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Thursday, 28 August 1997
Page: 7324

Mr PRICE(5.55 p.m.) —Again I am pleased to rise to talk about a case I have had about banking. It concerns Lionel Tipping, a constituent of mine, who was a 30-year long customer of Westpac. If I described Lionel as a battler, he would not be offended. In fact I think it is a badge of honour that I should describe him so.

A casual worker, Lionel was in receipt of a disability allowance on behalf of his daughter. He was notified in writing by the Department of Social Security that they believed they had overpaid him. Lionel, naturally, panicked about this and sought the best means possible of trying to refute the department's assertions in the letter. He rushed down to his local Westpac branch and sought to get statements of his account. It is not disputed that he was advised that these statements would cost $7 each. He went home, relieved, knowing that the bank would get those statements to him and, in due course, he would have the proof that he needed to dispute the Department of Social Security's claim. As it turned out, the department made a mistake. He was not overpaid at all.

However, a problem arose in that the cost of the statements that were sent to him amounted to, from memory, about $196. Lionel did not have that sort of money to pay the bank—certainly not in his account. And I must say I find the bank providing Lionel with an overdraft to meet these charges reprehensible.

I think Westpac has acted illegally. I do not believe they were legally and validly correct in merely advising Lionel that the statements were going to cost $7 each. Under the national credit laws, they are required to say not only how much it was going to cost per statement but what the totality of the cost of the statements was going to be. The bank, quite graciously I suppose, admits that they did not disclose the number of statements that would be involved—that is, the total cost.

The bank offered to waive half the charges, provided Lionel would not, through me, go to the papers. I am pleased to report to the House that I have succeeded in having all those charges wiped. But I certainly encourage Faye Lo Po, the Minister for Consumer Affairs in the New South Wales government, to have her officers investigate this matter and even bring legal charges. It is quite clear to me, in the two cases that I have mentioned today, that either the banks are acting outside the law and need to be prosecuted or customers need to be protected by way of much more rigorous legislation to protect their rights and interests.

It is true that I contacted the Banking Ombudsman about this matter. I can only report that I found the Ombudsman's advice quite unsatisfactory. I believe I obtained far more benefit for my constituent than was ever going to be possible by contacting this lame duck Ombudsman.

These cases are coming through my door. I invite all my constituents not to put up with their treatment from the banks but to please contact me. I will take up their cases. On the Notice Paper today I have two notices of motion. One is seeking a parliamentary inquiry into the operation and effectiveness of the Banking Ombudsman.

Mr SPEAKER —Order! It being 6 p.m. The House stands adjourned until 12.30 p.m. next Monday.