MONDAY, 26 NOVEMBER 2018
SUBJECTS: The Banking Royal Commission; Victorian State Election; National Integrity Commission; Labor’s Fair Go Action plan.
ADAM SHIRLEY: Which bank should sponsor the Australian of the Year awards? For some time the Commonwealth Bank has been a corporate partner of the Australian of the Year Awards, which if you don't know celebrates some of this country's most dynamic, highly achieving and downright extraordinary citizens of this country. But some are grumbling about the Commonwealth Bank's involvement because parts of its behaviour along with other financial institutions have been anything but pristine. The Royal Commission into financial institutions has revealed this to be true. One of those placing a question mark on the bank's future involvement with the awards is Dr Andrew Leigh. He is the Shadow Assistant Treasurer and Member for Fenner and he's with us today. Dr Leigh, is it time the Commonwealth Bank stepped away?
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Good morning, Adam. Great to be with you. This is an issue that my colleague Matt Thistlethwaite has raised, based on a whole lot of the evidence that we've been hearing out of the first the parliamentary committees, where the government was fighting against the royal commission, and then of course the royal commission since then. And the point he's making is that the Australian of the Year awards are among our most significant awards in Australia and they’re a moment where the announcement is emblazoned with the marketing of the Commonwealth Bank. No one's saying here that the Commonwealth Bank shouldn't be engaged in good citizen corporate philanthropy, but the question is whether that crucial announcement for Australia ought to also be a marketing opportunity for the Commonwealth Bank.
SHIRLEY: And where do you sit on that? Do you see real merit in Matt Thistlethwaite’ s concept and his question?
LEIGH: Look, I do and I think Matt’s very thoughtful on this issue and has been there hearing a lot of the evidence coming forward against the Commonwealth Bank's bad behaviour. I think the Commonwealth Bank is stepping back from the marketing for a couple of years, so we don't have the Australian of the Year emblazoned with Commonwealth Bank logos, presented by Commonwealth marketing, I think that's probably where many Australians would sit. I think they'd say, look the conduct of the big banks is not such that we would necessarily want them to be tied at the hip to the marketing on Australia Day when we're making these announcements.
SHIRLEY: So extending that thought, how much do you think a bank's brand - particularly a big four one in the current climate - tarnishes an association and a ceremony like the Australian of the Year awards?
LEIGH: I don't think this is something that needs to be permanent. I don't think it's something where we need a big song and dance. I certainly wouldn't be discouraging major banks from doing the corporate philanthropy that they've engaged in. They will, I hope, continue to be donors to good needs in the community. But this is really a unique day. It's a special moment when we acknowledge people like Michelle Simmons - the quantum computing researcher who was this year’s Australian of the Year – Eddie Woo - the local hero who came down to Canberra to give my Fenner Lecture recently to an absolutely packed Llewellyn Hall of mathematics nerds. These are the sorts of people who really make us proud and at that moment I think we want to be uplifted as a nation and thinking only about the best aspects of Australia.
SHIRLEY: How does that go into a corporate boardroom then, how would you or someone else approach say the Commonwealth Bank board and say ‘it's time to pull your branding away from this organization’?
LEIGH: It'll be a decision for the Commonwealth Bank ultimately and it's one that I hope they will they'll take seriously. Matt is a very serious contributor to the Australian economic debate. The point that he’s been making in raising this issue is that banks need to think about their reputation overall and it might just be time for them just to be more of a quiet supporter of some of these causes rather than looking to get the name up in lights on the big day.
SHIRLEY: So for their corporate image, they are probably thinking - and I can't be sure because I've never been a banking executive, funnily enough - but they are probably thinking ‘we've got to hold on to every vestige of positive brand and ethical impact that we can have, there's no way we're going to walk away from a celebrated awards ceremony like this’. Do you think there's merit in that argument?
LEIGH: I suspect many Australians would be more impressed with the conduct of the Commonwealth Bank, Adam, if they were to say ‘look we're going to continue as a quiet supporter, we're going to continue to put the resources into this day but we're not going to ask for the marketing opportunity in return, just for a couple of years we're going to we're going to step back, we're not going to have the CBA logo hitting up on the screen as the announcements are being made’. I think that would be the sort of gentle, respectful response to the Royal Commission's findings that would do the Commonwealth Bank well. It’s a critical Australian institution, it was around well before you or I and I suspect will continue to be around after we've shuffled off this mortal coil. The challenge for the Commonwealth Bank at the moment is to make sure that it makes the internal changes that are necessary, that its reputation gets back to where it was when I was a kid, when we thought, when we were really proud to get those little Commonwealth Bank books and to sign up for our first Commonwealth Bank account. It’s an important Australian institution, but it's got a rebuilding process to do and I think this is a part of that.
SHIRLEY: Dr Andrew Leigh is who you're hearing from. He is the Shadow Assistant Treasurer and federal Member for Fenner. Del with a quick comment on this issue. Good morning, Del.
