Throughout human history, items of clothing have often served as effective methods of political communication.
The Suffragettes used their elegant sash to fight for women’s rights. The Black Panthers donned a stylish black beret to push their particular brand of Afrocentric social justice. More recently, the Trumpians wore their iconic red baseball caps to electoral success.
Now, a niche political movement on the Australian business landscape has created its own iteration: the whistleblower bow-tie.
During the past two weeks of testimony at the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry, audience members at the public hearings have been igniting social media speculation with their silent, dignified appearance in dark-coloured bow-ties.
Your Money thought the development so significant that we put our investigative might behind the issue and got to the bottom of it, revealing that the trend was sparked by whistleblower Jeff Morris.
While our article explaining the bow-tie saga was somewhat tongue-in-cheek, the role played by individuals like Morris requires more serious reflection.
Given the steady onslaught of headlines and rapid succession of witnesses once the royal commission actually commenced, it can be easy to forget that it only happened because of seven long years of lobbying.
And a whole lot of personal courage.
Jeff Morris was a financial planner at the Commonwealth Bank when he blew the whistle on terrible misconduct by his colleague Don Nguyen. He made an internal complaint to his superiors.
He was ignored. Perhaps he was told to “temper his sense of justice”, as retail bank boss and eventual CEO Matt Comyn was years later.
So he bravely put his career on the line and took his story to the press, initiating conversations with Fairfax’s Adele Ferguson which ultimately resulted in a Gold Walkley for the expose of the “boiler room tactics” in the bank’s so-called advice business.
Together they enlisted influential advocates inside and outside federal parliament, and continued to advocate for a meaningful inquiry with prosecutorial power.
Morris’s decision to wear a bow-tie in full camera view during this final hearing was no ordinary fashion statement.
It was a symbol of the vital role that people can play in our democracy when they value the public interest over their own short-term self-interest.
Whistleblowers must be protected and respected. But it isn’t just these insiders with knowledge to share that can play a role.
Individual victims of misconduct have also played their part.
By writing public submissions, speaking to the media and sharing their often-traumatic personal stories, they have also shown a remarkable sense of citizenship and community.
Some of them have paid homage to whistleblowers like Morris by also wearing bow-ties to the royal commission hearings.
But they too are deserving of our praise. They too have spoken truth to power. They should feel a sense of satisfaction as they watch their stories and others uncovered on national television and given the oxygen they rightly deserve.
Last night I joined Brooke Corte and Chris Kohler on Your Money Live to discuss this lighter sub-plot of a serious news story and decided to jump on the bow-tie bandwagon in solidarity with victims and whistleblowers.
The public hearings may be coming to an end, but the voices of citizen activists and advocates will endure as a powerful social tool when they refuse to be silenced or temper their sense of justice.
So too, we hope, will the whistleblower bow-tie.
Long may it reign.
Follow the last two days of royal commission testimony live at www.yourmoney.com.au/royal.
Addendum: Your Money understands a number of individuals taking part in the silent protest are associated with two organisations, the Bow Tie Bank Warriors and Bank Reform Now.