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Thursday, 30 November 2017
Page: 9380

Senator WHISH-WILSON (Tasmania) (16:02): I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Finance (Senator Cormann) to a question without notice asked by Senator Whish-Wilson today relating to the proposed Royal Commision into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry.

I might surprise a few people in this chamber by saying that it's actually time to put the politics aside on this issue around a royal commission. A number of us in here have campaigned for a full parliamentary inquiry or a royal commission. Certainly I've been campaigning for it for nearly four years, and the work of the Senate is where this started. In fact, it started with the Future of Financial Advice debate in this chamber, when we managed to claw back a weakening of the FoFA laws. And then the Senate itself was the first institution to recommend a royal commission into the Commonwealth Bank. Since then, the good work of this place, this chamber, has uncovered a number of incidences of financial misconduct, and a number of our senators who have been involved in these inquiries and committees have felt a sense of frustration that, as good as our Senate people are, we haven't had the resources, the time or the powers to get to the bottom of some of these financial scandals.

For example, just with forestry management investment schemes, I know how frustrated I felt that we couldn't actually help the hundreds of witnesses and victims we met. This is a really important point, because these people are still not being compensated for the way they were treated by the banks and other players in the managed investment scheme scandal—or should I say Ponzi scheme collapse. The reason they're still not being compensated is that this misconduct has never been properly investigated. The Senate did the best we could, but it was just too much work for us. It really needed someone dedicated, with the resources and the powers to compel witnesses, to offer immunity to whistleblowers, to seize documents and to search premises—all the things we can't really do as an institution.

Now that we have a royal commission established, I hope we can get it right. This is the most important point that I want to make today: if we've got a chance of actually doing this properly, then we can restore the Australian people's trust in the banks and in our financial system, we can restore the reputation of the banks and we can get some justice for the victims of financial crime that, so far, have been let down by the system. We can also change the culture in the banking sector. I and the Greens have made it really clear that that culture starts at the top. It's the culture of putting profits before people. It's a culture of excessive remunerations, chasing returns in every division, taking shortcuts, charging inappropriately, all the way through to direct fraud, misconduct and unconscionable conduct. These are the kinds of things that this Senate has uncovered.

We have a regulator that we know is under-resourced. They do a good job. I'm a supporter of ASIC and APRA and all of our regulators—I always have been—but, when I asked Greg Medcraft, before he left, whether he supported a royal commission, he didn't answer my question. He'd never answered the question all the way along; he was a consummate professional to the end. He just said to me, 'I'll just point out what I've already pointed out publicly, Peter—and that is, the culture hasn't changed. No matter what the government's done in recent years to try and tackle the banks, their culture hasn't changed.' I've heard the same comment from some of the big investors in the banks. Some of the bank's biggest investors—the superannuation funds, the pension funds, the hedge funds—have told me the same thing. So this inquiry, a well resourced inquiry with the right powers, will certainly let the banks know that they're on notice and they have to change some of their ways.

We want to see systematic issues looked at, because, if we don't fix some of the systematic issues, the kind of misconduct we've seen is going to continue. We've got to look at whether we've got the settings right and why the legal system has failed some of these victims. There's a lot we need to do in this inquiry, and I ask everybody, including the government, to come together and listen to all the stakeholders—the victims of financial crime, the community centres, the farmers, those who've been campaigning for years—to get this right. This is a chance to get good terms of reference that we can all use and actually get this right.

Today, I wanted to thank a lot of the people who have been out there on this journey with the Greens and other parliamentarians. I'll have to do that probably at an adjournment next week. But I want to say that a number of people inside this building and outside this building have finally achieved a fantastic result; let's not waste an opportunity. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.