I am a reformed, recidivist bank robber. I did it the old-fashioned way; by storming into a bank with a fake or real weapon, mask and wig , bravado and a huge amount of adrenalin. Bank insurance probably paid out for the stolen money. I frightened bank tellers and customers, for which I am very sorry, and I got caught. I was a good athlete, could out-run cops and dodge their bullets but the long hand of the law eventually always found me. I spent decades in prisons in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and South Australia. I did the crime and paid the time. I am still paying my debt to society – I’m on parole until 2022. I embarrassed prison officials by escaping a number of times, the most notable of which was when I was plucked out of the exercise yard of Silverwater Prison by a helicopter hijacked by my then girlfriend. For a while, I was Australia’s No. 1 most wanted man.
I planned bank robberies by casing the bank, checking escape routes and using hot-wired stolen cars for a quick exit. My life of addiction to gambling and the fairer sex was such that at times I needed a quick and large injection of funds. My reflective time behind bars allowed me to come to terms with an appalling childhood, a lack of education, missed opportunities and just plain stupidity. My time is now spent writing and trying to persuade young people (especially ill-educated indigenous boys) that there is nothing cool about prison. Today’s prisons are mainly soulless, electronic zoos which are designed to break and dehumanise people.
Prisons full of old-school inmates in former times were very different from today’s prisons with a large percentage of prisoners addicted to drugs or suffering mental illness. Drugs, violence and gangs are the norm in prisons today. In many ways prisons create criminals out of young men. However, the prison system has a number of courses that allowed me to achieve Leaving Certificate in English, learn to write and live a normal life once I was released. While inside I had many short stories and articles published and since release I have two books to my name.
Compare that to the modern bank robbers. They are the senior executives and directors of the big four banks and AMP – each year they paid themselves far more than I ever took from banks. Rather than wigs and balaclavas they wear pin-striped suits and masquerade as pillars of respectable society. Their social life revolves around being seen in restaurants, parties, the opera and in boxes at major sporting events, whereas I was seen in back street pubs, clubs and the betting ring at the races. I was respected in the underworld but that never got me free tickets to the opera. These modern-day bank robbers reside in boardrooms, in high rent offices and return home each day to their mansions and not hostels, rented rooms or small housing commission flats, as I did. Like me, they cynically planned their crime, arrogantly thought they could get away with it and believed that they were smarter than anyone else.
Undoubtedly my crimes frightened some people but didn’t ruin their lives. However the Royal Commission into the banks has shown that small businesses, families and individuals were pushed into bankruptcy by rapacious, greedy bank executives and directors. Most of their victims never recovered. Some committed suicide.
The banks stole money from customers, told lies, sold useless products and destroyed lives. The directors and executives knew exactly what they were doing. There is no point in ASIC fining banks. It is only the shareholders and superannuation funds that pay. There is no point in fining wealthy bank executives and directors. Such fines are just a blip in their cash-flow.
These bank robbers should spend many years in jail and pay back their proceeds of crime. I did. Why can’t they? The hardships, social indignity, loss of freedom, strains on marriage and realities of prison are what bank robbers should suffer. Why not senior folk in the big banks also? Craig Meller was paid $8.3 million last year as CEO of AMP – a company which has already been found guilty by the Banking Royal Commission of scandalous, illegal conduct including lying to ASIC for almost a decade to cover its practice of charging customers fees for advice not delivered. After the revelations at the Royal Commission, Meller immediately resigned with an unreserved apology to customers stating he had no idea of the illegal practices. It looks like the robber bankers are going to get away with it by saying sorry. Non-retrospective laws would mean perpetrators can laugh all the way to and from the bank. So far the government has gone to extraordinary measures to protect banks. Now the Royal Commission is trashing the reputation of the banks, showing breaches of responsible lending obligations, home loan fraud, deceased customers charged fees and charges for services that were not delivered. Add to that the admitted lying to ASIC.
Convictions are relatively easy in criminal law. Not so with corporate law due to its complexity. If society is to have trust in its institutions, such as the banks and justice system, then incarcerated pin-striped suited bank robbers will allow the community to have restored faith in our system. This will also demonstrate to the world that Australia is a low sovereign risk country that treats corporate crime and corruption severely, that it is a good place to do business and that crime does not pay. If bankers are not jailed, then our society has lost its way.
John Killick’s latest book is ‘The Last Escape: The man behind the most daring jailbreak in Australian history’ (New Holland)