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Monday, 20 August 2018
Page: 7882

Mr HART (Bass) (17:21): I would like to welcome the new Deputy Chair of ASIC, Daniel Crennan QC, to the role. No-one having observed the activities of the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry could possibly suggest that he does not have a lot of work ahead of him. This is particularly true, noting the support of the Minister for Revenue and Financial Services, Kelly O'Dwyer, who's claimed that this government has provided the resources and powers necessary for ASIC to be 'the tough cop on the beat', whilst her actions and the actions of the government speak otherwise.

The truth of the matter is playing out every day, with horror story after horror story coming out of the banking royal commission. It is beyond a reasonable observer's contemplation, having the benefit of hindsight, that this government, supposedly having the interest of consumers at heart, actually opposed the royal commission, derided Labor constantly for suggesting that the royal commission was necessary in the first place and claimed instead to have appointed ASIC with the necessary powers and resources to protect consumers. ASIC, along with many of our other public institutions and, in particular, the regulators, has been run down by this Liberal government, a government which has seemingly made it a point of pride to claim that the royal commission might harm the integrity of our financial institutions. This is a government that, whilst pretending to act in the interests of Australians, I say has operated a protection racket for the big banks. Rather than protecting ordinary Australians, this government is more interested in protecting the banks from ordinary Australians. Following the news of ordinary Australians being ripped off and having their lives destroyed by the big banks, who treat people, even dead people, as instruments of profit, what the government is now offering is too little too late.

They say actions speak louder than words, and the actions of this government are on record when it comes to tackling corporate misconduct. The government has time and time again put the interests of the big banks ahead of Australian consumers. It tried to pull apart the future of financial advice reforms in a bid to wind back protections for consumers. We all remember the Liberals, led by the Prime Minister, denying for nearly two years the need for a royal commission into the banks. What has the government actually done to provide the regulators with the resources they need? I, along with many Australians, remember the disastrous 2014 budget that saw so many broken promises and funding cuts. ASIC was not immune to those cuts—it lost $120 million. We then heard at Senate estimates how the budget cuts of 2014 would affect ASIC. It's then chairman, Greg Medcraft, said:

In particular, our proactive surveillance will substantially reduce across the sectors we regulate, and, in some cases, it will stop.

He also said:

Some examples of the changes in our consumer cluster are the deposit takers, credit and insurance team. There will be reduced proactive surveillance. As a result, they will focus on activity by entities that have the greatest market impact at the expense of smaller entities that have a smaller customer basis.

It wasn't until Labor began calling for a royal commission into the banks in 2016 that the government relented and restored funding to ASIC.

Unfortunately, the damage has been done and Australian consumers have been impacted and had their lives destroyed. For some in our community, this damage can never be undone. In the government's quest for savings and pursuit of their ideological campaign for tax cuts, damage once done is not easily repaired. Their cuts were cuts to the capability of the regulator and amount to a free pass to the financial sector for misconduct—misconduct which has been played out day after day in the royal commission. Indeed, just when you think the particular conduct appears particularly egregious, it seems to get worse. They made ASIC's task even worse this year: only a few months ago the Prime Minister cut ASIC's funding and its staff numbers in the 2018 budget. Now the Prime Minister and the Liberals are fighting their ideological war against Medicare, public schools and the interests of ordinary Australians to give the big banks a $17 billion tax handout. What sort of doublespeak constitutes this as levelling the playing field for consumers?

The announcement of additional funding for ASIC is, of course, welcomed by Labor. We also support the introduction of an industry-funding model and the plans to remove ASIC employees from the Public Service Act. These are a good start, but much more needs to be done. This government's furious back-pedalling in just about every policy area does nothing to distract the Prime Minister and the Liberals from the side of the big banks.