There was a time when the “customer is always right”, this old and apparently anachronistic term has translated to the “profit is the only reason to be in business”. Thus the customer has been placed at the bottom of the pyramid. Anyone not valued by the top of the pyramid is considered to be an impediment to profit making This regressive ideology has filtered throughout society from the attitude of politicians to the unemployed, the employer to the employee and is now endemic.

    Australia has inherited a class system from the British – the lack of Lords and Ladies, notwithstanding, (and remains a desire by our most conservative politicians) does not mean we are as egalitarian as we like to think. The USA has also had massive impact on our society – where government is suspect and extreme wealth the acknowledged proof of worth.

    Australia remains a small power member of the OECD nations, it is always trying to punch above its weight and sometimes succeeds. However, there is a disparity between what our leaders believe is good for this nation, which appears to be seeking approval from the USA or any bigger bully, and the average person.

    The more prominent a person is, the greater opportunity to promote their particular ideology. Kaye Lee wrote recently about Andrew Bolt – a person of Dutch immigrant parents who manages to demonize other immigrants – anyone not white enough, appealing to the lowest common denominator.

    I wonder at this “common denominator” are they really the most common of our voting citizens? Our leaders on both sides of politics appear to believe so. Labor continues to follow the unsustainable line of indefinitely locking up refugees who attempt to arrive in boats. Would Labor never win federal office if they actually changed their minds on the treatment of refugees? It is not as if politicians never change their minds, happen all the time, especially after an election.

    Was Australia a better place sometime in a glowing idyllic past? I don’t think so, we haven’t gotten worse, just more incompetent – by electing politicians and supporting celebrities who should not be let within sight of any door of high office.

  12. helvityni

    Rot started with Howard, things were still tolerable, but after all it was him who sowed the seed of racism; we decide who comes to the country etc. Gillard was pretty good and getting better, but being a mere woman, wasn’t allowed to be…

    After that it’s been all downhill.

    I had coffee yesterday with a girl friend, who is a true blue Aussie Liberal voter, she said ; It’s never been this bad before… I almost fell off my chair when hearing that…

  13. Shaun Newman

    Crooks, take your pick, public or private?

  14. guest

    When we see the results of the Banking Royal Commission that very nearly did not happen ; when we see millions of dollars handed over to the foreign proprietor of a newspaper empire or to a coterie of business men part of a “charity” called Great Barrier Reef Foundation with no due process; when we see people getting away with blue murder when other people make some peccadillo error and are crucified for it – when we see these things and numerous others, we know that “something is rotten in the state of Denmark’ and nothing good will come from until there is a thorough purging and clean-out of the stables.

    Better sooner than later.

  15. Kerri

    I blame Christianity and the Abbott belief that it is better to ask forgiveness than permission.
    It is all forgiven, just like in confession, if you say you are very, very, sorry and promise to not do it again or at least until the next time!

  16. helvityni

    Well said, Guest.

  17. Doug Young

    The type of cleanout Australia desperately needs is well nigh impossible due to the legendary apathy of the sheeple.

  18. Herman

    You nailed it Doug

  19. johno

    Would have to agree with Corvus. Oz has always been a nation of crooks. The first crooked job was to steal the land from under the first nation peoples feet, then after that the resources, then after that…..

  20. Joseph Carli

    If ever you wondered how smallpox was spread among the indigenous population from the earliest days, you can see the negligence (intentional or by incompetence) in quarantine of immigrant ships from Europe where smallpox and other diseases were brought into the community.

