Unfinished Business: Searching for a National Conscience
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The authors became involved because people came to them for help: Renton as a lawyer, McLean as a politician. Paul McLean has been a teacher, an army officer and a social planner. But it was as Australian Democrat Senator for New South Wales that he became interested in bank malpractice. His battle to get the Westpac Letters before the Senate is now history.
James Renton is a Barrister and Solicitor of the High Court of Australia. He has made a specialty of white-collar crime, and has advised hundreds of victims of bank malpractice. It was his files which provided many of the cases tabled in the Senate by Paul McLean.
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Unfinished Business: Searching for a National Conscience
Paul McLean spent four years in the Australian Senate in Canberra fighting bank and other corruption. This culminated in his controversial tabling of the infamous “Westpac Letters” and the “devastating documents”. He appeared before the corrupted “Martin Inquiry”, a committee headed by Stephen Martin and set up by Paul Keating as a soft option to avoid the Royal Commission that Senator McLean has sought. In a recent letter he wrote,
I traveled the world looking at corruption in banking and at the time of my resignation from the Senate I had more than six hundred case files relating to various malpractices involving all major Australian banks. I had tabled only a small cross-section of these in the Senate and before the Martin Inquiry. I still have access to all of those documents and many others.
But more than bank greed, ineptitude and immorality were at work in all of this. Politicians, senior ministers, senior public servants, senior police, lawyers, accountants, and members of the bench must equally be held accountable. The gross injustice experienced by trusting and innocent Australians at the hands of greed-driven corrupt bankers and others is a great Australian travesty. Yet even now very few acknowledge this.
The criminality apparent in the banks’ handling of the infamous foreign currency loan fiasco drew most attention, but equally important were asset stripping and breaches of fiduciary obligation, of Reserve Bank statutory requirements, of the Trade Practices Act, of Tax legislation and regulations. These were all crimes without statutory limitation – “ticking time bombs.”
The sham was that the indisputable evidence I had tabled in the parliament, that which was presented to the Martin Inquiry, and that which came before the courts, was blatantly ignored. Those responsible for protecting the public interest failed us. The overwhelming majority of politicians, police, legal professionals and judges showed neither moral conviction nor strength. Even worse – some took profit from it.
At the time we were mighty thankful for the brave few: journalists like Anne Lampe, Stewart Kennedy, Crispin Hull and Peter Murphy, whistle-blowing bankers like John McLennan and John Salmon; courageous and informed lawyers like James Renton and Francis Galbally. And there were others. The real heroes though, were the thousands of victims.
Bankers could not believe their luck when I resigned and the storm subsided. Martin’s “Committee” apparently had been effective in damage control on behalf of their masters. Or so it must have seemed.
But, they and we knew that these issues would be revisited.
A mountain of new material has been added to the voluminous and damning evidence already collected. Many Australians are watching with keen interest the current class actions against Canadian banks. Class action suits can also be brought here in Australia. Bankers know this and insiders are nervously watching what is happening there and they report the unease inside the banks. With a broad, new expose’ of the rat cunning of the bankers, class actions would have a greater impact today. We have gathered our own spiritual and intellectual resources to have another go. Senator Paul McLean has demonstrated the corruption of the politicians, bankers, judges, and bureaucracy then and fifteen years later we will probably show that nothing has really changed for the better. The crime has not gone away. Many of the criminals are still with us, many of them elevated to still higher positions of authority…and responsibility.
Senator McLean continues,
As you know I recorded my experiences and those of many of my constituents in my book, Bankers and Bastards. Although the issue of bank malpractice attracted huge public interest in the late 80’s and early 90’s, it finally went “stale” as journalists say. The same journalists agree, however, that after fifteen years this stuff can be ‘freshened” again. There is real interest. It’s agreed that the climate is right. The Howard government has brought public trust of institutions to a new low.
That had to be the natural rat cunning of the man whose report as Treasurer for the Coalition Government launched the deregulation of the banks and promoted the foreign currency loans. He later became Prime Minister overseeing the misery and criminality he had fostered and adding still more burdens to Australians.
Our courts have been a disgrace. It has been there that the arrogance, smugness, and dishonesty of the banks and their cohorts of lawyers have been most blatant. Much could be cited, but pivotal is the outrageous lie that the banks knew nothing of the pending and progressive floating of the Australian dollar in 1984. Their very own Treasury and branch memos affirm this knowledge in black and white. Francis Galbally made the Martin Inquiry aware when he appeared before it with James Renton and me on 15 March 1991, and again subsequently.
Professor Evan Jones’ papers provide clear evidence that there has been a number of cases where the bench was biased and legal representation either professionally incompetent or down right corrupt. This reflects appallingly upon our judicial system.
As cases have come before courts over the past twenty years, lack of disclosure and constraints on discovery of key evidential documents, (frequently deliberate and criminal on the bank’s part) have thwarted justice.
