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Tuesday, 22 February 2011
Page: 920

Mr BILLSON (3:45 PM) —I certainly second the motion. It is seconded because this is a compelling matter of concern to not only consumers right across Australia but also the small business community. When you hear the term ‘Treasurer Swan’, no-one thinks of competition; they think of corrosion—corrosion of confidence, corrosion of our financial standing, corrosion of the opportunities for our country to go forward and corrosion of the concept of competence in government. That is what people think of: Treasurer Wayne Swan equals corrosion.

We see that corrosion captured in the advice he receives. Not only do we have policy based evidence—that is where the Treasurer rushes out and makes a declaration on the front page of the paper and then they reach back and ask Treasury, ‘Is there some way you can justify these utterances from the Treasurer?’—but we also have these documents released under FOI which make it absolutely clear that there is no way of justifying the statements of the Treasurer. There is no substance to his claim that the actions he is taking on banking competition will have any positive impacts whatsoever.

If you do not believe the coalition, the banking sector or consumers and small business, who are suffering under this government, believe the Treasury document. The Treasury document lists a litany of errors and misjudgments and says to the Treasurer, ‘Mate, do you really think this is a good idea?’ There are pages and pages saying: ‘I know you have made the statement but stop digging. You are corroding the confidence in the economy and you are making statements that add nothing to competition in the banking sector.’

The shadow Treasurer has outlined page after page of the impact of the Treasurer’s headline statement, ‘Let’s bank mortgage exit fees’. Treasury makes the point that if you do that it is going to put upward pressure on interest rates, because there are costs in exiting a mortgage. If you are not going to pick up the costs from those exiting their mortgage you will have to pick them up somewhere else, and you will effectively see everybody else with that bank having to cover for the costs of one of the customers deciding to exit their mortgage. So people who might be happy with their mortgage—or maybe in this current climate are less unhappy than others—who choose to stay put will actually carry the cost of those who are planning to move.

As to the other recommendation in here about this being something that needs to be reconsidered, the point is: where are those funding changes going to come from? Imagine a banking cost balloon. The point in this Treasury document is that if you artificially squeeze one part of the balloon it will blow out somewhere else. It makes the point that there will be upward pressure on other fees and that there will also be a problem with establishment fees and the ongoing costs of operating those lending instruments.

When you read further you find that it actually says that the Treasurer could argue that these fees are unconscionable under existing law, but then it says, ‘But they might not be’. You actually need to make the case. You actually need to show how the fees being charged are completely out of whack with the cost to the bank. It actually says in here that there is an option—a cunning plan that only our corrosion-enforcing and -inflicting Treasurer could come up with. The option is that, under the definition of what is an ‘unconscionable fee’ under the National Consumer Credit Protection Act, you do not actually test whether it is unconscionable; you just say it is—declare it to be unconscionable even where there has been no effort to actually prove that point.

The document goes on further and actually talks about the coalition’s banking competition plan. Remember that price-signalling bill and the price-signalling gap in the competition law that has been raised with this government over and over again. In this FOI document there is evidence of reports being given to the Deputy Prime Minister at the time about the fact that they had been urged to take action on this. But would the government take action on it? No. the government had to wait until Joe Hockey, on behalf of the coalition, announced our banking competition plan. It had to wait until we introduced the anticompetitive price-signalling bill. The FOI document actually says to the Treasurer, ‘If you’re going to venture down the path of anticompetitive price signalling, actually make competition better.’ What the government have come up with is to say, ‘We’ve got this price-signalling power,’ but they are not even going to test whether it is anticompetitive. They just want to look like they are doing something. And if there is information out there that is pro competitive, pro consumers, you can still get cleaned up under the government’s bill but you do not get cleaned up under the coalition’s bill.

When you read through these pages and pages you see that the document outlines time and time again the error of the government’s ways and the risk for the banking sector and their customers. Small business is doing it tough. This is the Harvey Norman of government policy—no interest in the impact on small business for four years. That is why we should be debating this issue. (Time expired)