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- Start of Business
QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
(Beazley, Kim, MP, Howard, John, MP)
(Forrest, John, MP, Anderson, John, MP)
Banking: Services and Fees
(Crean, Simon, MP, Howard, John, MP)
Commonwealth-State Financial Arrangements
(Gambaro, Teresa, MP, Costello, Peter, MP)
Goods and Services Tax: Sanitary Products
(Corcoran, Ann, MP, Howard, John, MP)
Australian Defence Force: Funding
(Vale, Danna, MP, Reith, Peter, MP)
Australian Defence Force: Funding
(Martin, Stephen, MP, Reith, Peter, MP)
(Cadman, Alan, MP, Hockey, Joe, MP)
Economy: National Accounts
(Crean, Simon, MP, Howard, John, MP)
Workplace Relations: Workplace Agreements
(Cameron, Ross, MP, Abbott, Tony, MP)
Dairy Industry: Deregulation
(Horne, Bob, MP, Truss, Warren, MP)
Small Business: Unfair Dismissal Laws
(Schultz, Alby, MP, Macfarlane, Ian, MP)
(Smith, Stephen, MP, Anderson, John, MP)
Education: Schools Funding
(Georgiou, Petro, MP, Kemp, Dr David, MP)
Higher Education: Funding
(Lee, Michael, MP, Kemp, Dr David, MP)
(Bailey, Fran, MP, Truss, Warren, MP)
Universities: Research Funding
(Lee, Michael, MP, Kemp, Dr David, MP)
Trade: Export Performance
(McArthur, Stewart, MP, Vaile, Mark, MP)
- Banking: Policy
- ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
- PERSONAL EXPLANATIONS
- MATTERS OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE
- MAIN COMMITTEE
- MATTERS REFERRED TO MAIN COMMITTEE
- BILLS RETURNED FROM THE SENATE
- PIG INDUSTRY BILL 2000
EXCISE TARIFF AMENDMENT BILL (NO. 1) 2001
CUSTOMS TARIFF AMENDMENT BILL (NO. 2) 2001
- LAKE EYRE BASIN INTERGOVERNMENTAL AGREEMENT BILL 2001
- Goods and Services Tax: TPI Pension Recipients
- Education: Government Schools
- Emms, Leading Cook Francis Richard
- Banking: Fee-Free Accounts
- Workers' Entitlements: Grenadier Coating
- Roads: Speed Cameras
- Sydney (Kingsford Smith) Airport: Noise
QUESTIONS ON NOTICE
Northern Territory: Diversionary Programs
(McClelland, Robert, MP, Williams, Daryl, MP)
Australia Post: Drummoyne Post Office
(Murphy, John, MP, McGauran, Peter, MP)
HMAS Westralia: Trotter Report
(Price, Roger, MP, Reith, Peter, MP)
Defence: Army Reserves
(Price, Roger, MP, Reith, Peter, MP)
Defence: Armaments Containing Depleted Uranium
(Irwin, Julia, MP, Reith, Peter, MP)
Defence Portfolio: Procurement Policies
(Sidebottom, Sid, MP, Reith, Peter, MP)
Immigration and Multicultural Affairs Portfolio: Procurement Guidelines
(Sidebottom, Sid, MP, Ruddock, Philip, MP)
- Northern Territory: Diversionary Programs
Tuesday, 27 March 2001
Mr BEAZLEY (Leader of the Opposition) (3:37 PM) —Amid all the flip-flops, backflips and U-turns this Howard government has been engaged in, the one constant you can always rely upon is it returning like a homing pigeon to the interests of the big end of town. Whether it happens to be in rich private schools, private health funds or petrol companies, this government is always prepared in the final analysis to rob ordinary Australians and benefit the wealthy. That is the absolute essence. It is like a laser-guided homing pigeon in the case of this government.
