This week will be an interesting test for our new Prime Minister Scott Morrison, on a day when he got the good news that he’s already more popular than Bill Shorten in The Australian’s Newspoll. However he also learnt that his Government stinks, so much that the all-important two-party preferred poll reads as 56% Labor and 44% to the Coalition.
These numbers actually bring back to memory the old observation by Labor’s Bill Hayden when he was dumped from the Opposition’s leadership for Bob Hawke. At the time, as he coped with the gut-wrenching loss of support from his colleagues, who were desperate to beat Malcolm Fraser, he told the country that “a drover's dog could lead the Labor Party to victory!”
In politics, division is death, and the Government in its many forms has been divided for too long. This explains why they’re unpopular as a group, as the polls have shown, despite the fact that their leaders have consistently beaten Bill in the polls. Bill Shorten looks like he will be Hayden’s virtual drover’s dog, unless Scott Morrison can make the Coalition sellable and unified.
And as I’ve said, this week brings a new test for the new PM, with the Hayne Royal Commission now going to look at the financial sector that really triggered this witch hunt that has found ‘financial sorcery’ beyond anyone’s imagination.
One of the big triggers for the Royal Commission was a Four Corners/Fairfax TV story (driven by the newspaper’s Adele Ferguson) into CommInsure, which knocked back a bloke’s claim on his life insurance after having a heart attack.
The TV programme brought forward a rush to settle but even then Adele says the insurer only offered two years money make-up rather than for the 10 years that James Kessel battled for his policy to be honoured.
It’s going to be interesting to see if the PM brings up a policy called AFCA, which the Government has had in the pipeline for nearly a year. This is the Australian Financial Complaints Authority, which is thought to be the best way to deal with financial institutions behaving badly.
Ever since the Royal Commission was called, the Government has had this body that will hear complaints and impose settlements. And when I last saw the PM, one week after the Budget (when he was still Treasurer), he assured me it would be consumer-friendly, which should mean no lawyers will be involved!
I accept the Commission was necessary because politicians from both sides of politics have ignored bad behaviour in the financial sector for decades. Remember, Bill Shorten was Minister for Financial Services and Superannuation when Labor was in Government and it was a National’s Senator, John Williams (a bushie) who drove hardest for a day of reckoning for the sector via a Royal Commission.
I admired Williams but I always thought this: how hard was it for politicians to make changes when even I knew what was going on? When I started my financial planning business, we did the opposite of most financial planners by rebating secret commissions and charging a flat dollar price for our service. It hurt our profitability but protected our brand, which we’d built up over decades and meant we were doing the right thing.
However, insurance companies made honesty hard because it was nearly impossible to rebate insurance kickbacks to customers and the insurance companies made this difficult to do! It was like an institutionalized rort that was hard to avoid!
I couldn’t believe it when some insurance companies gave policy floggers 120% (or even more) of the first year’s premium to the adviser when they signed up a customer to a new policy! This led to churn so the adviser could pocket the big upfront commission and then they got trailing commissions as well.
Any government could have outlawed this but they didn’t. Any government could have created a special consumer claims tribunal, which works in the various States and has a special division for battles between builders and their customers. These tribunals don’t have lawyers but an arbitrator, who works out who’s right and who’s wrong and determines a fair settlement, enforced by the sheriff.
This is the kind of body I hope AFCA sets up. It could’ve been in place decades ago but politicians didn’t have the guts to make something like this happen. It’s this lack of leadership and courageous resolve that explains why we’re so unimpressed with government politicians generally and why we seem to dislike them more than their Prime Ministers.
This is the task for Scott Morrison: he has to make the members of his Government attractive to the voters of Australia. Given Bill has had a long problem with personal popularity, his team is popular. This must say that we look past the leaders and look at the collection of politicians who represent us. I reckon it has been the division within the Government and their failure to make gusty decisions that has left them looking like second-raters behind a drover’s dog.
That said, I do commend my fellow Australians, with consumer confidence seemingly unaffected by the leadership change. Over the week, the ANZ-Roy Morgan consumer confidence rating rose by 1% to 117.7 to remain firmly above the longer term average of 113.
This could also say that we’ve learnt to ignore these uninspiring politicians and instead focus on the economy, which is getting better by the month, as last week’s economic growth number of 3.4% showed.
Ironically, both Malcolm Turnbull and Morrison have always said they were about jobs and growth and have delivered on these promises but clearly we want something else from our leaders — inspired leadership, which has been scarce on the ground since the days of Hawke, Keating and Howard.
Sure, they were all politicians capable of division but they had guts. And as we’ve learnt over the years, when it comes to PMs and Governments — no guts, no glory!
If you liked this article you'll love the Switzer Report, our newsletter and website for trustees of self-managed super funds. Click here for a FREE trial and to hear more of Peter’s expert commentary and advice.