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Wednesday, 31 August 2016
Page: 52


Mr SHORTEN (MaribyrnongLeader of the Opposition) (09:33): by leave—I move:

That the House:

(1) notes that:

      (a) Scandals in the banking and financial services industry have led to:

            (i) retirees having their retirement savings gutted;

            (ii) families being rorted;

            (iii) small business owners losing everything;

            (iv) life insurance policy holders being denied justice; and

            (v) agricultural assets being improperly foreclosed;

      (b) despite several inquiries, new powers, new resources, and a Financial Ombudsman Service, the rorts and the rip offs continue;

      (c) it is clear from the breadth and scope of the allegations that the problems in this industry go beyond any one bank, type of financial institution or group of receivers; and

      (d) Labor, Greens, crossbench, Liberal and National parliamentarians have supported a thorough investigation of the culture and practices within the financial services industry through a Royal Commission which is the only forum with the coercive powers and broad jurisdiction necessary to properly perform this investigation; and

(2) therefore, calls on the Government to listen to the many victims of banking and financial scandals who are calling for the immediate establishment of a Royal Commission.

Australians have actually found something that this Prime Minister stands for: protecting big banks. The Prime Minister and his coalition are running a protection racket to protect the big banks of Australia from the scrutiny and accountability that Australians want to give them. He is putting Australian banks ahead of the Australians who use them. Or, in other words, you can take Malcolm Turnbull out of the investment bank but you cannot take the investment bank out of Malcolm Turnbull.

There are problems in our banking sector. Every Australian uses a bank. Every Australian relies on the integrity of the banking sector. Labor wants the strongest possible banking sector meeting the highest possible standards. We have seen a string of scandals and rip-offs and rorts, and all we get are smirks and protection conduct from the front bench of the Turnbull government. There have been thousands denied life insurance payments, elderly Australians robbed of their retirement savings, small investors ripped off by predatory lending and business loans forged and manipulated.

This is the story of one person I met who went to his bank seeking a loan to buy an investment property. The application form was doctored to increase his income and assets, and rent on the property was factored in even though it was not built. By any honest standard this loan should never have been approved, but it was. When he asked to review the terms of this loan he was told, 'Oh, the documents are unavailable.' In the last five years, this Australian has barely made his interest payments and no-one at the bank takes any responsibility. There are tens of thousands of Australians with similar stories: the stories of CommBank and life insurance, where a claim for a heart attack was rejected because it was the wrong sort of heart attack—outrageous!

These are not isolated incidents; there is a systemic culture of crooked behaviour. And what is the latest revelation? ASIC is investigating rate rigging—the bank-bill swap-rate fixing scandal. What this practically means is that Australians are paying a higher interest rate on their mortgage and getting a lower interest rate on their savings. Every Australian uses a bank, but too many Australians are being used by their bank.

The government knows there is a problem. We have Mr Turnbull, the warrior of the lunchtime lecture, head down to the 199th anniversary of Westpac—long-time shareholder, first-time critic! We are weighing up the royal commission; there have been many calls—

The SPEAKER: The Leader of the House, on a point of order.

Mr Pyne: Mr Speaker, the Leader of the Opposition says he wants to have a civil House, but he is still not calling the Prime Minister by his title in the House. He needs to do so.

Mr Shorten interjecting

Mr Burke interjecting

The SPEAKER: The Leader of the Opposition does not have the call. The Manager of Opposition Business will cease interjecting. The point that the Leader of the House makes is right. In the last week of the last parliament—in fact, even in the very last speech of the last parliament—this standing order was breached. Members will be referred to by their correct titles or I will take action on both sides.

Mr SHORTEN: If we cannot call him by his name, the Prime Minister, the lunchtime warrior, gave Westpac a lecture—wow, didn't that change their ways? We listened more carefully to what the Prime Minister said than the big banks did. The next day we said, 'Even if the Prime Minister says there is a problem in the culture, enough is enough.'

