How The Banks Discriminate Against the Adult Industry

Robbie Swan

At the height of Victorian-era morality in Australia, it became illegal to swim at the local beach during daylight hours. As the flow of convicts from the UK slowed and Australia started to develop its own identity, free from the ‘taint’ of a convict past, the authorities thought that adopting this extreme measure would send a message to the world, that we were now a civilised and moral country who would not tolerate the morally ‘iffy’ business of swimming at a public beach when others could see you.

Of course by 1902 when the bans were finally lifted, most of the community had breached them or rallied against them for more than a decade and the false modesty was being seen for what it really was – an attempt to paper over the ‘shame’ of our convict roots. But as happens so often in Australia, commonsense and majority public opinion are often way ahead of tired old governments and institutions who continue to cling to the ways of the past. Witness the long-standing 86% public support for dying with dignity* (voluntary euthanasia), and the 75% support for marriage equality*. Ending discrimination is also a big issue for multicultural Australia and yet the banks are bucking popular support for this initiative by implementing unfair banking practices on some sections of the legal business community.

In Australia, it’s generally illegal to discriminate against people on the basis of their race, creed, colour, sex, age or political belief. State and federal discrimination laws provide enforcement mechanisms to give the laws clout and to make them effective in daily life. In the ACT, there are extra grounds to sue someone for unlawful and unreasonable discrimination under the broad heading of job, occupation, profession or calling.

The ACT’s adult goods and services industry has a long history and has been legally trading since the early 1970s. In 1983, the Commonwealth passed an ACT Ordinance (pre self-government) for the Classification of Films and Publications that included an X rated category for explicit but non-violent films. This classification was created so they could only be sold from age-restricted premises.

In 1992 the ACT Attorney General’s Advisory group recommended to the Legislative Assembly that sexual services be legalised and regulated for the safety of both the community and sex workers. Stopping sex work from becoming a vector for HIV AIDS into the broader community was paramount in the minds of legislators at the time and when rates of infection in other countries became known a decade on, the wisdom of the ACT legislators was open for all to see. The ACT still does not have one reported and authenticated case of HIV infection from sex worker to client, while some countries have reported 90% of their nation’s infection has occurred through sex work.

In 1995 Kate Carnell’s Liberal government implemented an X Licensing Scheme to allow for revenue to be raised for the ACT taxpayer, on the $34 million a year X rated film industry. The industry became the second largest export revenue earner for the Territory after pine products and plantations through the sale of X18+ classified films.

However following this legalisation, the industry noticed that it was still being denied many of the normal business products and services that were being offered to other industries. These included public liability insurance cover, other insurances, advertising opportunities and financial services. This made it very difficult for some businesses to function legally, as they were then forced into seeking these services from black and grey market operators or from those who would only offer them at hugely inflated prices. Of course this defeated the purpose of legalising the industry in the first place and it wasn’t long before both major political parties read the riot act to the business community that the adult industry was here to stay and that anyone who continued to unfairly discriminate against it on moral or religious grounds, would be heavily penalised.

The bi partisan support in the ACT Legislative Assembly for an amendment to the Anti Discrimination Act to include job, occupation, profession and calling as grounds to lodge a complaint, was evidence of the intent of the local parliament to make its laws around the adult industry, workable. The new laws made it easier for the adult goods and services industry to function, however major breaches of the law have continued and via some of the largest corporations in the land. They have continued to dismiss the ACT laws with impunity and argue to Eros members that they are not bound by them.

Banks are among the worst offenders and even letters penned by their legal departments in the wake of a complaint from an adult trader, shows that they clearly believe that the law does not apply to them.

A recent letter from the ANZ Bank’s ‘Office of Customer Advocate’ shows just how brazen the banks have become in ignoring the ACT laws. The letter is a statement of policy on discrimination at a national level, which clearly offends ACT law and may well offend in other jurisdictions on other grounds like ‘political belief’. This letter took months for the bank to produce and was adjudicated on by senior managers and legal advisors. It was typical of the responses that Eros has received from other banks when responding to a criticism. Follow up calls to the bank have not resulted in a relaxation of their position.

