A sick joke as regulator
Michael West has once again done an excellent job in revealing just how lax Australia’s corporate regulatory regime is (“Bank penalties disguised as charitable donations”, December 1–7) . His forensic analysis shows how banks have not only been able to escape paying fines for financial offences by making tax-deductible charitable donations, but also to pick up awards for their “largesse” from the beneficiaries of these donations. In doing so he highlights the lack of transparency surrounding these transactions and the difficulty journalists and other interested parties face in investigating such practices. I’m sure the irony of having to pay a considerable sum to search the documents of Financial Literacy Australia and its reincarnation Ecstra was not lost on West. As part of the overhaul of the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, the need for which has been soundly demonstrated by the banking royal commission, might it not be a good idea to follow the lead of many other Western economies and remove the charges for searching all company documents on its register?
– Jennifer Kitchener, Bondi Beach, NSW
Religion losing relevance in Australia
Following the electoral wipeout in Victoria, Steve Bracks highlights the damaging right-wing demands including cancelling Safe Schools programs and introducing compulsory religious instruction in schools (“The duel in the Liberal crown”, December 1–7). Such issues are emblematic of the United States Christian right, courted by the Howard government, with the enduring mix of permissive economic liberalism and repressive social conservatism recently re-endorsed by the former prime minister. However, this belies Australians’ true religious sentiments. The 2016 census data shows the numbers in the category “no religion” rising fast. The 2016 Australian Election Study survey revealed that only 11.85 per cent of Australians attend a religious service weekly, and that 74.8 per cent attend once a year or less. The unrepresentative preselection of candidates at both state and federal level who will champion policies that are anathema to the majority of the population will no longer pay off. The Victorian election result clearly shows that we need to protect the church–state divide. Australians seek progressive leadership, not cant.
– Julia Anaf, Norwood, SA
Deductions all round
Michael West exposes that the banks have made $88 million in tax-deductible donations to charities in lieu of penalties imposed by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC). Winners all round: ASIC negotiates instead of prosecuting, and banks enjoy a community-friendly public face. But the inherent fraud continues as the banks’ tax deduction for the “donations” impacts upon the public purse. I suggest this arrangement might be entrenched in legislation in order that we, the general public, might avail ourselves of similar arrangements for traffic fines and civil disobedience penalties. Very comfortable.
– Ed Nixon, Sandgate, Qld
ASIC caught out on prevention
Michael West reports that “Last year, the government awarded ASIC with $348 million for its budget. In return, ASIC collected $1.2 billion for the government – sharply up from $998 million the year before. The agency is a huge cash cow for the Commonwealth government. Spending money prosecuting banks would put this at risk.” Surely that goes against the primary function of a regulatory agency, which is to prevent harm to both natural persons and legal persons. Anyone with experience of law enforcement knows the best prevention is the perceived risk of getting caught multiplied by the price for getting caught. If either of those is zero then prevention is also zero. The corollary being that to prevent harm in the first place, the agency must demonstrate that there is a high likelihood of getting caught and advertise the prices to be paid by miscreants.
– John F. Simmons, Kambah, ACT
Not resting in peace
Robert Menzies must be the most unquiet corpse in political history. Were he actually to be exhumed, the poor man’s skeleton would doubtless resemble a corkscrew. The reason? Since John Howard first won government, people have periodically observed that the misanthropic philistinism of his and subsequent Liberal governments have caused Menzies to be turning, twisting, rolling, or somersaulting in his grave. And with good reason. No one since Howard, and especially Howard, has been remotely Menzian.
– William Hageman, Burwood East, Vic
Policy without reason
For fans of ultra-black humour, Michael West’s account of the tax breaks given to banks as punishment for systematic fraud, and Christian Porter’s contortions to fend off a federal corruption commission, combined with former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull’s Great Barrier Reef Foundation, need to be considered alongside the present government’s demand for untrammelled access to encrypted correspondence by close of business this year (Mike Seccombe, “Watchdog whistle”; Karen Middleton, “Under data’s orders”, December 1–7). Something akin to a reversal of our planet’s polarities seems to be happening to human logic, and it’s reassuring that our leaders are right behind the US leadership in aiming to exploit this development.
– John Hayward, Weegena, Tas
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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Dec 8, 2018. Subscribe here.