The final straw which tipped the back of the case in favour of the royal commission was delivered by none other than the gentlemen sitting opposite me. It is not just Mr Turnbull, the current Prime Minister, who has acknowledged—

The SPEAKER: The Leader of the Opposition will refer to members by their correct titles.

Mr SHORTEN: He is the current Prime Minister, unless you know something we do not!

The SPEAKER: The Leader of the Opposition will proceed with his speech.

Mr SHORTEN: I am more polite about the Prime Minister than half of his backbench. He said:

We have to acknowledge there have been too many troubling incidents over recent times for them simply to be dismissed.

Let me repeat the golden words of our Prime Minister:

We have to acknowledge there have been too many troubling incidents over recent times for them simply to be dismissed.

To be fair, it is not just the Prime Minister in the coalition who has been calling out the banks. There is also the member for Leichhardt.

Mr Pyne interjecting

The SPEAKER: The Leader of the House will cease interjecting!

Mr SHORTEN: He said:

I welcome the Prime Minister’s recognition of problems within the sector—

but the member for Leichhardt went on:

but an apology from the Big Banks and a commitment not to do it again in the future is not enough.

I believe we need to go further—we need a full Royal Commission into the profit-driven and immoral activities of the Big Banks …

He said that ruling out a royal commission was a captain's call. We also had the member for Cowper say:

I think it is definitely something that should be considered.

Whilst I do not often quote this gentleman, I will on this occasion. The member for Dawson tweeted:

We need a royal commission into the banks. Their treatment of farmers is appalling.

And, of course, there is Senator Williams, who I respect greatly:

The more I go along in this job, the more I see the evidence and the clear evidence in the actual weighting of a royal commission, because there's so much wrongdoing going on we need to get to the bottom of it.

No less than eight members of this cowardly government have previously called for a royal commission, and I am confident that there are many more who now support this move.

What is the case for the royal commission? We just cannot leave it to ASIC, despite what the government said. We need a royal commission. Let me go through the scandal. Whilst one does not presume to be a predictor of the future, let me describe the last few scandals and let's have a guess if it will happen again. The journalists and whistleblowers expose the scandal and there is a public outcry that follows. Maybe even some of the brave hearts opposite are outraged, with their crocodile tears. But then it is characterised as an isolated incident—mid-tier rogue sort of gunmen going off on their own—and not the conduct of the whole bank. There are heartfelt promises that it will never happen again. Perhaps there might even be a special inquiry by ASIC, APRA or a government-appointed panel. And do you know what happens a few months later, Mr Speaker? We do it all again because the banks do not respect the government. They are not worried by the government's calls for action because they know that with this mob in power nothing will ever happen.

What we need is real action. Australians are sick and tired of the scandals being investigated after the harm and the damage is done. They are sick of the phoney apologies and they are sick of the speeding fines that this government issues to the banks. We need public scrutiny. The systemic problems of a royal commission require public scrutiny. Since 2009 at least 111 bankers, planners and advisers have been quietly sacked from their companies or reported to ASIC for misconduct. That is more than one a month. Australians do not know what led to these sackings or what any internal investigations uncovered afterwards.

As Chris Bowen and I have said, Labor has some clear initial objectives for this royal commission. We want to know the following: (1) how widespread instances of illegal and unethical behaviour are within Australia's financial services industry—how widespread; (2) how do Australia's financial services institutions treat their duty of care to their customers; (3) how do the culture, ethical standards and business structures of Australian financial services institutions affect the behaviour of these institutions; (4) whether Australia's regulators are really equipped to identify and prevent illegal and unethical behaviour; and (5) the comparable international experience with similar financial services industry misconduct and best practice responses to those incidents. And, of course, the commission would need to consider other events that may come to light in the course of investigating the above.

Simply put, the case for supporting this resolution, and a royal commission into the banks, is that illegal and unethical behaviour within the industry is about culture. Consumer protection and duty of care is about customers. Culture, ethical standards and business structures impact on behaviour. It is about incentives. It is about the powers of the regulator policing the sector.

