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Tuesday, 18 June 2013
Page: 6131


Mr CIOBO (Moncrieff) (18:46): I, too, rise to support the Banking Amendment (Unclaimed Money) Bill 2013. The coalition supports it not because it is some brilliant piece of policy work by the Labor Party, not because it in some way represents the zenith of attainment when it comes to good fiscal and monetary policy by the Labor Party, but because this bill goes to correcting yet another mistake made by this government and, hence, the need for another amendment moving through this chamber as the government attempts to put another bandaid on a broken piece of legislation.

This Labor Party is quite extraordinary. Time and time and time again we have seen examples of how the Labor Party has, frankly, misused legislation and policy decisions, not in the interests of the Australian people but for one purpose and one purpose alone, and that is the political interests of the Australian Labor Party. The forefather—for lack of a better term—piece of legislation for the amendment currently before the House has to do with the government's attempts to prop up this year's budget as part of their 'guaranteed' budget surplus. My constituents in Moncrieff and on the Gold Coast have heard, I believe, on more than 500 occasions the Prime Minister and the Treasurer and a whole raft of backbenchers and members of the Labor Party say, as they looked Australians in the eye: 'The good times are back. We're delivering a surplus.'

Who would forget the Treasurer last year standing up at the dispatch box, staring down the camera and saying, 'Tonight's the first night of a budget surplus and will be the first of four years of budget surpluses'? That is what the Treasurer said. There may even have been some Australians who thought: 'The member for Lilley seems like a decent bloke, he's regarded as the world's greatest Treasurer, so it must be true. Clearly, they're going to deliver a budget surplus.' And to drive the point home, on 500 occasions they roamed about the country saying, 'This is the first of four years of budget surpluses.' What do we know to be true? Unfortunately, entirely consistent with Labor Party genealogy, entirely consistent with Labor Party form, instead of having a budget surplus—oops, a $19.4 billion deficit. 'That's okay, just missed it by that much—next year we know that we're going to have a budget surplus.' Oops, no, another $18 billion of deficit. 'It's okay, year 3—that's the year for the surplus.' But again, alas, a $16 billion deficit.

This is a government that has simply lost its way when it comes to spending. That is the reason this government has racked up $192 billion worth of budget deficits since it was elected. That is the reason this government presides over peak gross debt approaching $340 billion currently and on its way to more than $400 billion. That is the legacy of the Labor Party.

The amendment before the House tonight goes to the very core of their political manipulation to try to prop up the budget bottom line. How do they seek to do it? They seek to prop up that pathetic budget bottom line that the, apparently, world's greatest Treasurer has presided over by saying to the Australian people: 'We've got a brilliant public policy initiative.' Currently—that is, prior to the announcement—if an account had no transactions upon it for a period of seven years it would be deemed to be unclaimed money and the money would effectively be forfeited to the Commonwealth to become part of consolidated revenue. So, with a brilliant piece of financial engineering by the member for Lilley, Wayne Swan, they said, 'We're going to reduce it from seven years down to three years without there being any transactions on an account,' not because it was good public policy but because of the financial impact it would have.

What was the financial impact? By doing that, in that first year alone—that is, the financial year 2012-13—it meant an extra $93.4 million for this government. More importantly, they also included in schedule 4 of the original bill the unclaimed superannuation accounts. What did that mean for those who had unclaimed super? An additional $513.5 million for the Labor Party in the financial year 2012-13. And for companies and corporations unclaimed funds, it represented $94 million for 2012-13. So a grand total of $700.9 million has resulted from this change to public policy by, apparently, the world's greatest Treasurer.

That is the legacy of the Australian Labor Party: to make whimsical changes to policy that have a direct impact on people's lives just so they could attempt to prop up their budget bottom line and deliver the then forecast budget surplus of $1 billion or $1.5 billion. How pathetic! It is the reason the Australian people see straight through the member for Lilley and straight through this Prime Minister, because they know that they cannot trust the Australian Labor Party when it comes to financial management. Because they were in such a tremendous rush to push the legislation through and because the Labor Party was so focused on doing whatever they could to prop up their pathetic budget bottom line, they made some mistakes including, for example, the fact that now under the legislation as it currently exists, deposit-taking institutions that had for all intents and purposes an unclaimed savings account—let us say it was an offset account that someone was using against their mortgage—sitting there without transactions on it as an offset account, that money would be claimed by the Commonwealth and effectively go into consolidated revenue. Because there was a difference between the assessment date and the date the funds were referred to the Commonwealth, you actually had occasions arise when money that qualified as being 'unclaimed' as of the assessment date would then subsequently have transactions on the account prior to the date the money was referred to the Commonwealth. In that situation it did not matter, because under the law as rammed through this parliament by the Labor Party, that money had to come to the Commonwealth.

