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Monday, 13 February 2012
Page: 949

Ms BURKE (ChisholmDeputy Speaker) (21:45): I rise to speak on the worrying trend of job cuts in the banking industry as reflected by the recent decision of Westpac to axe 560 jobs and the ANZ announcement today of 1,000 jobs to be lost. Employees in the banking industry and jobs within the finance area have always been a particular passion of mine as I had worked in the Finance Sector Union as an industrial officer before entering this place. Indeed, I am reminded of the words I said in my maiden speech in this place some 14 years ago when I lamented the job cuts that ANZ were going through at that time and the sadness that I had experienced of having to let people know that their jobs were no longer there. I particularly remember one senior manager who said to me: 'Anna, you know if they had given me six more months I would have gotten the gold watch. Do you reckon you can get me the gold watch?' Well I got him his gold watch, but it was not the issue of the gold watch—it was his loyalty to an organisation who had seen him in his prime and had just axed him from his job.

There were many peaks and troughs working in the Finance Sector Union, and the announcement by Westpac today reminds me of the bad times when we were told of large job losses that were driven by boardroom decisions and nothing more. It is the ever present cost-income driver. How profitable does a bank in this country need to be? These job losses were not lost because of declining conditions in the banking industry. They were lost because of a heartless calculation of cost and income, where cost was calculated in terms of human capital and personal pain. Then, as now, the major players in the banking industry were recording billion-dollar profits.

I saw thousands of staff being made redundant from the ANZ group—the group I was looking after at the time. These job losses represented not only retrenched men and women but also a huge loss of opportunity for future school leavers, graduates and many mums returning to the workforce. Then, like now, job losses meant that many with decades of experience in the finance sector were suddenly stranded without any realistic prospect of future work. Where do these workers now go? Then, like now, we were dealing with the question of how banks would deliver services. Often the job losses I was dealing with back then were about bank closures. The bizarre thing is, at that time they then reopened all the bank branches because they realised customers actually like to talk to a human being, and the Bendigo Bank was capturing the market. So we will go through this cycle again—but why? Why do we have to cause this human misery?

Now we are dealing with the phenomenon of jobs being sent offshore; this is not new. How banks can do this in a period of record billion-dollar profits just beggars belief. The big four banks in Australia alone made $24 billion in profits last year. I do not have a problem with banks making a profit. Indeed, I am proud that they are making such profits in this country. Profitable banks that bring a return to their shareholders are a vital element for a strong and prosperous country; it is vital for every shareholder in this nation. But it does not seem right or fair that Westpac on the one hand is making $6 billion in record profits in one year and paying their CEO nearly $10 million and, on the other hand, axing hundreds of jobs. Today, ANZ has announced that about 1,000 jobs are likely to be axed. Their share price on that announcement rose to 25c in early trading. That is it: a thousand families face job losses and they are worth 25c in share value.

I really question the sense of offshoring. Offshoring not only means that Australian jobs are foregone with the massive consequence in human terms, which I referred to, but seems a completely short-term response to long-term issues in the finance sector. I moved a private member's bill in this place in 2007 speaking about this very issue. We just go round and round in circles. The global financial crisis has created a different environment for Australian banks. The sovereign debt crisis in Europe has created a large degree of economic volatility. Banks increasingly need to find long-term solutions to deliver short-term returns and to support individuals in business and, indeed, the national economy. Many of the jobs banks may need in the coming years do not exist now. It makes sense to create a specially trained and flexible workforce for the days when these banks will need these jobs—not a short-sighted, cost-cutting exercise.

In addition, customer focus in this sector is more important than ever. Banks are taking a big risk in cutting staff in an increasingly competitive environment. Experienced and skilled staff are essential in banking if they are to survive the environment where customers are becoming more sophisticated. Banks also need to be mindful of their brand. Their customers are walking away because they are trashing their brand. With the issue of offshoring, do you know where your information sleeps tonight? Do you know if your bank has offshored all the private information you provided when you took a loan? No, you do not. It could already be housed in India where their privacy laws are nowhere near as stringent as ours. Consumers should be properly informed when they take out these products. I call upon Westpac, ANZ and the other banks to reverse these short-sighted decisions. (Time expired)