A Royal Commission to end all (or most) Royal Commissions

In political terms, it’s hard to fault Labor’s call for a Royal Commission into the banking system. It’s a neat riposte to the government’s Double Dissolution trigger, the ABCC bill derived from the Royal Commission into trade union corruption, which spent $100 million to announce that it had discovered a handful of cases of petty corruption*, claimed to be “the tip of the iceberg”. (That was one of a string of Royal Commissions set up as political vendettas by the Abbott government, none of which found anything useful.) The hypocrisy of this effort, when we are daily bombarded with evidence of corruption in business, finance and the LNP itself is obvious, and the proposed Commission provides a convenient political hook. And doubtless there will be plenty of evidence of individual wrongdoing, real or alleged.

However, I don’t think this proposed Commission will be any more useful, in practice, than Abbott’s. The problem with the banks is not so much breaches of the rules but the rules themselves. What we need is another inquiry which, unlike the Campbell, Wallis and Murray inquiries is not run by advocates of financial deregulation.

The Royal Commission we should really have is one into Abbott’s Royal Commissions, taking the same nakedly political approach as those Commissions did. The Commissioners, the counsel assisting and the government ministers who called the Commissions should be questioned on the political understandings with which they approached the job, the waste of public money involved. With luck, that would deter any future use of Royal Commissions as partisan vendettas, and leave them to inquire into real issues of public concern, where the powers of Royal Commissions really are necessary.

Finally an observation and a question: Having been critical of the TU Royal Commission, I’ve tried to be consistent in the prediction that this one will be similarly ineffectual. Did any of those now arguing that we don’t need a Royal Commission into banking make the same observation about TURC?

* As far as I know, no union offical has yet been convicted of a corruption offence as a result of the Commission’s work, while at least four prosecutions have failed or been dropped. My guess is that the total number of convictions will end up below 10, and the total amount of money involved not much more than a million dollars. That’s a pretty appalling return for $100 million of public funds that could have been used to protect the community against armed robbers and burglars, not to mention white collar criminals.

28 thoughts on “A Royal Commission to end all (or most) Royal Commissions

  1. @Ernestine Gross

    It would be interesting, if you felt so inclined, to see your thoughts on corporate law posted in a Weekend Reflections post when JQ opens same from time to time. I know that every time I want to understand your ideas I attempt to inveigle you into long, time-consuming essays. You’d have to want to write it for better reasons than just my request.

    Wikipedia tells me:

    “Corporate law (also “company” or “corporations” law) is the study of how shareholders, directors, employees, creditors, and other stakeholders such as consumers, the community and the environment interact with one another. Corporate law is a part of a broader companies law (or law of business associations).”

    It occurs to me as a throw-away thought at this stage that we need “Social Law” not “Corporate Law”.

  2. @Collin Street

    I (deliberately) did not write that this particular case is a case where there is no doubt that crimes have been committed; only that such cases do exist, and that it’s not (as you suggested) self-contradictory to say that there’s no doubt that crimes have been committed and to say that there is doubt about the guilt of any/all particular individuals.

    But since you raise the point, my experience of human beings suggests to me that the probability of there being no corrupt/dishonest people in any given line of work is vanishingly small. I would say this about any occupational category: accountants, butlers, carpenters, doctors, engineers, pharmacists, politicians, police officers, priests … anything you care to name. For any occupational category you can name, there is no doubt in my mind that some people in that line of work are corrupt/dishonest, even if I have no idea which ones. Therefore there is no doubt in my mind that some trade union officials are corrupt/dishonest. I don’t think they’re more likely to be so than people in other lines of work, and I don’t think this universal assessment of human beings justifies a Royal Commission.

  3. @J-D

    I agree. The universal assessment of human beings, that some in all lines of work will be corrupt/dishonest, does not in itself justify a Royal Commission into any organisation, trade or business. However, this does not exhaust the possibilities. As well as the possibility of individual corruption/dishonesty there is the possibility of connected or systemic corruption/dishonesty. This latter possibility, if there is evidence for it, could justify a Royal Commission into any particular organisation, trade or business.

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