Banking royal commissioner Kenneth Hayne has launched a rare attack on the political establishment, accusing it of being captured by vested interests, destroying public faith in institutions and reducing policy to three word slogans.
In his first public statement since handing down the findings of the financial services probe in February, Justice Hayne contrasted the independent and transparent nature of royal commissions against the "opaque" and "skewed" decisions of politicians influenced by those "powerful enough to lobby governments behind closed doors".
Justice Hayne said the need for royal commissions into the finance sector, aged care and disability services showed Australia's legislative, executive and judicial branches were not working as they should.
"The increasingly frequent calls for royal commissions in this country cannot, and should not, be dismissed as some passing fad or fashion," he said.
"Notice how many recent inquiries relate to difficult issues of public policy: how can we, how should we, look after the aged? How can we, how should we, respond to mental health?
"We need to grapple closely with what these calls are telling us about the state of our democratic institutions.
"Trust in all sorts of institutions, governmental and private, has been damaged or destroyed."
The Hayne royal commission found banks and financial services had swiped millions of dollars from loyal customers, among a litany of other alleged crimes that have now been referred for prosecution.
Many of his 76 recommendations for wholesale reform of the sector are now being legislated by the Morrison government after it spent more than two years resisting Labor's call for the commission.
The former judge, who served on the High Court for 18 years, criticised all sides of politics for being "unable to conduct reasoned debates about policy matters".
"Political, and other commentary focuses on what divides us rather than what unites us," he said.
"And political rhetoric now resorts to the language of war, seeking to portray opposing views as presenting existential threats to society as we now know it."
The speech, which was delivered at the Melbourne Law School in July but not published until Wednesday, highlighted the Uluru Statement from the Heart, which recommended a First Nations voice enshrined in the constitution.
Justice Hayne alluded to the issue being hijacked by vested interests to derail debate.
"Too often, the information that is available is neither read nor understood. And even if the information has been read and understood, debate proceeds by reference only to slogans coined by partisan participants," he said.
"The examples can be multiplied."
The voice has been dismissed by the Morrison government ahead of an expected referendum on Indigenous recognition, with some MPs describing the idea as a "third chamber" of Parliament. The third chamber was not mentioned in the original Uluru statement.
Justice Hayne said reasoned debate about policy were rare and "three or four word slogans have taken their place".
"Policy ideas seem often to be framed only for partisan or sectional advantage with little articulation of how or why their implementation would contribute to the greater good," said Justice Hayne.
The professorial fellow at the Melbourne Law School said public law had a critical role to play in "slowing or preventing that decay".This article was first published by the Sydney Morning Herald
Author: Eryk Bashaw