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Tuesday, 18 June 2013
Page: 6134


Mr CRAIG KELLY (Hughes) (19:01): I rise to speak on the Banking Amendment (Unclaimed Money) Bill 2013. This bill is nothing other than a fix-up of yet another of the government's stuff-ups. That is no surprise when you look at the speakers list. There is not one speaker from the government listed to speak on this bill and to defend what is happening here because they know, to their embarrassment, that it is a complete stuff-up and they do not want to be associated with it.

This bill amends section 69 of the Banking Act to exempt reactivated accounts from being reported and transferred to the Commonwealth. It will also give the Treasurer power to refund moneys to authorise deposit-taking institutions if moneys are collected unnecessarily. The bill will provide transitional provisions for the supplementary statement and payment, allowing ADIs to exempt reactivated accounts from being reported and transferred to the Commonwealth and will give power to the Treasurer to refund any reactivated accounts which have already been collected. As I said, this bill is just another example of the failure of this government, another example of bringing in rushed, ill-considered legislation to this parliament and of mistake after mistake that needs to be rectified.

We should go back to try to understand how the government actually came to this complete mess. It is necessary to go back to those heady days last year, when it was all about returning the budget to surplus. We heard that mantra time and time again: 'We are returning the budget to surplus.' We had the Prime Minister getting around the country saying, with respect to returning the budget to surplus, 'Failure is not an option.' We had Senator Wong telling us:

… the government has made it clear that the return to surplus is not negotiable …

We had the Treasurer promising to return the budget to surplus and that it would be done 'come hell or high water'.

Who will ever forget the Treasurer's opening line on budget night last year—a line that will go down in history, along with the lines of the Iraqi Information Minister, 'Comical Ali,' known for his grandiose and grossly unrealistic propaganda broadcasts, extolling the invincibility of Saddam's army—when he, the Treasurer, standing at that very dispatch box, boldly proclaimed on budget night last year, to the hysterical laughter around the chamber:

This Budget delivers a surplus this coming year, on time, as promised, and surpluses each year after that, strengthening over time.

It reminds me of one of Comical Ali's best performances when, standing in front of the TV cameras, he said:

There is no presence of American infidels in the city of Baghdad.

And behind him we had American tanks rolling along.

We even had the member for Lindsay, to his internal embarrassment, sending out letters throughout his electorate, proclaiming: 'This government actually achieved returning the budget to surplus.' I wonder if he has actually sent out an apology for that. Albeit that this great surplus that we were returning to was just $1.5 billion and that came after this government had delivered the four largest budget deficits in our nation's history—a cumulative $172 billion in the red—the government said, 'We're returning the budget to surplus; we have $1.5 billion.' What brilliance!

With such political imperative of returning the budget to surplus the government were like an addict looking for a quick fix. They went on the look for cash. They had their eyes on the bank accounts of Australian mums and dads. They had their eyes on the bank accounts of pensioners and even on the bank accounts of children. 'What a bounty; if only we could get our hands on that money and transfer it to government revenue.' So they came up with this scheme, under the unclaimed moneys rules of the Banking Act, which gave them the ability to raid every bank account in the nation that had simply not had a deposit or withdrawal made to it in the last 36 months. That did not include interest payments.

There were thousands of accounts around the nation that people had put their money in for a rainy day. They were watching the interest going in, thinking their money was safe in the bank. But, after 36 months, that money was now going to get paid directly into consolidated revenue to prop up this government's accounts and its reckless spending. What legitimacy was there for this three-year period? What was the legitimate reason to reduce the period from seven years when many other countries have a period of 15 years before money is deemed as unclaimed? What was the legitimacy to reduce it to three years? There was simply none.

And what about the effects on the psychology of Australians, who think when they put their money into a bank account that that money is safe, if they find out that 36 months later that money has been withdrawn by the government? What was to happen with this money that was being transferred? The other part of the plot was that, come 30 June, the end of this financial year, when accounts were reeled off, this government would be able to have over $100 million of money that would otherwise have been deposited in the accounts of mums, dads, pensioners and kids, transferring it into consolidated revenue so they could say, 'Hey presto, we have delivered a surplus.'

