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Monday, 3 June 2013
Page: 4885


Mrs PRENTICE (Ryan) (21:30): In November last year, this Labor government passed the Treasury Legislation Amendment (Unclaimed Money and Other Measures Bill) 2012. That bill shortened from seven to three years the length of time that, if there were no transactions on a bank account, those funds would be considered 'unclaimed' and thereafter transferred to federal government revenue. The reason Labor passed this draconian legislation was to transfer $700 million of Australian taxpayers' hard-earned savings into government revenue as one of their many attempts to cover up Labor debt which now stands at $192 billion.

At the time, the coalition warned Labor the legislation was ill-considered and should not be passed. At the time I noted I had:

… deep reservations as to the potential unintended consequences that this legislation may have for many Australians with untouched funds in bank accounts.

Those unforeseen consequences are now being realised, with constituents in my electorate waking up to discover that the government has emptied their bank accounts.

My office was first contacted in February by Mr Gray of The Gap. He had received a letter from Westpac bank regarding a relative's account over which he has power of attorney. Normally at that time of year, the Gray family are away on holidays but this year, fortunately, they were not. They received quite a rude shock about the status of that account in a letter from their bank which said:

… it's been nearly three years since you last used your Westpac account … unless you transact on your account before 5 April 2013, your balance will be transferred to the Australian government. Once your money has been transferred, it won't earn interest.

You can imagine this family's shock to hear that the government would be taking their money if they did not make a transaction. The most grievous part of this story is that there were no transactions on the account because the money was being held to use on their relative's funeral. Happily, there had been no reason for them to even look at the account. They were also fortunate that their bank contacted them before their funds were taken. However, others have not been so lucky.

Two weeks ago, my office was contacted by Ms Williamson, who rang to say that morning she had checked her online savings account to find that the balance was suddenly zero dollars. She saw no messages from the bank and there was no final statement indicating exactly how much had been taken. After contacting her bank, she found that the money had been transferred to ASIC at the direction of government legislation. She spoke to ASIC, who told her that it could take more than 10 weeks after 1 July this year for her to get her money back.

But it gets worse. Last week, there were reports in the Courier Mail regarding Mr and Mrs Adrian Duffy of Toowong. The article said when Adrian and his wife:

… went to check their Suncorp account, they discovered their bank balance had plummeted from $22,616 to zero …

The couple had saved for 14 years in preparation for major health-related costs.

This was exactly the situation in which they found themselves, with Adrian having just come out of spending 21 days in hospital after a quintuple heart bypass and follow-up surgery. Again, the Duffy family, to their knowledge, had received no warning and no contact to advise that their money would be taken. Mr Duffy called it for what it is: stealing. On that weekend, the Courier Mail reported a further case of a Brisbane business women who had more than $157,000 handed over to ASIC! These recent cases demonstrate that the concerns about which the coalition and the banks had warned Laborhave come to pass. I have no doubt that this situation is being repeated for thousands of Australians across the country.

On 29 May, the government introduced the Banking Amendment (Unclaimed Money) Bill 2013. This amendment reverses—at least in the short term—some of the worst effects of the original legislation, for example by allowing customers to keep money where they make transactions on their account even after the bank has assessed their money as unclaimed. While this Labor government is belatedly making some changes in acknowledgement of the errors present in their original legislation, this is no consolation or remedy for the stress and anxiety that they have already caused for constituents in my electorate.