That would be the commission the government, having voted against it 26 times, finally called when it ran out of excuses. The one that has subsequently uncovered behaviour within Australia’s financial sector that would turn a Mafia don puce with envy that he didn’t think of such scams first. Billing the dead for financial advice? Brilliant.
Here was the Treasurer getting the obvious question from Leigh Sales when he fronted the ABC’s 7.30 on Monday.
Sales: Was the Coalition wrong to strenuously oppose the royal commission into banking for as long as it did?
Frydenberg: Oh, we can debate for hours what Labor failed to do when they were in government …
Sales: No, I’m asking about you.
Frydenberg: I’m looking to the future.
Oh, dear. Frydenberg had time to practise a halfway articulate response. It’s been obvious for months that Commissioner Kenneth Hayne was winding up for a full-tilt mugging of the self-satisfied suits inhabiting the temples of the money-changers.
And it wasn’t as if there wasn’t ample history to study.
The old Liberal master of the verbal dodge, John Howard, stumbled along for years by never going near the word apology.
And when interest rates rose in 2007, he reached near Olympian heights of obscuring the obvious with balderdash by declaring there was a clear distinction between the words «sorry» and «apology».
«I said that I was sorry they’d [interest rate rises] occurred; I don’t think I actually used the word apology, I think there is a difference between the two things,» he said. Of course, a few weeks later he lost government and his own seat.
On Tuesday morning it was obvious Frydenberg had not studied Howard’s lessons in obfuscation.
Instead, he offered himself up for an easy kicking by an incredulous David Koch on Seven’s Sunrise.
Koch: Do you feel betrayed? Do you feel conned? Because you’ve been an apologist for the banks. Your government has been for so long. You didn’t want this royal commission. Do you feel betrayed personally?
Frydenberg: I’ll just pull you up there, Kochie. That’s a ridiculous statement.
Koch: Why? And don’t you blame Labor for this!
Frydenberg: Let me point out that when Labor was last in office they had the financial scandals of Trio and Storm and Opes Prime and they did nothing …
Frydenberg is, of course, in a cursed position.
He wasn’t the treasurer when the government was doing its damnedest to scuttle the royal commission before it could be launched.
The treasurer at the time was the fellow who is now the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison. Morrison, a man long noted for services to self-preservation, has all but gone missing in action since Hayne brought down the findings that he, former treasurer Morrison, didn’t want explored in the first place.
Prime Minister Morrison’s response this week was by way of joint (printed) media statement with Frydenberg, which adroitly avoided visiting the past, and came not within a whisper of an apology.
“The Coalition government, through both its actions to date and its response today, is demonstrating its commitment to ensuring a financial system that is working for all Australians and is one they can trust,” the statement offered, cheerily.
No one, you could be pretty sure, was listening. Instead, it seemed possible to detect Elton John crooning above it all.
What have I got to do to make you want me?
What have I got to do to be heard?
What do I say when it’s all over?
Sorry seems to be the hardest word.
Tony Wright is the associate editor and special writer for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.