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Thursday, 30 November 2017
Page: 9373

Senator McALLISTER (New South WalesDeputy Opposition Whip in the Senate) (15:35): I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Attorney General (Senator Brandis) and the Minister for Finance (Senator Cormann) to questions asked by Senators Carr, Bilyk and Ketter relating to the proposed Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry.

Well, today is a good day for ordinary Australians. It's a good day for farmers. It's a good day for small business owners. It's really a very good day for everyone except the big banks. But it's a very sad day—a very sad day—for the Prime Minister, because the Prime Minister has backflipped on the one point of principle that he had left. Marriage equality, climate change, tax, social policy: he has shown himself prepared to cave in on every single one of those things that he once held dear. But there was just one issue, one issue of principle, that he was apparently prepared to go to the wall on, and that was protecting the big banks.

Well, not anymore. The Prime Minister has folded. It is 601 days since Labor called for a royal commission into the banks. Over those 601 days, we have gone on a fascinating voyage of discovery. We found out exactly what it takes for this Prime Minister to change his mind. When Labor first called for a royal commission, we already knew about the illegal activity, the misconduct, the inappropriate financial advice, the insurance claims unfairly declined, the fraudulent activity, the cover-ups, the targeting of whistleblowers and the irresponsible lending. But apparently that wasn't enough for this Prime Minister.

Would appalling exploitation of ordinary Australians change the Prime Minister's mind? For example, back in 2016, in October, ASIC's Financial advice: fees for no service report revealed that Australia's four big banks and the AMP had spent years charging over 200,000 customers fees for services they did not receive. ASIC's report said that they were going to have to pay back nearly $180 million to customers. But the Prime Minister wouldn't budge—not at that point. What about cartel conduct? In December 2016, ANZ was fined $9 million by the Federal Court for attempted cartel conduct in relation to manipulation of the Malaysian ringgit. Justice Wigney of the Federal Court said that the attempted contraventions were very serious. He went on to say that the conduct of the traders in question was deliberate and systematic. The Prime Minister wouldn't budge.

Or what about rigging financial markets? Recently, NAB and ANZ settled with ASIC for $50 million each over the bank-bill-swap-rate rigging case. Justice Jagot of the Federal Court is reported to have said that the conduct was a gross departure from basic standards of commercial decency, honesty and fairness, and that the Australian public had a right to be shocked and disgusted at what took place. Not this Prime Minister, because he wouldn't budge—not even then.

Allegations of money laundering: in August this year we had incredibly serious allegations from AUSTRAC, alleging significant breaches of anti-money-laundering and counterterrorism financing laws by the Commonwealth Bank. The PM wouldn't budge. We asked then: 'What about political embarrassment? Perhaps that would be motivating for our Prime Minister?' The member for Dawson was threatening to cross the floor, threatening to reveal the Prime Minister's lack of authority. What did he do at that point? Still he backed the banks. He doubled down and he declared on national TV that there would be no royal commission under this government. There is public support up at levels of 60 and 70 per cent for a banking royal commission in a number of polls. The public wants one. Would the Prime Minister budge in the face of overwhelming public support for a royal commission? No.

But now there is going to be a royal commission. So, what has changed? From all reports, what's changed is that the Prime Minister received a telephone call from his friends at the banks. They relieved him of his duty to continue to throw himself in front of the train for them. That is what it takes to change this Prime Minister's mind—not corruption, not collusion, not exploitation of Australians, not even money laundering, not political embarrassment by disgruntled members of the National Party who finally cottoned on that they're on the wrong side of this argument, not even a compelling poll. All it takes for this Prime Minister to change his mind is a phone call from the major banks.