If you want to see an example of this in full-blown operation, take a look at the performance of this government in response to our policy initiatives, the bankers' policy initiatives and the other propositions that are out there in the general community at the moment for reform of our banking system to make sure it operates in a way that is friendly to ordinary customers. On the one hand, the government gets up and says the Labor Party has no policy. Then it says that the policy that the Labor Party has is plagiarised. Then it says it has plagiarised the policy from the bankers it agrees with. Then it says that implementing the policy will impose costs that will raise interest rates but that nevertheless it supports the proposals that have come forward from the bankers. This is the complete confusion you get into when you operate in this business with mixed motives, when you operate not to genuinely benefit ordinary Australians but to react fearfully to the appalling electoral circumstances in which you find yourselves and somehow try to score a few points off the opposition but under no circumstances change in any way the behaviour that you are determined to pursue but just simply camouflage it.
Let me deal first with the accusation that in some way or another, in the policies which we announced yesterday, the Labor Party has come forward with a determination to plagiarise initiatives dealt with by others. Let me go to our policies at the last election and ask whether people see anything that has been stated in recent times that is in some way familiar to them, albeit stated by others as opposed to simply the Labor Party. Here were our policy initiatives in the 1998 election:
Labor will immediately institute the formal monitoring of bank fees and charges through the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.
Do people remember that there was a bit of concern out there in question time today that somehow or other we had not discovered that the ACCC might perform a role such as this. That was there in the platform. The policy stated:
The ACCC will then have to publish every three months the results of their monitoring so that consumers have before them the information necessary to make informed choices as to where they want to bank.
The sad fact is that consumers can no longer rely on the banks to be up front in telling them what fees and charges they will pay. Further, in the second point on this issue, the policy said:
Labor will also insist that as a bare minimum banks will have to provide a no-frills banking service, with at least one free over the counter transaction a week available to the disadvantaged, the elderly and disabled Australians.
Where did we hear that in the course of the last couple of days when we were supposed to be plagiarising? We heard it from the Bankers Association. And what infuriates the government is that, in the absence of a government policy, it was prepared to have the Bankers Association provide one—hopefully, to slip out the detail of a letter that constitutes the only discernible document on banking policy that is around in circulation. The government hoped to slip that out before the bankers came in with their set of propositions and ultimately claimed credit for it. What you hear is the screams of the one-upped. That is basically what you are hearing reverberating around the benches of the other side of the House—the screams of the one-upped. What you do not hear are the screams of the genuinely outraged at having a policy purloined. That is because the government has no policy.
The Minister for Financial Services and Regulation stood up in question time today and asked where in the ALP policy there was mention of the current level of interest rates or interest rate policy. There was a sort of claquers' applause. The substantial policy statement of the ALP goes into considerable detail as to the history of bank fees and charges. If I get time later, I will point out that the history of gouging, as far as fees are concerned, is very recent history indeed.
I ask the following question. Where in this piece of correspondence to Mr Viney's committee from Joe Hockey—this flimsy statement of policy that comes forward from him—is the reference to interest rates? Where, in this one-page document, is there a reference to interest rates? The government were concerned to attack us on that particular front. Where is the statement from them? Where, in this flimsy, one-page document, is a statement from the Minister for Financial Services and Regulation saying that—whatever else happens in relation to changes in banking practices to provide low cost services to social security recipients, the disabled and the community generally—it should not be paid for in any shape or form by an increase in interest rates? Where does it say it in this? Or where does it say, in any shape or form in this particular document, that the banks should extract the costs of this from other consumers? It does not say it at any point in this document.
This government knows—though it desperately does not want to admit it—that we are dealing with institutions that are making, collectively, $9 billion profit per year. It has already imposed upon those institutions the cost of $430 million per annum of GST administration. Those institutions have come to the trough. They want to ensure that they do not lose any of that $9 billion. But they know that, when they are in the situation of having been so profitable for so long, they are in a position to provide these services. They can do that without increasing charges, without increasing interest rates, without increasing the impost on their general customers.