How heartening it was recently to see the High Court find barriers to recovery of key evidential documents to be sufficient grounds to overturn prior judgments. Yet again, Michael Kirby took the opportunity to educate an ignorant public about an important aspect of the law.
I was impressed to read Justice Mack’s strong public statement regarding Hicks’ incarceration and how our federal government’s tolerance of it reflects on our perspective of justice.
These are powerful and critically important developments that must be rammed home and reinforced. Do I sense a moral renewal coming on?
Image is the Achilles heel of the banks. That’s why any settlement is hushed with a “deed of release” otherwise known as a “shut up agreement.” Such agreements might not be legal since the banks coerce the victim of their fraud to be silent. A coerced contract might not have any standing in court. Nevertheless the intimidation can be quite effective. That’s why Members of Parliament won’t help their constituents. As Joan Gash MP from Nowra admitted, the banks subsidized her electoral campaigns. That’s why mainstream, corporate media is often reluctant to publish an expose’ of the bank. Banks buy advertising in their papers and on their channels. Judges who find in favor of the victims of bank malpractice will never be allowed to sit on another such case. Judges who favor the banks are often more likely to be promoted to the High Court. Attorneys who do too good a job of supporting their clients against the banks might find their home and office burglarized. Police have even warned the victims of bank malpractice to back off from their allegations. Such police will often be promoted.
Some bank managers who were sacked for witnessing a forgery were given government jobs which then cost the Australian taxpayer and consumer. The bank malpractice issue has cost all Australians dearly.
Remember fifteen years ago, The Bulletin gave them hell in several great front cover stories: ‘Why the Banks Are Bastards,’ ‘Bank Chaos – Have the Bastards Learnt Anything?’, and ‘Why the Banks have to be Bastards.’ Remember also how Australian Business pounded Westpac. Bulletin sales went through the roof. Senior bank management got rattled!
Stories that were buried will be exhumed. Stories that never saw the light of day will be brought to light. Stories that people were frightened to tell will now be told. And the response of the Australian authorities today will be tested and exposed. They have a choice of moral or immoral, legal or illegal, honest or dishonest.
Take this as an example. On 6 March 1991 I tabled a set of documents referred to as the ‘French Westpac Letters'. Agnes Wong, who headed up Westpac’s damage control unit, wrote them. They are a telling expose’ but they never go the attention they deserve. If read in conjunction with Max Dodd’s (Commonwealth) internal memo, and in the hands of an expert like McLennan, they are a potential H bomb. Wong, Dodd, and McLennan were critically placed to comment, and they essentially said the same thing.
The fact that a member of the bench ruled Dodd’s affidavit inadmissible because he is dead raises other interesting points of law that perhaps warrant testing in “Higher” places. One implication of the ruling seemed to be that a truth can die with its teller. What offensive rot! We will find someone else within CBA who is haunted enough to swear another affidavit propounding the same truths. Such people do exist – we have found them before! Consciences will have been churned.
Yes, even bankers want to die with clear consciences.
Though Max Dodd is gone, the documents he cites aren’t dead. Thankfully he was thorough in his referencing. Their truth still prevails. If such documents mysteriously disappear years after the event, as other ‘G Documents’ have done in the past, then that would be wonderful new fuel to the new fire. We know that those documents will never disappear off the face of the Earth. There are multiple, multiple copies.
In about 1996, former senator Paul McLean, briefly working for the late Senator Robert Bell, devised a series of about twenty ‘Questions on Notice’. They received ‘paper-over’ answers as was expected. It was naively assumed by some that the matter was over. – McLean had gone back into the forest, Bell was dead, and a whole new parliament had been elected. Wrong! Those questions, and the answers, are truly amazing. Their truth will eventually out. Inevitably there will be an outcry for national moral and ethical renewal, a renewal that begins with the Australian legal and judicial system. Then it will expand to embrace all institutions and then have an impact around the world. What happened in Australia has happened elsewhere and continues to happen as western banks go into the former Soviet republics to an unaware public ignorant of fraudulent banking practices. The responses of government and its institutions in Australia are not unique to Australia. What IS unique is the depth and breadth of the documentation that has come to light because of a few courageous bank employees, responsive journalists, and the rarest of politicians.
In contrast, Paul McLean has said that ministers such as Tate, Duffy, and Keating were criminally negligent and the Martin Committee’s whitewash was a national disgrace that has never been exposed for what is was. The report of that committee is notable only for its inadequacy. ‘A Pocketful of Change’ is offensive in the blatant, arrogant cynicism with which it declares the cosy relationship that prevailed between the Hawke/Keating governments and the bankers. A case could be made similarly for the Malcolm Fraser and John Howard Coalition governments that preceded and followed the Labour government of the 80’s. Politicians did not skip a beat in supporting the ‘bankers and bastards” in pinstripe and black robes.
Paul McLean is back and he’s not alone. Australians have unfinished business.
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