Under the heading of ‘ANZ’s General Policy’ the bank stated that:

With respect to providing products and services to individuals, ANZ does not differentiate on the basis of a customer’s occupation or industry affiliation and considers applications from all potential customers, subject to the same credit checks and assessments.

With respect to providing products and services to businesses, ANZ considers both commercial and reputational aspects. ANZ’s general policy is that there are a number of industries that ANZ does not typically service as it considers that these fall outside of the expectations of ANZ stakeholders and impact ANZ’s reputation and standing. As previously advised, ANZ currently considers the adult industry to fall within this category.

Let’s just deconstruct this policy for a moment to see what it means beneath the ‘bank-speak’. The first paragraph says unequivocally that they do not discriminate against individual customers on the basis of what they do for a living. Well, Eros already has reports of this happening and once we send out the clarion call, we will get many more. But the bank is saying they don’t care if you work for a stripping agency or in an adult shop – they won’t treat you differently than someone who is a housewife, student or businessperson.

In this paragraph the bank also leaves the door open to refuse services to a person if a credit check or assessment reveals that a particular customer could be a financial risk to them. No problem with that as long as they don’t see owning or working in an adult shop as intrinsically ‘risky’ – simply because it offends a bank manager’s religious belief or moral view on life.

In the next paragraph they appear to say that in the process of providing products and services to business customers, the bank can mysteriously take on the ‘karma’ of that business, and that in the process of taking their money, can somehow earn a negative reputation for themselves. How can they substantiate this?

They then go on to suggest that it is some sort of moral odium (a term made popular by Senator Brian Harradine in his Senate debates on porn during the 1990s) around some industries that ‘falls outside of the expectations of ANZ stakeholders and impact (sic) ANZ’s reputation and standing.’ So let us examine who the ‘stakeholders’ are that they refer to.

‘Stakeholders’, as first defined in a 1963 internal memo at the Stanford Research Institute, are ‘those groups without whose support the organization would cease to exist’. No one in their right mind would argue that shareholders are not stakeholders. The ANZ Bank has a million shareholders. How many of them even know about the bank’s decision to boycott and discriminate against adult industry businesses, let alone support it? How many of the bank’s shareholders own a vibrator or have purchased an X rated film? They would be surprised to find that probably 50% would have done one or the other at some time in their lives.

And what about those other ‘stakeholders’ – the ANZ Bank Board members and Executives? How many of them have ever bought or watched an X rated film or bought a vibrator for themselves or a partner?

Probably a better question would be to ask them how many of their staff still use cocaine and head off to the local strip club after work, as was publicly revealed earlier this year. Two executives of the bank have begun a multi million-dollar court case against the ANZ claiming that drinking, drugs and sex were all part of the bank’s daily culture and that following the signing of some contracts they would all head off to a strip club.

A few months ago the embattled ANZ boss Shayne Elliott told The Australian newspaper “Conduct and values are absolutely critical in any business and around the world our industry is quite rightly in the spotlight and being asked to change.”

And they wonder why people get angry. The fact that the Bank’s managers could go through the massive embarrassment, illegality and shame of such revelations and then put their faces to the teller’s window the next day and tell a vibrator and lingerie distributor that they won’t deal with her because her morals are in the gutter – what can you say?

And who are the other industries they say they deny and who made the decision on these? Did shareholders get to vote on this? Are other financial institutions that are in competition with the bank for financial services part of the suite of ‘immoral industries’ that ANZ discriminates against?

The bank should be publishing all of this information on their website so the world can see and make up its own mind on whether to continue dealing with them, or change to a more switched on bank.

1867831c-a121-4640-8f08-d644f3b426c5AUTHOR Robbie Swan started out as lobbyist for the Adult Video Industry Association in 1988 before teaming up with his partner, Fiona Patten to form the Eros Foundation in 1992. Together they ran the association for the next 22 years until Fiona was elected to the Victorian Parliament in late 2014.