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Tuesday, 18 June 2013
Page: 6142


Ms GAMBARO (Brisbane) (19:38): I rise to speak on the Banking Amendment (Unclaimed Money) Bill 2013. I want to reiterate what the members for Higgins, Moncrieff and Gippsland have just said: that we are in this terrible situation of having to come into this House to clean up a bill because the 'world's greatest Treasurer'—and he was 'presented' a plaque at the campaign launch of my opposition the other day with the 'world's greatest Treasurer' on it—has had in the recent budget a $20 billion blow-out. So we have now got to find the money from somewhere. So what do we do? We go looking at ways by which we can get the money back and we go looking at people's bank accounts. This bill exempts reactivated accounts from being reported and transferred to the Commonwealth as unclaimed moneys and allows the Commonwealth to provide refunds to authorised deposit-taking institutions, or ADIs, if moneys are collected unnecessarily.

In the 2012-13 MYEFO, in an attempt by the government to find savings to bolster their now-defunct commitment of delivering a surplus in 2012-13, the government announced an array of changes relating to unclaimed moneys in bank accounts, life insurance accounts, superannuation accounts and corporations. These changes sought to bring forward the period of time at which money is recognised under the relevant law as being lost or unclaimed. These changes can be referred to as Labor's desperate cash grab—and that is all it is, a very desperate cash grab—where the Gillard government seeks to ambush by stealth the newly classified unclaimed moneys in savings accounts, life insurance accounts, superannuation accounts and corporations. As with every piece of shambolic legislation that is put forward by this government, the devil is in the detail and with these changes the devil is in the new period for accounts to be treated as unclaimed moneys, which this fiscally challenged government has significantly shortened. Since the government has been trying this week to claim that it is committed to dealing in facts, here are the facts about this blatant cash grab—and I repeat that that is all it is, a cash grab—and the changes it has made so that it could raid these accounts.

If you have a bank account, it is now reduced from seven years to three years. If you have life insurance moneys, they were previously treated as unclaimed after seven years but that has been reduced to three years. Superannuation accounts with balances of less than $2,000 and accounts of unidentifiable members that have been inactive for 12 months were required to be transferred to the Commissioner of Taxation. The changes reduce from five years to 12 months the period of inactivity before which the superannuation accounts of unidentifiable members are transferred to the ATO. The unclaimed property of corporations is now to be recognised directly in the Commonwealth Consolidated Revenue Fund—impacting the underlying cash position of the Commonwealth—upon receipt by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, as opposed to the companies and unclaimed moneys special account. These measures have netted the government nearly $900 million over a four-year period to 2015-16.

A government controlled Senate economics committee inquiry was held into this bill and recommended that the government bill be passed. The coalition members of the committee inquiry gave a dissenting report. The coalition series of amendments sought to delay implementation of schedules 1 and 2, relating to bank accounts and first home saver accounts, for a full year to commence on 31 December 2013 to feed into the banks' annual processes that had largely been completed for this calendar year when the MYEFO announcements were made. The coalition sought to delay schedule 4 relating to superannuation accounts for a full year in order to align with the deadline of the autoconsolidations necessary under the previously announced SuperStream reforms, which are due to commence from 1 January 2014. The purpose of the coalition amendments was to allow the banking and finance sectors to put in place proper governance processes for the implementation of these changed time periods—and I have got to say that the amount of regulation that has been put on the banking and other sectors has just been absolutely incredible.

But, no, this government was not interested in the interests of ordinary Australians and ensuring that their savings accounts were not ambushed. So desperate have the government been, because of their woeful mismanagement of their budget, that they have just wanted to grab the cash of ordinary Australians as quickly as they could in a vain attempt to prop up the ever-growing debt that they have racked up year after year. The coalition amendments were defeated on the floor of the House of Representatives and the coalition voted against the passage of this bill in both the House of Representative and the Senate.

How repugnant is it to steal someone's money from their bank account, and I want to go through a few examples of that. A particularly disgusting example was hijacking a bank account in the case of Adrian Duffy, a Brisbane pensioner, who emerged from a quintuple heart bypass—if going in for a quintuple heart bypass isn't stressful enough—only to find his wife's $20,000 Suncorp account empty because the bank gave it to the government.

Mr Randall: It is lucky he didn't have a relapse.

Ms GAMBARO: The member for Canning is quite right: he is lucky he didn't have a relapse. It could have brought on another heart attack. Mr Duffy is now looking at a very lengthy battle to have his savings restored. He is a 75-year-old. He doesn't need this stress. He already spent 21 days in hospital following the quintuple heart bypass and a second operation in April. He does not need the stress of having now to sort out his banking details. When Mr Duffy and his wife went back to check their Suncorp account, they discovered their balance had plummeted. Can you imagine! You go to your bank account and check out the balance. You remember that you had $22,616 and you find you have a zero balance. A note on the 1 May entry had the quite ominous message 'Closing WDL Govt unclaimed monies'.

