June 22 is a day we shouldn't forget

AND what did you do on June 22?

In ancient times – for some of the more extreme social media users that term refers to a period before some of us engaged with social media while on the toilet (and yes, a poll this week showed 14 per cent of users do that) – people would mark the shortest day of the year with celebrations or rituals.

For a long time – which can mean two weeks in this blink-and-you-miss-it, instantaneous, must-have-now, been-there-done-that, get-it-up-on-Twitter world we live in, but let’s be traditionalist old farts for a minute and settle on centuries – June 22 has been the mid-year point as marked by the rising and sinking of the sun.

It’s generally been the day we call the winter solstice, with the least daylight and the most dark of the year in the southern hemisphere. In the northern hemisphere the winter solstice is in December.

In ancient times – for some of the more extreme social media users that term refers to a period before some of us engaged with social media while on the toilet (and yes, a poll this week showed 14 per cent of users do that) – people would mark the shortest day of the year with celebrations or rituals.

In ancient Rome farmers would sacrifice pigs or goats, skin them, fill the skin-bags with air and jump on them on the shortest day of the year, when the sun barely scraped itself above the horizon before sinking again. Why? I don’t know. Wikipedia will only get you so far.

The ancient Slavs lit fires in cemeteries to keep their dead loved ones warm on the longest, darkest day, and people around the world still celebrate the solstice with strange or special foods, and even stranger traditions. 

So who am I to quibble about a bloke in 2017 starting his day with a selfie shot on Instagram direct from the loo? (And yes, blokes are more likely to be toilet-Twitterers and Instagrammers and Snapchatters than women, and the percentage jumps up considerably if you’re aged 18-29.)

Anyway, back to June 22. Different groups recognise June 22 for different reasons. For scientists June 22 marks the dark day that science and reason were trumped by religion; when the “father of modern physics”, Galileo, was found “vehemently suspect of heresy” and punished by the Catholic Inquisition on June 22, 1633, for arguing the earth revolved around the sun, contrary to the Bible. Climate change, anyone?

For English football lovers June 22 is the wound that will never heal - the anniversary of Diego Maradona’s “Hand of God” goal in the quarter final of the 1986 World Cup between Argentina and England, which Argentina won 2-1 before going on to win the Cup. True English football fans rip off the scab of that 1986 defeat on June 22 each year by re-playing the game and pausing it at the moment when Maradona’s hand can be seen connecting with the ball near the goal mouth. Remember the Falklands, lads.

But June 22 should be remembered for a different reason. It’s the day, 10 years ago, when the slowly-building, much-warned trainwreck that became the global financial crisis first made it into the public consciousness. It’s the day global investment bank Bear Stearns pledged a $3.2 billion collateralized loan (a security backed by a pool of debt) to bail out one of its funds, while doing all sorts of other things behind the scenes that led to a collapse and forced sale nine months later, and then on to the GFC.

The rest is history.

The global economy nearly collapsed. Iceland declared bankruptcy. Tens of millions of people lost money, homes, businesses and their sense of the world as a just and fair place. Banks were bailed out or failed. Australians were given millions of dollars to spend during that weird 2008 Christmas when we were supposed to be worried about global financial collapse but, hey, did you see my new flat-screen TV? And big bankers in America apologised for being the testosterone-fuelled, greed-inspired, morally bankrupt greasers who caused the whole thing by…. well, they didn’t apologise. They gave themselves bonuses from the government bail-out billions and seemed surprised when people lined up with pitchforks, baying for bankers’ blood.

But times have changed.

Here we are a decade later and Australia’s big banks are so much better than they were back then when the Federal Government said it wouldn’t let them fail, and used Australian taxpayers’ money to guarantee the promise.

So on June 22 – Thursday – I thought about all the ways Australia’s big banks were better, and had learnt the lessons from what happened to their American colleagues.

Banks are now team players. When the Budget was handed down and the big banks learnt they were going to have to pay a bit more for the common good they responded like… well, like toddlers who’ve had lollies taken from them.

Why weren’t they warned? Why didn’t the Treasurer have a cosy sit-down with them before Budget night to talk it over and massage it away so that Australians would have been none the wiser? Why were people being so unkind?

Banks are now much more fair and honest and transparent about the way they deal with customers and they’ve learnt from their mistakes. Just ask them. And then read about how the Commonwealth Bank’s compensation bill for victims of bad financial advice has risen to $29 million. But a report of the compensation scheme has shown more than 11,000 of the 22,792 customers were excluded “on administrative grounds” for not filling out a form within the bank’s imposed 12-month window. Many customers support a push in the Senate for a commission of inquiry into banks.

On June 22 I thought about banks and how they described the government’s new levy as clearly a “smash and grab” bid for money that was “done on the fly”. They were victims too, the banks seemed to be saying.

It almost makes you weep.

This story Banks are victims too first appeared on Newcastle Herald.