Opinion/Comment, Politics

Trump’s silence in face of racist chants echoed by our own leader’s silence

There have been lots of depressing and troubling images in US politics during the Trump era, but two of the most disturbing came in the last week, not because of what was said but what was conveyed without words.

By Laura Tingle

The first moment came watching the President’s adviser Kellyanne Conway set her face before asking a journalist about their ethnicity.

Donald Trump

In what passed across Ms Conway’s face as she listened to the question was all the calculus that had gone into the Trump campaign’s re-engineering of his racist slurs against a number of US Congresswomen.

Captured by the cameras was a calm and calculated preparation to ask an outrageous question of a reporter.

But this was topped later in the week when a mob at one of President Trump’s rallies started shouting “send her back” about a Somali-born congresswoman he had been maligning.

Trump said nothing — despite his later protests. He watched, and assessed, for 13 seconds and, once again, the raw calculation of the politics of the moment was written plainly on his face

Photo: Donald Trump has singled out Minnesota Democrat Ilhan Omar for criticism. (AP: J. Scott Applewhite)

Silence on the home front

The lack of words can often tell us as much as words do.

A rapid and alarming deterioration in the US political debate comes at a time when our own political leaders have gone into something of a hibernation.

As Phil Coorey wrote in the Financial Review on Friday there is “an awareness by both parties that the public is sick and tired of the lot of them”.

“Ministers have been instructed to stick to their portfolios and comment only when they either have something to announce or an issue to which they need to respond.”

As a result, we are not just spared listening to them but also the moments without words so blighting the current American dialogue.

Trump’s racist tweets are a campaign strategy
Donald Trump is doubling down on his racist attacks, trying to divide democratic voters, write Zoe Daniel and Emily Olson.

Yet leadership and the importance of signalling have underpinned some of the most important stories to emerge at home this week.

It isn’t just political leadership we are talking about.

There’s the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) and its apparent unwillingness, according to the capability review ordered by the Government, to do any serious public signalling about the institutions it regulates.

The review found that APRAmight be good at monitoring financial risk but is pretty useless at knowing what to do about the so-called governance, culture and accountability issues that became notorious in the Hayne Royal Commission: the sorts of practices which put commission first and customers second.

Photo: None of the review’s findings appeared to faze APRA chairman Wayne Byres. (Reuters: Jason Reed, file)

While the banks, insurers, and superannuation funds it regulates thought APRA’s “behind the scenes” approach to regulation was good, this did not wash with the review panel led by Graeme Samuel.

“An approach involving protracted behind-the-scenes negotiations of prudential issues is out of step with public expectations of regulators following the Hayne Royal Commission”, the review’s report said.

“As the Bank of England has noted in a different context, reliance on the lift of ‘Governors’ eyebrows and fireside chats are no match for a clearly communicated framework’ in today’s financial system.”

We’ve come full circle

For those with any long-term memory, it feels like we have come full circle here.

APRA’s tough talk, light touch
The banking regulator’s report into the Commonwealth Bank talks tough, but its actions don’t match its words, writes Ian Verrender.

Back in the day when banks were regulated by the Reserve Bank, pre-APRA, the RBA was keen on the “fireside chat” school of regulation, rather than the more upfront approach.

But it changed. And it is now held up as an example to APRA of how a regulator should go about using “strategic communication to better define its authority and shape its own destiny”.

“APRA is independent of the Government and has strong and wide-ranging standard-setting powers. It has the foundations of a powerful institution but needs to build on these foundations by better communicating its objectives and achievements.

“A useful historical analogue is the Reserve Bank of Australia’s public definition and ownership of its inflation target in the early 1990s”.

In other words, let everyone know upfront exactly what you expect of them and you set a tone which makes some of the more frontline policing much less challenging.

Politicians don’t escape scot-free from the lack of the correct tone in issues currently dominating the news though.

The very philosophy underpinning APRA’s approach until now has to be framed in the politics of the time it was established, which presumed the market was usually right, and that regulation, by definition, is always bad.

While everyone can scream about regulators not being tough enough, they were working in an environment where they were often seen as an impediment to the workings of the market by politicians as much as market participants.

Building industry could’ve used more regulation

People are now paying the price for that underlying idea in a range of areas. In the building industry, particularly in Sydney, some property owners are finding themselves locked out of their homes and with worthless assets as poor building standards come to light.

In a refreshingly frank admission last week, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said “we allowed the industry to self-regulate and it hasn’t worked”.

In some cases, the corporate world is almost moving ahead of governments to deal with complex problems.

West Australian businessman Andrew Twiggy Forrest, for example, has made abolishing modern slavery a cause in which he has invested deeply and personally.

This week he was in New York for the release of the latest Global Modern Slavery Report, arguing that in Australia right now there could be as many as 15,000 farm workers, domestic workers, prostitutes and girls in forced marriages.

Corporate Australia has recognised this huge global problem and committed to do something about it by trying to track down cases in which there may be slavery involved in their global supply chains.

The ABC’s Four Corners this week provided some distressing examples:of up to a million detained Uyghurs in the western-most province of Xinjiang may be producing the clothes you are wearing right now in forced labour camps.

Photo: Satellite imagery shows suspected factories built right next to a re-education facility in Hotan. (Google Earth)

To its credit, the Morrison Government introduced modern slavery legislation at the end of last yearwhich requires businesses with a consolidate revenue of $100 million a year to report on their actions to address modern slavery in their operations and supply chains.

But Forrest, and others, argue there need to be much stronger powers, including an anti-slavery commissioner to monitor compliance with the laws

Photo: George Calombaris’s company has admitted to underpaying workers by nearly $8 million. (AAP: Network Ten)

Wage theft not always hidden

Compliance is so often a matter of trust and, at the other end of the corporate spectrum, we have watched prominent chef George Calombaris fined $200,000 for underpaying staff an extraordinary $7.8 million.

The public blowback on this seems to have centred more on whether Calombaris gets sacked from MasterChef than whether he should be facing much more onerous penalties.

But the relative silence of our political leaders on the morality of these actions — even as they continue to argue against a lift in the Newstart while accepting a pay rise for themselves — says much.

Laura Tingle is the ABC’s 7.30 chief political correspondent.

—————————

First published at the ABC Saturday 20 July 2019. See: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-07-20/silence-speaks-volumes-trumps-america-and-home/11326566

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*