So people would have funds—as I said, to use the hypothetical situation of an account that was used as an offset against someone's mortgage—sitting there that would be deemed to be unclaimed funds. Wayne Swan's hand would reach through the bank, rip those funds back to the Commonwealth and then maybe someone would put a deposit down or make a withdrawal on that account. But it did not matter. Even though the account was still active, under the legislation that was rammed through this parliament by the Labor Party, they still had to give the funds to the Commonwealth.

That gives rise to the reason why we have legislation before the House now amending that perverse situation. Quite clearly, the account is not unclaimed. Quite clearly, if there are transactions on the account which take place after the assessment date then it should not be qualified as unclaimed funds. So the government attempts now to stick a bandaid on their rather broken-down and grubby piece of legislation, that was first introduced by the Treasurer and rammed through this parliament. That is the reason why the coalition supports this legislation. It is not because it is the zenith of good policy insight from the Australian Labor Party but rather because this is a much-needed correction to a defect that exists in the original legislation.

The simple inescapable reality though is this: there would be absolutely no need for this amendment or indeed the original legislation had the government managed Australia's economy a little better. There would be no need for the Commonwealth, in my view, to inappropriately take funds after only three years purely and simply as an attempt to prop up what is, effectively, one year of the government's bottom line as part of their quest to achieve a paltry $1 billion to $1½ billion surplus. Now that we know that the actual deficit was $19.4 billion, it all seems rather tawdry. It all seems rather tawdry that constituents had to come into my office only three weeks ago wanting to know how they had to go about claiming back their own money in order to be able to have it back under their control and not under the Commonwealth's control. I can only imagine what it must feel like for those who are not tuned into the daily to-ing and fro-ing of the financial world and of this parliament—for example, a retired couple who might have toiled their entire working lives to squirrel away some money to have as an offset against their mortgage or some kind of savings account for a rainy day or, indeed, for their retirement, to wake up and perhaps check the balance of their account to find the money gone. They would wonder and fret about what that actually meant and not know that it is all part of an attempt by the member for Lilley to prop up the media headlines and his pathetic budget balance in one financial year as part of this government's attempt to try to make out that they were delivering the budget back to surplus.

That is the real-world impact. That is the real-world impact on people who are not, perhaps, incredibly financially literate and who wonder where their money has gone. Is it any wonder that we see headlines like these: 'Savings snatch $150,000 plucked from account under new laws', or this: 'Savings grab a heartless act—Bank gives "unclaimed" cash to Canberra'. Australians rightly think that this is theft. Certainly there is not an intention to permanently deprive, granted, but that notwithstanding, it is in their eyes—and I know from speaking with people who have been affected by these changes—that they view it as theft. I think that they have every right to view this is theft. They have got every right to be very angry with the Australian Labor Party when they see their funds being transferred from their accounts straight into the government's coffers because Wayne Swan wants to prop up his bottom line. Australians lost their confidence in this government quite some time ago and this latest change, the legislation to alter the time frames on unclaimed money, is simply the latest nail in the coffin, frankly, about why the Australian Labor Party is just so on the nose with the Australian people.

Legislation before the House that seeks to amend the original piece of legislation does deserve to be supported, not because, as I said, it is a positive step forward but because it corrects an error from the original legislation. But more broadly than that, there is at stake a fundamental principle here: the right for Australians to think that this is a government that is concerned with their welfare and their financial wellbeing, as opposed to a government which in reality, as we all know, is more focused on their political survival and about propping up their pathetic bottom line than about making those good policy choices.

Another point of concern to me is that I have a regular spot on ABC radio in Brisbane against the member for Oxley and when I called the member for Oxley on Labor's policy I said, in sentiments very similar to those I have expressed this evening, that this was a gross grab for cash by the Labor Party and that it represented a net gain of some $900 million—nearly $1 billion—for the Labor government. The member for Oxley, much to my amazement, rejected it and made the statement that the changes had no net impact on government revenue and that, in fact, it was in the interests of the account holders, because the funds could have been sitting in an account without any interest but now they would be going to the government where they would get interest. If this does not represent what is going on, if it does not represent the low point in public policy debate and if it does not represent how much this is a government obsessed with spin about what it is up to, then I do not know of a clearer example that possibly exists today.