A Wunch of Bankers by Daniel Ziffer

You can thank the Trump administration for the rebirth and soaring popularity of the behind-the-scenes political hatchet job. From Bob Woodward’s artful Fear to Michael Wolff’s tawdry Fire and Fury, the public can’t get enough of watching the guilty powerful try to squirm out of trouble and embarrass themselves while doing it.

ABC reporter Daniel Ziffer’s rollicking blow-by-blow of the Hayne Royal Commission into banking is a welcome addition to the genre. Instead of one megalomaniac and his contemptible minions, we are presented with an Hieronymus Bosch-like cast of thousands. The scale of the banks’ ‘bastardry’, as Ziffer puts it, is jaw-dropping.

The subject matter lends itself to Machiavellian courtroom drama. Ziffer delights in transcribing sweating bank chiefs uncomfortably tightening their own nooses while an incredulous Commissioner Hayne and the inscrutable QC Rowena Orr calmly feed them the rope. There are ‘gotcha’ moments galore, and it’s barely enough.

But beyond the gleeful depiction of some very rich people caught in compromising positions – I’m not above schadenfreude, and neither are you, my friend – Ziffer’s book draws attention to a serious problem we have on our hands.Australians have more household debt than almost anyother nation. Bankers controlling trillions of dollars are more than happy to let us take on more. But an ABS survey found that a whopping fifty per cent of the adult population is not literate or numerate enough to meet the demands of everyday life, such as reading maps and payroll forms.

Ziffer’s book recounts sunlight falling on some of the labyrinthine financial traps set to ensnare many of these fifty-percenters. Some of the personal accounts included here of financial hardshipexperienced by the most vulnerable make for chokingly difficult reading.

Ziffer’s doom, gloom and snark sums up our twenty-first century tastes perfectly. Enjoy this real-life Dickensian nightmare, and despair!

Chris Dite works as a bookseller at Readings Carlton.

Cover image for A Wunch of Bankers

A Wunch of Bankers

Daniel Ziffer

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