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Tuesday, 21 June 2011
Page: 6693

Ms SMYTH (La Trobe) (16:53): Yesterday, I had an opportunity to make some initial remarks in this debate on the National Consumer Credit Protection Amendment (Home Loans and Credit Cards) Bill 2011. I was addressing some of the very practical measures which the bill puts in place to help consumers. The bill endeavours to help people who rely so very heavily on credit cards and who shoulder the burden of personal debt. I mentioned that the measures included in the bill will help those people make much better choices about the kinds of debt arrangements that they enter into—for instance, better choices about mortgage products and credit cards.

This debate sketches out fairly neatly for the public some of the differences between our government and the opposition. I have listened fairly intently to the remarks of the opposition in this debate. They say that they will support the reforms in this bill but that they are effectively being dragged to it. I think that the Hansard of the debate from yesterday will bear that out. They say that they are reluctantly accepting of our legislation to give consumers choice. They particularly mentioned overregulation and intrusion into business. As I said at the time, they made similar noises and mutterings in debates earlier this year, in particular in debates in which they were more concerned with the interests of executives and with standing up for executives and their salaries than with standing up for shareholders and consumers. We saw that very recently in the debate on the Corporations Amendment (Improving Accountability on Director and Executive Remuneration) Bill 2011, which this government pursued and has ultimately had passed in the Senate.

The opposition say that they are terribly concerned about overregulation. They have to be dragged, kicking and screaming, to support very sensible legislation which gives consumers choice. Then they say that they have faith in the market. I say: 'Hearty congratulations to all of them,' because it really is the first time in this term that they have applied that logic to any debate. Indeed, I invite them to apply their faith in markets to some other debates that are affecting our nation at the moment. The carbon price, for instance, might benefit from the application of that logic. Unfortunately, the opposition chop and change and make up the rules as they go. They are happy to talk about markets and their concerns about regulation in the context of this debate on this bill that is looking out for consumers—mums and dads and individuals such as those in my electorate. They are not terribly concerned about applying the same logic of their faith in markets when it comes to things like a carbon price. We have been consistent. We have said that we would act for consumers on banking, credit cards and home loans—all of those products on which so many Australians have come to rely for their everyday existence. I mentioned yesterday that the Reserve Bank's figure on the level of credit card debt in February of this year was a staggering $49.3 billion, of which some $36 billion at that time was accruing interest.

These are issues which touch all Australians in a significant way, and it is for this reason that the Treasurer recognised the need to act. He has taken that opportunity to act by introducing this bill. Our reforms will enable consumers to make a more informed choice about home loan products and credit cards. I spelt out yesterday some of the ways that the bill does that. I imagine that other speakers in this debate will elaborate on that. Our reforms will reduce the risk of consumers being offered credit card limits, the balance on which they are almost certain to be unable to repay in a reasonable period of time.

These are the very real and very practical differences between what we as a government are putting forward against the nothing that the opposition have in mind—because they offer nothing on these issues. They offered nothing in the budget reply. They have offered nothing in relation to the NBN. They offer nothing in relation to carbon pricing. They offered nothing on the floods in Queensland and the means to fund the recovery. They offer nothing to consumers looking for a better deal in banking.