These problems are too big for business as usual. And, in many ways, the government has accepted that there is a problem. Remember their ever-evolving and deteriorating position: when we called for it before, Mr Turnbull went down, spoke to Westpac, said there are problems but then did nothing. That is business as usual for this chap and this government. So we have the Westpac lecture and nothing happens. Then, before the election, they say, 'Well, we don't need a banking royal commission. The regulator's got all the power it needs.' Then, after the election, all of a sudden we discover that there is an even bigger problem, and maybe we do not have the regulator.

What solution do these desperate people on the other side, running a protection racket for banks, come up with? They say, 'Let's set up a Liberal-controlled House of Representatives committee, with less power—

Mr Coleman interjecting

Mr SHORTEN: With all respect to the member for Banks, they are the government for banks, so there was very little concern there. The point about it—and now we have had a few of the breakaways in the coalition say, 'Actually, there's such a problem going on that we will skip the royal commission. We'll set up a whole new court to deal with the problems.' You get a sense here that the government will do anything and everything, say anything and everything, to avoid a royal commission into banks.

Now, I would like the government just to subside today and give in but they will not. This is one of those curious events in Australian politics: we have won the argument, and only the government is too dumb to realise that they are backing a loser by opposing the royal commission. What we have found in the search though—and this is the good news about the government—is that the great search in the last 12 months found one thing that this Prime Minister stands for. And it has not been easy; we know that he holds a position for at least a day and a half and either his backbench rebel or work out that it is an incompetent bungling, or we make the case and he retreats. But full points to the member for Wentworth: there is one thing that he stands for—and I admire you for at least standing for something, because that is not the normal practice! You are willing to fight, fight and fight for the banks.

Mr Pyne interjecting

Mr SHORTEN: Sure, I can talk through the Chair: it does not change the truth of what I am saying!

What we have found is that there is one thing he will stand for: the banks. You have to love the form of this government. Only the government could think that it is a good idea to give a multi-billion dollar tax cut to the big banks—that was in the Governor-General's address. Fantastic! NAB, Westpac, CommBank, ANZ: they were rapt with the last election result. Come in, spinner: $7.4 billion tax cut. Malcolm Turnbull: best friend the banks will ever have in this place, I have no doubt.

The SPEAKER: The Leader of the Opposition will refer to members by their correct titles.

Mr Rob Mitchell interjecting

The SPEAKER: The member for McEwen will not interject!

Mr SHORTEN: The Prime Minister. The point about it is—

Mr Rob Mitchell interjecting

The SPEAKER: The member for McEwen will cease interjecting! The Leader of the Opposition will resume his seat. The member for McEwen will cease interjecting. He is the Second Deputy Speaker. We are going to start this parliament in a different way to the way it finished in the last week. He is the Second Deputy Speaker; he has special responsibilities. The Leader of the Opposition has the call.

Mr SHORTEN: We have found something the Prime Minister will stand up for—and we know that has not been easy and, indeed, the opposition within the government know that too—but the point is that he will stand up for the banks; he will give them a tax cut. He will not give them a royal commission—although the banks must be getting a little nervous because we have seen the usual sort of coalition government prime ministerial retreat from a position. Before the election, ASIC was enough; after the election, they thought they would slap it with the wet lettuce leaf of the member for Banks and a committee controlled by the coalition. Now, there has been an outbreak of a whole new tribunal.

The truth of the matter is that Australians are fed up with the conduct of their banks. They did not approve of the fact that they could not even see the rate reduction by the RBA passed on. The government said, 'Please do it,' but they ignored him. So tomorrow, Prime Minister, I am meeting with the victims of bank scandals. I have written to you asking you to come along. If you are serious about your plans, come and join me, meet with the victims, look them in the eye and tell them everything is fine—because it is not, Prime Minister.

The SPEAKER: Is the motion seconded?