Schools sell out their kids for cash

Let me give you a window into my Wednesdays ….

Every Wednesday, I’m just one of the girls.

That’s because I do the pick-up for my son at kindy.

All the mothers come in wearing Lorna Jane activewear with their hair pulled back in ponytails.

“Are you in between jobs?” one of them asked me innocently the other day.

“Huh?” I asked.

“Oh, it’s just that not many fathers pick up their sons … in the middle of the day.”

For the record, I told her that “I’m always scratching around for something to do” (unless it’s tuckshop).

That being said, I’m definitely going to play a big role in my kids’ education, especially their financial education. And if an ABC Drive radio interview I did this week is any guide, I’ve got my work cut out for me.

Let me explain:

I got a call from an ABC presenter earlier in the week, asking me to join in on an interview she was about to do with Sarah — a furious mother who’d just witnessed something unsavoury at her kid’s primary school assembly.

Now as shocking as what I’m about to tell you sounds, I promise it’s 100 per cent true (and verifiable on the ABC radio website):

Presenter: “Sarah, tell us what happened at your child’s primary school assembly.”

Sarah: “The Commonwealth Bank … did this presentation that left a bad taste in my mouth … Probably the most disturbing thing was that the female presenter was accompanied by a mascot who was someone in a costume, who was introduced as ‘Cred’, which I assume is short for credit.”

Wait a minute. Let’s have some fun:

I picture ‘Cred’ as Gary, a 34-year-old out-of-work actor, whose last role was at a theatre restaurant.

We find him backstage of the Gilmore Heights Primary School assembly.

He takes a final drag of his fag, stubs it out with his oversized yellow cartoon foot, and puts on his styrofoam cartoon head.

He’s now in character.

He’s not Gary (who, come to think of it, probably has a heap of credit card debt).

He’s Cred, a cool dude who plays by his own rules (but is also careful to follow the terms and conditions of Commbank’s credit policy).

“Hey kids! Do you want to learn about credit cards?!” he says as he wobbles out on his skateboard.

The kids stare at him in silence.

Okay, word up to Commbank’s lawyers: I have absolutely no evidence that Cred is an overweight, out-of-work actor. I just made that up. But what I could never have made up is Sarah’s account of the presentation, which is true, and even funnier, and even more tragic:

Sarah explained that the reason she and the other parents were at the assembly was to see the Year 6 play. But Cred and his banking buddies were running way over their allotted five minutes.

Sarah: “It went for about 20 minutes in the end, which took up about half the assembly and cut short the play that the Year 6’s had written and practised.”

You can picture it, right? Little Timmy and his classmates are patiently waiting in their cute costumes, nervously glimpsing at their proud parents standing up the back, who’ve taken time off work to watch their performance.

Well I’m sorry, Timmy, but your little play doesn’t pay the bills. Today you’re getting a lesson on how the real world works! When you earn $9.45 billion a year in profits — and you’re paying thousands of dollars in kickbacks to schools for signing up kids — you can stay on stage as long as you goddamn want.

But maybe I’m being a little harsh.

After all, I’m always banging on about the importance of giving kids financial education. Surely the Commbank presentation taught the kids something … surely it wasn’t just a blatant ad?

Well, no.

“The presentation was aimed at getting the kids excited, rather than having any financial literacy content”, said Sarah. “So they talked about what they could win if they made deposits, and got them to do a Mexican wave … for really no apparent reason.”

When Sarah had finished her story, the ABC presenter turned to me for my thoughts.

“Just how lame would that school assembly have been?” I said.

Yet make no mistake, signing these kids up is serious business for Commbank. The presenter mentioned that Commbank’s Dollarmites program is in 4,000 schools across the country, and that, according to a survey, two out of five people still use the same account our parents set us up with. That’s seven million Aussies who’ve never switched bank accounts.

That cute little passbook they get at age eight puts them on a marketing database that spits out a credit card when they turn 18. As I’ve said in the past, having Commbank — the biggest credit card issuer in the land — teach financial education in schools is like having Ronald McDonald teach kids about nutrition.

Here’s Your Chance, Malcolm Turnbull …

Word is that Malcolm Turnbull is pinning his political hopes on making a splash with first homebuyers in the May budget. He and ScoMo are cooking up all sorts of weird schemes in the hope it’ll buy them some love at the polls.

However, their schemes will no doubt have as much credibility as … Cred.

Giving every first homebuyer more money (or whatever Malcolm has in mind) to put towards their first home will not make property cheaper. It’ll actually make it more expensive — because first homebuyers will simply spend that much more on a place.

The main reason that houses are so unaffordable right now is blindingly obvious: the banks have lent us a record amount of debt … at a time when interest rates are at record lows.

Australia has one of the highest rates of household debt in the world. More than the Yanks. More than the Greeks. More than the Poms. And at some stage, when interest rates rise, our day of reckoning will come.

So Malcolm (or Malcolm’s junior press secretary who is actually reading this), here’s a suggestion for the May budget. Instead of giving first homebuyers another cash grab that will only serve to further inflate property prices, be the first prime minister in history to adequately fund a financial literacy program — taught by truly independent — in every Aussie school (minus the mascots).

The right wing of your party will love it: conservatives have wet dreams about promoting fiscal conservatism and self-reliance. And for what would be a rounding error in the budget, it’ll pay huge dividends in the future. Take it from a bloke scratching around for a job in the middle of the day — financial education is a core life skill. It’s too important to leave to Cred.

Tread Your Own Path!