The government sought yesterday to imply that the propositions that we have, which of course are a much tougher set of propositions than theirs—though we welcome what the bankers have had to say—will be rejected out of hand by the banks, that there will be no discussion with us at all on these matters and that, therefore, they will be irrelevant, null and void. I welcome the fact that at least three banks have already come out today and said that they are prepared to discuss these matters through with the Labor Party. We welcome that approach on their part. We have always been prepared to discuss these matters with the banks, and we continue to be prepared to discuss these matters with the banks. But the tip-off as to this government's real attitude goes in the statement that, unless the banks talk to the Australian Labor Party, naturally the Australian Labor Party would not be in a position to do anything about it. That is where the government are essentially coming from: unless the banks tick off on absolutely everything we do, then do not do it. This is a bunch that want to convey the impression out there in the community that they are listening to the pain in the community about shut-downs and overexpensive services. But, if those who are responsible for that in any way, shape or form disagree in the consultation process, naturally nothing should be done. This is part of a government that are not listening. This is part of a government that have a cloth ear to anything other than the big end of town. If the big end of town were to complain, then do nothing. The only appropriate approach to the big end of town, as far as this government are concerned, is a begging letter based on the assumption that, having had a bit of a quick discussion with them, this is as much as they are prepared to do. That is what is going on here as far as this government are concerned.
But everybody is awake to them. Recently in question time, the government have been prepared to quote from the Australian Consumers Association to back up arguments that the government have been making about issues in relation to their goods and services tax. I see that we have been joined by `hogwash Hockey'.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —The Leader of the Opposition will withdraw that.
Mr BEAZLEY —I withdraw. We have been joined by the Minister for Financial Services and Regulation. Let him explain away this one from the body that he has been prepared to quote so favourably in this parliament in the past—in other words, the Australian Consumers Association. What do they say about it? The Australian Consumers Association were quoted as saying:
ALP banking policy—right direction ...
Why do they say that it is the right direction? Because it is enforceable. It is one thing to get from the banks an agreement that they will provide these low cost services. It is one thing to get from the banks an agreement that they will be more sensitive when they are shutting down services. But it is another thing altogether to make absolutely certain that this happens. The essential features of the policies that we announced yesterday are that the banks will carry out the propositions that they have already effectively signed up to, and a few others as well, and that they will have them in a social charter legally enforceable by ASIC. It will be monitored by the ACCC; it will be monitored by a much more simplified operation as far as reporting and complaints are concerned in the financial sector, with a single financial services board and an ombudsman capable of looking at the totality of these things. It will not simply be an archive. This is enforceable policy. This guarantees to the Australian community that they will receive the services that the banks have said that they are prepared to provide but which we know that, unless they are obligated and those services are effectively documented and enforced, the banks will be slip sliding around at the margins the moment the opportunity arises and public scrutiny goes off them. That is why the ACA believes that the propositions that we have put forward—well thought out, well documented and well researched—are preferable to the course of action that the government are prepared to be dragged up to, the point at which they are prepared to reach but to go no further.
Why do these things have urgency now? Why is it more important now that the ACCC look at these matters than it was perhaps four or five years ago?
Mr Hockey —It is a good question.
Mr BEAZLEY —It is a good question, he says. That is because the income earned by the banks from these particular fees and charges have gone up, depending on where you care to name it and how you care to calculate it, by as much as 160 per cent since 1997. Some of these fees have gone up, since this government have been in office, by as much as 400 per cent! The fees were coming to the attention of the Australian public by the mid-nineties—not earlier than that. That was why we negotiated with the banks in 1995 a monitoring role and a reporting role for the ACCC. The banks agreed but then nothing happened. Why did nothing happen? Because in 1996 you were elected and the pressure instantly went off the banks. That is why the ACA, that is why Australian consumers, that is why Australian pensioners, want and have called for the sorts of enforceability for this social charter and have insisted that there is a social charter. That is why they have asked for these things. That is what we will deliver; that is what this government are running away from at a thousand miles an hour.