Shorten banks on Turnbull's super industrial size lack of judgment

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He'll probably regret this one day... (Image via @TurnbullMalcom)

Turnbull's banking royal commission decision is yet another example of his profound lack of judgment, writes Michael Galvin.

It is regularly reported that Paul Keating gave Kevin Rudd three bits of advice about Turnbull when he (Turnbull) took over as Opposition Leader.

Keating described Turnbull as

  1. brilliant,
  2. utterly fearless, but
  3. totally lacking in judgement.

Nearly a decade on and it is safe to say that Keating was wrong about the first two points. Turnbull as PM has been neither particularly brilliant nor particularly fearless. But Keating has been proven spectacularly right about the third point: Turnbull seems mind-bogglingly devoid of any semblance of good judgement.

The proposed Royal Commission into banks is truly an awesome example. Two related but specific aspects really stand out. Each of them is bad enough, but as they become intertwined, I cannot see how they spell anything but trouble for Turnbull for the foreseeable future.

The first issue is the manner of calling this Royal Commission. Given that it had become inevitable in the Parliament, Turnbull allowed a sequence of events to occur, whereby he announced the RC less than half an hour after the four big banks had written to him, asking for one. This lack of judgment is so bad it almost defies belief. Not only does it confirm that he takes his orders from the big end of town, but that it now allows the perception (no doubt correct) to fester that the banks must have got something they wanted in return for their feigned acquiescence to being investigated.

What the banks wanted was to both muddy the waters for the rest of the inquiry and to get on the agenda something they despised but really wanted: industry super funds. In terms of naked greed, this makes kind of sense for the banks. But in terms of what this means for the actual inquiry, it is idiotic.

This is the second issue. As the ever-sly Dutton put it hours after the announcement, this RC gives them an opportunity to get stuck into industry superannuation funds. (Dutton seems to be the kind of politician who will do anything to turn a threat into an opportunity for payback. He also seems to be the type whose cynicism usually blows up in his face.)

So where does this leave Turnbull?

He has:

  1. agreed to a Royal Commission only after the interests of those whose behaviour has been the reason for the RC in the first place have asked for one; and
  2. also given the banks something they really wanted — a way of getting discussion of industry superannuation funds on their agenda.

Either one of these facts will be an issue for Turnbull over the next 12 months. But combined, anything could happen, and probably will. But one certainty is that Turnbull will be a hostage to – not master of – events. Too many genies have been let out of the bottle.

Why? Because the banks have been thrown a lifeline — a semblance of proactivity. Every time the going gets tough, they can change the conversation onto something less embarrassing for themselves.

Meanwhile, there are millions of industry super members just waiting to be mobilised at the slightest threat to their own super. Five million, to be more precise, as well as the organised power and campaigns of the unions involved in their management.

The campaign has already begun — check the Australian Industry Super website.

How can this possibly turn out well for Turnbull? Hardly anyone believes the banks represent any greater interest than that of their owners. And 5 million super members are watching the banks using this RC to greedily get their hands on these rivers of retirement income in industry funds.

Speaking for myself, I am not likely to take to the streets about the banks. I don’t expect them to be anything other than they are. I just want decent laws that they must comply with.

But my super pension? That is another matter. Any threats to my industry super fund are a direct, existential threat to me and the fund I trust. That would get me onto the streets. And hundreds of thousands of others, no doubt.

Letting this cat out of the bag while at the same time investigating bad banks at their request...

And thus the mind boggles. I cannot see any upside in this for Turnbull. Only ongoing pain and bushfires to fight for the foreseeable future. Given his already dire lack of political capital, it is hard to see how he can survive the next 12 months.

My prediction? Bill Shorten will be PM by next Christmas.

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