This couple—this is quite sad—had saved for 40 years in preparation for a major health related costs just to have a cash-strapped and broke Gillard government rip it out of their bank account right under their very noses. Mr Duffy and his wife are now working to recover the money, but they say they are quite lucky to have had a little bit of other savings that they can draw on. As Mr Duffy said to the media about the traumatic event:

If we didn't have the money elsewhere, we would now have to be paying for cardiologists, visits to surgeons, ECGs, x-rays, whatever is involved in the follow-up.

I know how expensive operations are. Many of my constituents come to see me every day about the extras that they have to pay after their health insurance.

Not all those who fall victim to this cash grab by the Gillard government can be so lucky. I had a case recently in which a lady came to my office. She had gone overseas for eight weeks only to discover upon her return that the Gillard government had ripped approximately $30,000 out of her ING Direct savings account. It had been sucked dry. Imagine that! Every person who goes overseas right now must have the fear of God in them that, if they haven't done anything about an account, while they are overseas they can have that money ripped out of their bank account. The lady contacted the ASIC call centre and was advised that:

They are still working through the detail of the legislation. You won't be able to see how much they actually took until July 1 and the money won't be returned until 10 weeks after that.

There are many examples that come to mind. Will they be returned with interest? Ten weeks! What if you needed that money desperately? There are many examples of people who have money that is left in accounts. We have always been encouraged by governments of all persuasions to save, and many Australians have money in fixed accounts. I will give you the example of someone who has left money in a will. A small amount is left in an account; they leave it in there. That is the sort of money that can be ripped out of their account.

A few months ago I had a charitable church group come to see me. They are a conglomeration of groups of churches—they buy equipment, they buy teaching aids. The bank account had not been active for some time and they were advised that if they did not make a transaction soon that money would be ripped out of their account. The secretary of this church organisation was outraged. She said to me: 'Teresa, do I have to put $10 in the bank account only to take it out so that we can have some sort of transaction? That is absolutely outrageous. I have sent them an email and I have told them that it is a legitimate account, but to no avail.'

So you have church groups, charitable organisations, individuals, young people and old people. This bill does not discriminate. It takes money out of people's bank accounts. It rips it out of your account if you are overseas or you have gone to have an operation, as I have just demonstrated with Mr Duffy. More than understandably, this lady that I just spoken about who was told she would have her money returned after 10 weeks was not particularly happy. She wants her money now. It is her money.

It is not just everyday Australians who think these changes are absurd. Even the Australian Bankers' Association has accused the government of putting its own financial circumstances ahead of customers' needs, leaving them facing 'months of delays trying to reclaim their own money'. They have to show all sorts of identification to get their money back. It is just the most incredibly convoluted process—to get back their own money! It is extraordinary.

More specifically, the acting chief executive of the Australian Bankers' Association has said that he believed there was 'no benefit for customers from these changes'. I remember sitting opposite with the parliamentary secretary and commenting to him when the bill was introduced that this was just an effort by the Gillard government to steal people's money. He said, 'No, no, no, Teresa; it is about reuniting people with their super quicker.' There is nothing about reuniting people with their super quicker here; it is about taking people's money. It is a blatant, blatant cash grab.

The issues which this bill seeks to amend are a direct result of the government's own errors in drafting the legislation for this very, very poor piece of policy. It is poor policy. They decide to do something and they worry about the details later. They worry about the details later when hundreds of thousands of people have been hurt by the decisions that they have made.

In the transitional arrangements, ADIs are expected to assess the moneys at an appropriate date and transfer them to the Commonwealth by the due date. Under the existing legislation, ADIs are required to report and transfer all unclaimed moneys as assessed on the applicable assessment date, including reactivated accounts, to the Commonwealth, regardless of whether transactions have been made on the accounts prior to the reporting date. Consequently, these ADIs would either commit an offence of not transferring all unclaimed money to the Commonwealth or need to close the reactivated accounts and transfer them to the Commonwealth.

On the other hand, some ADIs have reported and transferred the unclaimed moneys to the Commonwealth, including the amounts for reactivated accounts. However, rather than closing and transferring the reactivated accounts, ADIs kept the reactivated accounts active and retained the balance amount but paid the required unclaimed accounts from their own accounts

Sounds complicated? You bet it is.

The Commonwealth does not currently have power to refund moneys to ADIs directly though ADIs are the intermediary returning unclaimed moneys to their owners.

These measures within this bill seek to allow 'ADIs to exclude accounts that have transactions after being assessed as unclaimed from unclaimed moneys which need to be reported and transferred to the Commonwealth'. The bill seeks to allow 'the Treasurer to refund moneys to ADIs that are collected unnecessarily'. Well, that's a revelation, isn't it?

While the coalition did not support the passage of the original legislation through the parliament, this amendment bill should be passed, as it was made necessary by the government's incompetence and the urgent need to amend their own very poor and shabby policy. The other notable display of incompetence from the government is in the drafting of the bill that relates to the government's claims as to financial impact. The explanatory memorandum to the bill states:

The financial impact from the Bill is likely to be low but is difficult to quantify due to insufficient data being available.

Given that the Commonwealth is effectively reimbursing those ADIs who have been kind enough to use their own funds to fulfil the government requirements in relation to the unclaimed amounts, there may be a future cost to the national budget for the interest paid to ADIs in recompense. This kind of legislation has become commonplace—bad legislation and a bad policy outcome from the Gillard government.