    “Quarantine Stations
    (Taken from Geoffrey H. Manning’s A Colonial Experience)
    South Australia [stands] almost alone in her neglect of proper means for the protection of colonists against contagious diseases introduced from abroad and for the accommodation and comfort of persons arriving in vessels known to have disease on board.
    (Register, 4 August 1873, page 5.)
    Introduction
    The rationale of quarantine during the formative years of the colony was that man, not yet having discovered the law which regulated contagious diseases, hoped to find a substitute for it by imposing laws of his own. What we lacked in scientific knowledge we attempted to supply with mechanical vigilance.
    Little could be done to control an infectious disorder when it gained an entrance into the community and, in our internal helplessness, we were driven to the desperate expedient of trying to exclude it. Quarantine as a prevention corresponded to ‘stamping out’ as a remedy and both were precarious in their operation, very costly and inconvenient in their results, while their efficacy was a matter of dispute among those who ought to have known best.
    In the early days of South Australia there was no fixed opinion either among the ordinary or the scientific public as to its protective power. The so-called health officer, who first boarded a foreign arrival, was seldom a medical man and he had to accept the captain’s own version of affairs on trust, and only where something was acknowledged to be wrong did he send for his superior officer. All this involved a danger which quarantine was meant to prevent – communication with the shore.
    Quarantine Procedures in South Australia
    For many years inadequate provision was made in the colony for the carrying into effect the quarantine laws. In consequence of emigrants landing from vessels upon which cases of smallpox had occurred in 1838, the authorities became deeply impressed with the necessity for adopting measures of precaution ‘to guard against the introduction of that and other diseases, whose ravages among the Aboriginal and infant population would be attended with such fearful consequences.’
    Accordingly, the Colonial Surgeon was directed to proceed on board all vessels arriving from Great Britain, or other foreign parts, immediately after their approaching either Glenelg or Port Adelaide, to enquire into the health of the passengers. If any infectious disorder was present no individual was allowed to either board or leave the vessel without the express sanction of the government. Further, the Harbour Master was instructed to anchor any such vessel in a place of security, where the comforts of the patients could be attended to and, at the same time, ensure that intercourse with the shore was prevented.
    Six months later the authorities, observing ‘that several ships had arrived with emigrants having no contagious diseases’, considered it unnecessary for the Colonial Surgeon to leave his other duties in Adelaide and proceed on board ships, unless his presence was specially required.
    Therefore, the previous order was rescinded and in the future all surgeons in charge of emigrant ships were required to see that the Yellow, or Quarantine, flag was hoisted immediately on their arrival if any contagious disease prevailed on board. Further, he was to take steps to prevent any communication between the shore and the ship until the Colonial Surgeon or Health Officer visited the vessel.
    It is apparent that this instruction lapsed, for early in 1849 the Editor of the Southern Australian expressed his concern:
    We have no quarantine regulations, not even a medical boarding officer. A ship load of men with fever, cholera or plague might march into Adelaide… The yellow flag is not known here. Perhaps this El Dorado, this Land of Promise is deemed by the authorities so healthy that they welcome sickness by way of change… Here men are landed in the last stage of fever and children with the maladies common to their age. The smallpox or the plague might be brought on shore; we have no regulation to prevent it… Such is the apathy of our officials, perhaps of ourselves, that nothing is done to guard against [an invasion of contagious diseases].
    Within a few months twenty cases of smallpox occurred on the Marion during her voyage, two of which proved fatal and, following her arrival, the ‘Emigration Agent on hearing this did not board the vessel, for at present his powers do not extend to preventing the landing of passengers.” ( http://www.slsa.sa.gov.au/manning/sa/health/quarant.htm#smallpox )

  21. Joseph Carli

    Smallpox vaccine, the first successful vaccine to be developed, was introduced by Edward Jenner in 1796. He followed up his observation that milkmaids who had previously caught cowpox did not later catch smallpox by showing that inoculated cowpox protected against inoculated smallpox.

    “In England, Edward Jenner, had perfected a vaccine for complete protection from this disease and just prior to the public sale of allotments in Thebarton the government advised its citizens that the Colonial Surgeon would undertake vaccinations, free of charge. By 1852 the press was urging parents to have their children and themselves vaccinated while in 1853 legislation was enacted to provide for compulsory vaccination.

    In other countries the efficacy of vaccination was self-evident, for example; in Germany before vaccination was undertaken the death rate from smallpox was 83 per thousand and after the lapse of a little more than twenty years the figure was 0.14 per thousand. ‘We have sufficient ground, then, for asserting that smallpox is not to be dreaded, unless, indeed, we wilfully neglect to use the antidote which Providence has placed in our hands.” (ibid)

  22. Malcolm

    Yes I agree Australia is a nation of crooks and history seems to point that out. I am guilty of being in ignorance of the crooked voting system that allowed me to naively vote for someone who I thought had a little more integrity than another, year after year. I am not guilty of observing through channels such as this website, of reaching the conclusion that the Governments of past and present are lock stepped in a race of self greed and blind destruction with little or no capacity for self examination let alone ethics and morals. Most people like myself are basically honest and are disgusted by their actions or non actions. As someone wisely said on AIMN some time ago; We are only as good as the most destitute who live amongst us. Thank you Australian Independent Media Network for providing sources of honesty such as these.

  23. Jennifer Gregory

    Capitalism and greed got in the way of decency.

  24. Craig L

    paul, “since when does revenue become part of the PM’s personal piggy bank?”
    Since Stephen Fitzgerald, ex CEO of Goldman Sachs, got on board of the GBRF?

  25. Ad Astra

    Folks
    May I thank you all for your informative contributions to this piece.

    There seems to be general consensus about us being ‘a nation of crooks’. Perhaps the only point of contention is when we first became crooks – some of you suggest we have had crooks in our midst for a long, long while now.

    The saga of crookedness continued yesterday when the Superannuation Industry was quizzed by the Banking Royal Commission. I was astonished, although I ought not to have been, to hear on The Drum last night what James Wheeldon, a barrister who once worked for the Regulatory Policy Branch of ASIC, told us of the culture there. He asserted that his supervisor told him that whatever the banks or their lobbyists wanted, they were to get! ASIC was clearly in collusion with the banks to protect them and advance their cause! The so-called ‘tough cop on the beat’ was there, not to penalize dishonest behaviour, but to cover it up!