That was the plan; but, like everything this government touches, it simply ended in tears. Despite this raid on bank accounts, the surplus, like a distant mirage, has simply vanished. The surplus that we were promised is now, at the latest forecast, a $19.8 billion deficit. You can bet London to a brick on that, when that final number is revealed—coincidentally after the election date—it will be somewhere north of $20 billion.

When the government introduced this legislation they simply failed to listen to the warnings of the experts in the banking sector who had to apply and actually do this work. When the bill was being debated in parliament the banking industry clearly warned about the dangers of the short time frame from the announcement of the policy to the implementation on 31 December. The Australian Bankers' Association noted:

The ABA notes that the proposed timing for implementation and a commencement of 31 December 2012 is unrealistic, being in less than 2 months and falling during a period when banks implement freezes on any technology or IT systems changes. It is estimated that banks and other ADIs will require at least 6 months to make all the necessary changes, inform customers in a legally compliant manner, and meet compliance requirements. It should be noted that individual banks and other ADIs will have different implementation issues. Therefore, the ABA believes that a 12 month transitional period for compliance is appropriate to ensure the legal, technical and practical issues can be addressed and ensure that the new regime can be streamlined into the existing annual process without disrupting banks' systems or bank-customer relationships.

That advice from the banking association was simply ignored because this government wanted to get their hands on that cash. They wanted to raid the bank accounts of Australians, so they completely ignored that mess. Now we have this confusion and chaos, a trademark of this government. Even when the legislation was brought in, the originating bill had seven amendments.

After this law was passed Labor gave the banks four months—from 31 December 2012 to 30 April this year—where they had to deliver a statement of any money in any bank account in the nation that had not had a deposit or withdrawal even as little as 5c. They had to give a statement of those accounts and they had to pay the money to the Commonwealth to put into this year's budget. What an example of dysfunction. This raid was expected to net this government over $100 million to put into this year's budget to try to deliver that surplus which we have never had.

What did the government do? What about an information campaign? What about an advertising campaign to let people know that the Labor government are coming for their money and, if they had an account which they had only had in there for close to three years, to rush and put a dollar in or take a dollar out? We have seen advertising campaigns for a whole host of other things from this government, but no—deadly silence.

So we had people who thought they had nest eggs stashed away. They were in for a very nasty surprise. Here are a few examples of this government plundering money from people's private bank accounts, taken without their knowledge or consent. On 22 May a 77-year-old pensioner, Mr Alan Duffy, arrived home after spending 21 days in hospital following a heart bypass and found that the $22,616 he had saved over 14 years and put away for that medical emergency had been seized by this government. Of the experience, Mr Duffy said, 'I call it stealing'.

On 25 May young Seamus Hadfield, aged five, and his little brother Eamon, aged three, found that $3,000—money their grandparents had given to them when they were born to put away for when they were older to help pay for their education—had been raided by this Gillard Labor government. Their parents said at the time: 'We were pretty shocked. Who expects to see their kids' accounts closed and the money taken by the government?' Well, Mrs Hadfield, welcome to the workings of the Labor government in Australia in 2013.

On 1 June a 47-year-old mother of two, Margaret Franklin, found out $157,644 had been cleaned out of her bank account to be used to prop up this government's finances for the year. Mrs Franklin said she was 'shocked and angry beyond belief' when she found her money—$157,000—had been siphoned from her account, leaving her with a zero balance, and that the money had been used to prop up this government's finances. These are just a few examples of the thousands and thousands of Australians who are finding this has happened to them.

Although these citizens can get their money back, they have to apply for it, and they do not get their money back until next financial year, enabling this government to have that money in their account come 30 June. This is a tragic example of the flaws and dangers of this government. The coalition supports this amendment bill, which fixes up some of the mistakes.

We need to inform every citizen in this nation that, under this Labor government, if you have saved and put money away—it may be grandparents who have put money away for their grandkids, it may be a pensioner who has put money away in case of a medical emergency, it may be someone who has put money away for a rainy day—and you have not made a deposit or withdrawal on those accounts in the last 36 months, that money will now be taken by this government. We should be having an advertising campaign. People need to be aware of this. All citizens of Australia need to watch out: their money is no longer safe in their bank accounts when this Labor government is around. 14 September cannot come quickly enough.