Terrorism, highway robbery and the Commonwealth Bank

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(Image via @KieraGorden)

It has been alleged the CBA funded terrorism, so why isn’t CEO Ian Narev being held incommunicado and without charge under Australian terrorism laws? Asks John Passant.

IT HAS NOT been a good week for the banks.

The latest outrage from the perpetual outrage machine that is the banks comes from the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA).

The Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (Austrac) is alleging over 53,000 breaches of the anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism finance laws by the CBA.  

The alleged breaches relate mainly to the bank’s "intelligent deposit machines". These are basically ATMs that accept cash and cheques.

According to Austrac, the CBA failed

‘... to report $10,000 deposits on time, pass on its suspicions, and monitor suspicious customers.’  

These included groups people identified as "high risk", such as those funding terrorism. 

According to Clancy Yeates in the Sydney Morning Herald:

‘Six of these late reports related to five customers "who had been assessed by CommBank as posing a potential risk of terrorism or terrorism financing", Austrac said in its statement of claim.'

We live in a climate of terrorism hysteria. In the last week, four people have been held without charge under anti-terrorism laws. One was released after four days, two were finally charged with catch-all vague terrorism offences after five days and one remains in custody without charge at the time of writing.

I have little doubt there are terrorists out there who wish to do ordinary Australians harm. However, the hysteria about terrorism needs to be put into context.

Women, for example, are much safer flying in aeroplanes than they are at universities or in the family home. The level of sexual assaults of women in universities and the lack of support from universities and governments is frightening and expresses the reality of capitalism today and in the past. It needs cheap child care and the family, and women as carers fit the bill.

A simple comparison of the number of people killed in terrorism related incidents in Australia to the number of women killed by their partners or other men who knew their victim raises serious questions about government and societal priorities. In the past 20 years, terrorists have killed three people in Australia. In just the first four days of the last week of July, according to the Counting Dead Women Australia project, researchers of Destroy The Joint, four women died at the hands of men known to them. At least two of the killers were the women’s partners. According to Destroy the Joint, this year alone 27 women have been killed by their partners. The injury toll is much higher.

This is a national emergency. Yet nothing is done about it, other than cutting funding for women’s refuges and other women’s services. Imagine if a government – any government – devoted the same level of resources it spends on counter terrorism to fighting and preventing domestic violence and sexual assault. Just a pittance from the Defence budget would help.

It is a pipe dream. The hysteria around terrorism serves immediate and also longer term political purposes. First, the Turnbull Government hopes this Henny Penny terrorism threat cements support around it as a Government, using the "external" or "foreign" threat and the "strong" government response — at least in locking up a few brown men for up to seven days.

Second, pro-capitalist forces, more generally, hope it cements people against the "other" — an amorphous group of non-white "foreigners". They are foreigners not because they are not Australian, but because they are of Arab descent, or non-white, or non-Christian, or Muslim, or whatever the latest iteration of othering happens to be. The forces of capitalism hope this othering will unite workers with their exploiters.

Yet the realities of capitalism keep imposing themselves on workers. Our day-to-day interactions with the banks – our wages in their accounts, our credit cards at exorbitant rates, or their mortgages over our homes – remind us incessantly that the driving force of capitalism is profit, not people.

For banks, that means gouging as much as they can out of us. Their fees, interest rates and market oligopoly mean they get massive profits out of Australian workers. As our wages stagnate or fall, their profits increase.

Malcolm Turnbull correctly labelled Australian banks the most profitable in the world. Even with the collapse of the mining boom the current return of over 13.7 per cent is huge by bank industry – and indeed other industry – standards around the globe.

In this context, intelligent deposit machines can be seen as just another strategy for making more money for the CBA by winning custom from its competitors. The lax compliance regime the CBA allegedly has in relation to this is both a cost cutting measure and a selling point for intelligence deposit machines.

If some of that money did go to terrorists, why isn’t Ian Narev, the managing director and CEO of the Commonwealth Bank, "helping police with their enquiries"? Why isn’t he being held incommunicado and without charge for up to seven days to get more information on the CBA’s apparently lax regulatory compliance issues, which might fund terrorism?

The answer is because he is a shining example of successful capitalism today. You don’t lock up capitalism. You free it up, evidently. The end result of letting the banks roam free is that highway robbery is legal if you wear a suit and tie and run a bank.

This CBA saga reinforces the Labor Party’s call for a royal commission into the banks. Labor Leader of the Opposition Bill Shorten wants to ride into power on the back of the huge anger with the banks. A royal commission might, for example, recommend a tax on the banks' super profits. It might recommend stronger regulatory controls over the banks.

It won’t, however, recommend anything that challenges the fundamental power and greed of the banks. Maybe it is time for Shorten to address the privatisation of the Commonwealth Bank and promise to set up a new government-owned bank. But really, he should do much better than that. Shorten could do a Chifley and nationalise all the bastard banks.

Disclaimer: John Passant has shares in the Commonwealth Bank as a result of a gift from his father.

Read more by John Passant on his website En Passant or follow him on Twitter @JohnPasantSigned copies of John Passant’s first book of poetry, Songs for the Band Unformed (Ginninderra Press 2016) are available for purchase from the IA store HERE.

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