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Wednesday, 27 June 2018
Page: 4202

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (18:13): First, I thank Senator Anning for raising this issue—a very, very topical and important issue, particularly with the royal commission going on and some of the stories that have been coming out. Following Senator Hanson, I might say that her comments about the Commonwealth Bank and Bankwest are very, very accurate. I remember when the Commonwealth Bank took over Bankwest. Bankwest had some horrific banking propositions, particularly up in the Gulf Country of north-west Queensland. I well remember some of the very dodgy, you'd almost say, banking deals that happened when the inevitable drought came in the gulf country—as they always will, in cycles—and the attitude of Bankwest. At the same time as this was happening, the Commonwealth Bank took over, and it was very difficult to get a sympathetic hearing. I personally know some people in that Gulf Country of Queensland who were victims of some very, very questionable banking practices at the time involving the particular banks that Senator Hanson was talking about.

Mr Acting Deputy President Williams, before I proceed further with my contribution today, I want to pay tribute to you for your relentless and long-term campaign to bring the banks to account. I know from history that you've had some personal experience in years gone by, and I do remember the very, very substantial assistance you gave to people, including some constituents of mine. When I was at a bit of a loss to understand how to help them, I got them to speak with you, and they are forever grateful, then and today, for your contribution and the way you assisted them and brought the banks to account.

Senator Cameron: When they did Wacka over, it was a bad decision!

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Yes, indeed. But it wasn't just personal for Senator Williams—and I take your interjection, Senator Cameron. Senator Williams understood, perhaps better than most of us, some of the banking practices, but he was also concerned about people and wanted to help them as best he could.

Similarly, I pay tribute to my Queensland colleague Senator O'Sullivan, who took the gamble of incurring the ire of the powers that be to be very forceful and open about the banking royal commission and what the government's approach to it should be. I know that, to a degree, it was the work that both Senator O'Sullivan and Senator Williams did within the coalition that changed some previously held attitudes.

Having said that, I can indicate that, since coming to office in 2013, the coalition government has delivered the most ambitious reform agenda for the financial system in recent history. We have a commitment to a strong and stable financial sector, and that started with the Murray inquiry into the financial system, which, as one might remember, regrettably wasn't supported by Labor at the time. Chris Bowen, the then Treasurer, said: 'The financial system is strong, well regulated and well managed, and I have not seen a case for a full-blown inquiry.' Fortunately, the Murray inquiry did go ahead.

While we've proactively sought to reform the Australian financial sector, unfortunately our opponents in this chamber have sat idle, contributing nothing more than a running commentary from the sidelines. Many of the notable scandals and collapses in financial services, such as Trio Capital, Great Southern and Storm Financial, happened on Labor's watch, when the current Leader of the Opposition, Mr Shorten, was the minister responsible for financial services.

I'm pleased that the government has contributed to establishing a sensible, well-resourced and targeted royal commission to identify areas of misconduct and to ensure that the recently announced legislative reforms will provide adequate protection to consumers well into the future. It is important that the royal commission does its job for the Australian people, and it is doing that. It's uncovering instances of serious wrongdoing and shining a light on them. No doubt the royal commission will make recommendations to the government, if the royal commission believes that changes to the law are necessary.

Having said all of that, Australia, of course, has one of the strongest and most stable banking, superannuation and financial services industries in the world. But the Turnbull government will continue its critical reform agenda, including seeing what the royal commission says and then taking meaningful action, as we've shown in the past we can.

Before I finish, I just want to briefly mention the legislation promoted by this government for the Australian Financial Complaints Authority, which has introduced a one-stop shop dispute resolution scheme to provide consumers with independent and timely access to justice, and access to compensation where appropriate. I particularly want to mention the Australian Financial Complaints Authority will operate under significantly increased monetary limits and compensation caps. The bit that I particularly like is that small business primary producers who are in dispute with their lenders may be awarded up to $2 million in compensation, and that's around six times what is currently available. So that's just one of the initiatives the current government has taken, and I can assure the Senate that the government will be watching closely the recommendations of the royal commission and, as required, it will be taking legislative or other action that might be needed and recommended.