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Monday, 13 February 2017
Page: 635

Banking and Financial Services


Senator GALLAGHER (Australian Capital TerritoryManager of Opposition Business in the Senate) (14:44): My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Brandis. The damning report of the Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, Kate Carnell, into the big banks found that they have been unacceptable and possibly unconscionable in their dealings with small businesses. Given that Ms Carnell, like thousands of Australians, is 'fed up' with the banks, when will the government admit that the banks will not change their ways, and establish a royal commission?


Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:44): We want practical outcomes. We want practical outcomes which will address the very kinds of problems that not only Ms Carnell but also many other commentators and several inquiries have pointed to. Senator Gallagher, you seem to have, if I may say so, a very, very, very insouciant faith in royal commissions to change culture. We do not think that having a royal commission that will no doubt go on for years and which will no doubt cost hundreds of millions of dollars in lawyers' fees is the way to change the culture. Rather, what the Turnbull government announced last year is that it would bring the banks, through their CEOs, on a regular basis right before the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics and put them on the mat in that public forum regularly. That, in our view, is a much more effective way in which to change the culture to which you have pointed.

Senator Gallagher, you might like to kick this issue into the long grass and rely on a royal commission to come back to us in perhaps five years time or so, having wasted hundreds of millions of dollars in enriching lawyers and enriching expert witnesses, but we want a practical answer that will have an immediate and measurable effect and will be able to deal with particular cases. That is why we have opted for the course that we have taken—

Senator Gallagher: To protect the banks!

Senator BRANDIS: not, as you interject, Senator Gallagher, to protect the banks but to put them in front of the parliament—to put them in front of opposition and government senators alike—to give an account of themselves right now.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Gallagher, a supplementary question.





Senator GALLAGHER (Australian Capital TerritoryManager of Opposition Business in the Senate) (14:46): In her report, the small business ombudsman said that the big four banks believe that they can:

… continue with business as usual and they don't have to change.

Minister, why is the Turnbull government protecting the banks and refusing to establish a royal commission?


Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:46): I have told you, Senator: because we think that there are more effective ways and more immediate ways to achieve the outcome that you seek. Your colleague Senator Doug Cameron, who is not a shy person by any manner of means, interjects that 'they will be flogging them with a wet lettuce'. Well, if it is a wet lettuce, Senator Cameron, you are one of the wet lettuces because we will be putting them in front of the entire parliament and we have begun to do so.

Senator Cameron, you may have no confidence in your capacity to pin witnesses down in parliamentary committee hearings. You may have no confidence in the capacity of your Labor colleagues both here and in the other place to put witnesses on the mat, but I have lots of confidence in the capacity of people such as Senator Ian Macdonald or Senator Linda Reynolds, for example, to pin witnesses down, to put them on the mat and to expose them if something needs to be exposed and to do it in real time. (Time expired)

The PRESIDENT: Senator Gallagher, a final supplementary question.



Senator GALLAGHER (Australian Capital TerritoryManager of Opposition Business in the Senate) (14:48): Given the findings of this report and the important role that small businesses play in the economy by contributing more than $343 billion each year, Minister, why won't you stand up for small business and establish a royal commission?

Senator Dastyari: Hear, hear! Good question!

The PRESIDENT: Order on my left!




Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:48): Why won't you, Senator Gallagher, if you believe what you are saying? I know that not believing what you say is the endemic culture of the Labor Party under Mr Bill Shorten.

Senator Wong interjecting

Senator BRANDIS: Senator Gallagher, if you really believe this then why will you not support the government's decision—

The PRESIDENT: Senator Macdonald, a point of order?

Senator Ian Macdonald: I hate to interrupt the leader on what was a very good answer but, again, I can barely hear him because the Leader of the Opposition, Senator Penny Wong, has continued to shout at the leader consistently through this question and most other questions. Can you please bring her to order, treat her like other senators and ensure that she does not interject continuously.

Senator Wong: Mr President, on the point of order, I do concede I did respond to Senator Brandis's suggestion that the entire Labor Party are liars. Perhaps what I ought to have done is taken a point of order.

The PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Wong.

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order! For all senators, interjections are disorderly. It has been rather noisy on both sides from time to time, so I will ask all senators to listen to answers in silence.

Senator BRANDIS: I, in fact, do not use unparliamentary language, as you know, Mr President. I merely pointed out that saying one thing and doing another is part of the custom of the Labor Party led by Mr Bill Shorten. Senator Gallagher, if you believe this, why will you not support the government's decision, which has already been put into effect, of bringing the CEOs of the banks before the relevant parliamentary inquiry, not in an endless process that will take years to resolve but immediately on a regular basis every year? (Time expired)