CALLER: Good morning. I'm a Commonwealth bank customer and a disabled lady as well, so I’ve got views on both topics. My Commonwealth Bank situation is I banked at Jammo long before Jammo was anything else other than shopping. But it's very difficult to get in and out. It's a great place to shop, but you know I can't wait for Woolies at Dickson to pull its finger out, if you don't mind me saying so.
SHIRLEY: Briefly Del. Do you think that the bank that you put your money into should step away from an awards ceremony like the Australian of the Year Award, given what conduct has been revealed in the Royal Commission?
CALLER: I definitely do and I think that because I have a daughter in Brisbane who does the banking for a school of 2000 students. They find that it's definitely become an issue.
CALLER: And that's my school at Kallangur in Brisbane. And my comment on the parking is why don't we get residents permits here. It’s well overdue.
SHIRLEY: You are covering a lot of territory, Del. Interesting to get your thoughts on this Monday morning, you take care. Dr Leigh, interesting to hear Del say that at these schooling level that Commonwealth Bank, when Commonwealth Bank does get into schools there is definitely talk and concern about what's being revealed at the Royal Commission.
LEIGH: There absolutely is, Adam, and it really reminds you of the importance of this royal commission. We have a prime minister now who voted against it 26 times, who only supported it in the end after the big banks themselves called for a Royal Commission, who once called it a populist whinge. And my hope is that Scott Morrison now doesn't make the same mistake with the issue that the parliament is going to be debating this morning over the National Integrity Commission-
SHIRLEY: We're trying to get across a lot of territory, I would like to try and stick though with the Commonwealth Bank issue that we're referring to here.
LEIGH: The Integrity Commission, I suspect would be pretty important to many of your listeners.
SHIRLEY: Absolutely, no doubt.
LEIGH: And it does go to some of these challenges of integrity, which is why I'm mentioning this morning.
SHIRLEY: No doubt at all. I'm just thinking about say a major bank and its funding of a public service award ceremony, an institution nearly. Can you see merit in extending that argument to other big public entities that banks might get involved with? I think even of the Australian cricket team, which for a long time the Commonwealth Bank was sponsoring - should they, banks generally but the big four especially, reassess that sort of work?
LEIGH: The Australian of the Year ceremony is unique. There's not another day in the year that’s like that. There's not another set of people that are like those who are honoured on that day. So I think the point is that Matt Thistlethwaite has raised is that on this unique moment perhaps we want a little bit less bank branding for a couple of years until we get to the point where Australians have the same pride in the Commonwealth Bank that they did when you or I were growing up, when that logo of the sao dipped in Vegemite evokes a sense of pride rather than a rueful shaking of the head.
SHIRLEY: Speaking of the National Integrity Commission, what is your understanding of whether that might get some support, enough to get it over the line in the house?
LEIGH: I certainly hope it does. Cathy McGowan’s raising the issue and that reflects the real concern right across the Parliament about the loss of faith in national institutions. The revolving door in the prime minister's office and some of the nasty politics haven't helped very much. I don't think there's a crisis in corruption at the federal level, but it is odd you've got to say Adam that all the states and territories have bodies like this just about and you don't have one at the federal level. I think it's time has come and I hope Scott Morrison will do the right thing. I hope he doesn't have to again be dragged kicking and screaming to an integrity measure.
SHIRLEY: You're ACT fellows here in the government are still taking some time to put together the Integrity Commission and there’s still not clarity on some specific issues about it. Do they also need to get up and get with that program you're referring to?
LEIGH: I know they're making moves towards an Integrity Commission here and I know there's certainly a commitment by the Barr Government to making sure that they work constructively on those issues. But my focus has been on the national level where Labor’s been on the record for much of this year calling for a National Integrity Commission.
SHIRLEY: Andrew Leigh, briefly - we're just heading up to news headlines - but you would have observed with interest the Victorian election result and there are some parallels with the way society works compared with the ACT. How much is it a forerunner to what could happen in the federal election in your view?
LEIGH: Well, this is Victorians rejecting cuts to schools, rejecting cuts on hospitals and rejecting fear campaigns. Frankly, that's a rejection of Scott Morrison's agenda. I don't think any of the Victorian Liberals would say that Scott Morrison bore no responsibility for the result that they got on the weekend - Aa real repudiation of that style of politics and it gives us a sense of boldness that the positive policies that Bill Shorten and the team have been putting together are the right approach, that you really do need to go to an election with a plan for the future rather than just fear mongering and a promise to throw back to some long-lost dark age.
SHIRLEY: Dr Andrew Leigh, it’s going to be a busy last couple of weeks before Parliament rises for Christmas. Thank you for your time today.
LEIGH: Thanks so much, Adam. Take care.
Authorised by Noah Carroll, ALP, Canberra