    Remember how the Coalition resisted the Banking Royal Commission on the grounds that with ASIC we had a ‘tough cop on the beat’ that was keeping the banks in line. What a charade that was!

  26. Joseph Carli

    Ad Astra…the familiarity of certain names that seem to crop up like dropped stitches in a weave…be they individuals or those certain family names that have a reputation of being “reliable”…in the old conservative, trusted mold….appear again and again through our current political clime….even certain companies that have shown a reluctance to “come clean” on who is giving TO them or who is receiving FROM them, form a backdrop to the cast of characters in the LNP play-sheet.

    In my historical studies of this region back in the turn of the twentieth century, the same methodology was used to place those then “reliable” persons and families on influential committees and council positions..

    It would show that the methodology of entrenched corruption has a path in and a escape route out.

  27. paul walter

    Ad Astra, could not get past the arrogance of the executive cross-examined yesterday. Our masters set a fine example, don’t they?

    Craig L.- FASCINATING!!!!!!!

    The real criminality is often of such a blatant and huge nature that it is so unbelievable as to defy consideration.

    That is, when media and press won’t report on it when they doing their “serious” nonsenses about immigrant teenage gangs or Kim Kardashian

    Think back to the trade unions Star Chamber.. what a massive gravy train, including for the then AG, but not enough people realised the criminality, for the “official” badge.

  28. Nigel Drake

    “Game of Mates” by Cameron K. Murray and Paul Frijters puts the case for collusion and corruption in simple terms.
    It’s one that I use by way of explaination to those who do not wish to engage with the details of systemic rorting.
    “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.”
    The rest of us have to remove the parasites as best we can.

  29. Mark Needham

    “It’s hard to believe that such malfeasance could have infected every corner of the banking industry”

    Even harder to believe, that after the Royal Commission into Banking is over, that anything will change.

    Credit Union, anyone,
    Mark Needham

  30. Doug Young

    The book ‘Maaate’ by Cameron Murray continues the theme of ‘The Game of Mates’

    Corruption wasn’t accidental, it was very carefully planned with a view to making banksters and their cohorts immune to proper investigation.

  31. jimhaz

    With globalisation it would appear that both the positive and negatives are all globalised. Unfortunately as capitalism involves profit, wealth and power, the negatives are currently winning. Globalisation provides arguments for changes as corrupt deregulation, tefloning of responsibility and detachment from the working class (via creating a global super rich class who flit about the world and DAVOS for example).

    The same applies to immigration, which needs to be considered a part of globalisation. As a sum, how ‘morally good’ are the people we are getting or are a proportion of them so selfish as to change the nature of this society little bit by little bit, breaking down the social contract we had been developing in the 70-90’s. What are the effects of high immigration on existing residents – for example do the stresses of higher housing costs make us more dog-eat-dog, does it open up more opportunities for those more inclined to immoral behaviour such as ripping off workers, does it make us resentful therefore more inclined to have nihilistic attitudes to community and government. Do immigrants retain the social contract viewpoints of their homelands often where the governments and systems of their homelands are significantly corrupt (for example the propensity for black market operations or tax avoidance or non-unionism or low expectations for employment types and conditions (eg contract).

    On the other hand would this loss of morality be occurring more as a result of media globalisation, both content and the changing medium and technology and the downside of Affluence wherein entitlement feelings, self-centeredness, moral and work slackness at all levels increase.

  32. Doug Young

    As far as the masses are concerned, globalization / immigration / population increase can only be detrimental to quality of living. Mind you the elites don’t give a rats about anyone but themselves, and given the corruption endemic to the legislature, bureaucracy, judiciary, media and big business, there is no recourse …. even in the extremely unlikely event that the masses raise themselves from a state of total apathy.

  33. Ad Astra

    Folks
    Once again, I thank you for your magnificent contribution to this dialogue. What you have written greatly enhances the value of the piece. I’m grateful that you have taken so much time to express your views.

    Yesterday, the saga of dishonesty and crooked behaviour was expanded as the Royal Commission into Banking examined superannuation. The painful extraction of admissions of guilt continued with the forensic questioning of counsel assisting. What is clear, day after day, is that the misdemeanors were quite deliberately planned and perpetrated! The perpetrators knew their behaviour was crooked; the Commission has exposed them in broad daylight for the crooks they are.

    It was startling to see the Commissioner, with finger pointing, sternly caution one witness not to speak for another, and warn another about the possible criminality of the actions she took. The miscreants must be shaking in their boots about what the Commissioner will report and recommend in his final deliberations. Criminal prosecution is possible, and so it should be after all the pain and anguish these crooks have caused among innocent clients trying to secure their financial future.

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