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Monday, 20 August 2018
Page: 7885


Mr THISTLETHWAITE (Kingsford Smith) (17:32): Adele Ferguson, in today's Financial Review,perfectly sums up this government's approach to financial services and regulation. She says:

… the Prime Minister down to the Treasurer and Financial Services Minister, used every trick in the book to avoid a royal commission.

It should never be forgotten that for 600 days all of the Liberals and many of the National Party dodged and weaved Labor's call for a royal commission. Let's not forget how the new Minister for Home Affairs and Liberal Party leadership hopeful called Labor's demands for a royal commission into the banks a 'financial stunt'. On 263 occasions in total, government ministers of all stripes have argued to the hilt against a banking royal commission. We now know why, given the evidence that's been uncovered by the banking royal commission. Many of the coalition's mates in this particular industry are now facing unwanted scrutiny.

In 2016, the Treasurer was adamant that, despite slashing ASIC's budget and cutting 14 per cent of its staff, the understrength regulator was the answer. He said:

ASIC has the powers of a Royal Commission and in fact it has greater powers than a Royal Commission.

The coalition were out of touch when that was happening and they're really out of touch now with what the community is feeling regarding financial services, because they are the government that want to give the banks a $17 billion tax cut. In the environment where Australian workers, families and small businesses are struggling to make ends meet, the government want to give the biggest banks in the country—who have been doing such a wonderful job and such a fine job by the Australian people!—a tax cut. Consumers were getting ripped off and our regulators were being short-changed and didn't have the resources to deal with it.

The Abbott-Turnbull government have never given any encouragement to the regulator. They tried their best to gut ASIC, having undermined its ability to uncover and prosecute unconscionable financial conduct. Of course, this kicked off in 2014, when the Abbott government's first budget slashed ASIC's funding by $120 million. The result was not surprising: a devastating loss of staff and expertise, with a significant effect on the ability of the corporate and financial services regulator to address financial misconduct. It was a further kick in the guts for victims of financial rip-offs. And despite the length of the cuts to ASIC and their massive impact on its ability to police the financial sector, the government took zero action. They only partially unwound ASIC's cuts when Labor began to shine a light on the industry and commenced its calls for a royal commission.

We know what this government's approach to financial services regulation is. Labor first proposed the future of financial advice reforms, which set out the best interests duty and the obligation on financial advisers to actually act in the best interests of their clients. Believe it or not, prior to the FoFA reforms being introduced into the parliament by a Labor government, there was no obligation on financial advisers to actually act in their client's best interest. Can you believe it? There was no legal obligation at all. And guess what? In many circumstances, they didn't and that's what's being uncovered by the royal commission at the moment. It was Labor that inserted that best interests duty into the corporations law and it was this government, the Abbott-Turnbull government and their predecessors, that opposed it.

When they got to government, they actually tried to water down the provisions that we put in the act. They were actually successful; they got it through the House of Representatives and the Senate. It was only after Labor moved a rescission motion that we were able to stop that. So if the Turnbull government had their way, the activities that are being uncovered in the banking royal commission at the moment would not be illegal. They would simply be a bad look and that is unconscionable given the suffering, the pain, the hurt and loss that the banks and financial institutions like AMP have caused for so many Australians.

This government would seek to water down those provisions and would seek to cut the budget of the regulator whose responsibility it is to keep a check on this industry to ensure that banks and financial institutions are acting in the best interests of their clients and acting in the interests of the Australian public. So this motion is a ruse because, when it comes to properly financing and resourcing our regulator, we all know it's only Labor that's really interested in this; all the Libs do is slash and cut.