Labor frontbencher Jim Chalmers has called for a change in the tenor of federal politics after banking royal commissioner Kenneth Hayne warned that trust in public institutions and decision-making had been “damaged or destroyed”.
By Tom McIlroy
The former High Court justice used a speech at Melbourne University to criticise political leaders for being captured by powerful vested interests and abandoning independent and reasoned policy for “three- or four-word slogans”.
Labor’s shadow treasurer, Mr Chalmers called for politicians to avoid being defensive about the criticism, first made public this week.
“I actually think there’s value in what Justice Hayne said,” Mr Chalmers told ABC radio.
“Our politics isn’t working as it should; there is something broken about it and if we reflect on it I think many of us share those kind of frustrations.
“It can be unnecessarily divisive, the rhetoric can be overblown. It can be unnecessarily polarising, it can be captured by the loudest and best-funded voices at the expense of middle Australia.”
Mr Chalmers said too often politicians got caught up in arguing about conflicts of the past instead of focusing on the challenges of the future.
“I think we should listen to what he has to say, but not just listen. We should be more focused on the future, more focused on what really matters … all of those issues are more important than the parlour games of politics and the three-word slogans.”
Trust in all sorts of institutions, governmental and private, has been damaged or destroyed.
— Kenneth Hayne
Mr Hayne used his speech to a constitutional law conference last month to make his first major public comments since handing down a landmark report into the banking and financial services sector, calling out decision-makers for eroding trust in politics.
Describing reasoned debates about issues of policy as rare, he said “three- or four-word slogans have taken their place”.
Mr Hayne told the event modern politics had an emphasis on partisanship and “processes that not only are opaque but also, too often, are seen as skewed, if not captured, by the interests of those large and powerful enough to lobby governments behind closed doors”.
He warned against dismissing growing calls for royal commissions into challenging political issues as “some passing fad or fashion”, saying Australia needed to grapple closely with “what these calls are telling us about the state of our democratic institutions”.
Arguing that reform of political institutions to replicate processes of a royal commission would require revealing more of the inner workings of government and how and why policy choices were made, Mr Hayne said too often the release of information did not led to better engagement or understanding.
“Trust in all sorts of institutions, governmental and private, has been damaged or destroyed. Our future is often framed as some return to an imaginary glorious past when the issues that now beset us had not arisen.”
Poor business practice
The Coalition is continuing to implement some of the Hayne commission’s 76 recommendations, but his call for lucrative commissions in the mortgage-broking industry were dropped.
Revelations of poor business practice and cultural problems have led to change in businesses and organisations beyond the banking sector.
“Political, and other commentary focuses on what divides us rather than what unites us,” Mr Hayne said.
“And political rhetoric now resorts to the language of war, seeking to portray opposing views as presenting existential threats to society as we now know it.”
First published at the Australian Financial Review, Thursday 8 August 2019. See: https://www.afr.com/politics/federal/call-for-change-after-hayne-warns-trust-in-politics-destroyed-20190808-p52f0b