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Wednesday, 28 November 2018
Page: 11899


Mr DICK (Oxley) (17:46): I rise to speak on the Treasury Laws Amendment (Strengthening Corporate and Financial Sector Penalties) Bill 2018 today. I want to follow on from where the member for Forrest, in her contribution, said that it's 'her government' or 'our government' who has always wanted a banking sector which is as strong and as customer-focused as possible. What an absolute load of rubbish! This is from a government member who voted against a banking royal commission 26 times. The member for Farrer and the member for Calare, who are in the chamber, didn't want a banking sector focused on customers. If they had, they would have not stalled and stopped a banking royal commission.

It has been 12 months since the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry was established and, in that time, we have heard the most astonishing stories of deceit and behaviour by the corporate sector that simply makes your skin crawl. This is one of the many reasons that Labor is supportive of the bill to strengthen corporate and financial sector penalties. The measures in this bill implement the recommendations the ASIC Enforcement Review, and that is a good thing.

The ASIC Enforcement Review arose out of the Financial System Inquiry, which identified that the current maximum penalties in the financial sector laws are unlikely to deter misconduct by large firms and recommended sustainability and increased civil and criminal penalties. In its report the task force made 50 recommendations in relation to self-reporting of contraventions by financial services and credit licences, the harmonisation and enhancement of search warrant powers, ASIC's access to telecommunications intercept material, industry codes in the financial sector, strengthening ASIC's licensing powers and ASIC's powers to ban individuals in the financial sector, strengthening penalties for corporate and financial sector misconduct, and ASIC's directions powers. The task force report was released in April 2018, in conjunction with the government's response to the report. I am pleased to say that in the response the government has agreed or has agreed in principle to all of the recommendations of the task force. As we have learnt through every single day of the banking royal commission, current penalties for corporate misconduct, whether jail sentences or monetary penalties, have been shown, quite frankly, to be hopelessly insufficient to deter misconduct.

Might I add that this is a royal commission that every single member of this government voted against 26 times. We all know what the Prime Minister said about the royal commission. He described it, as we heard from the shadow minister, as 'nothing more than a populist whinge'. That was what the current Prime Minister of Australia said. One thing that hasn't happened since he said those words to the people of Australia is an apology—an apology to say 'we weren't listening', an apology to the victims of banks who have suffered. The government have somehow come in today and want to be congratulated for their actions. I mean, what sort of alternative universe are we in when members of the government come into this chamber? It was nearly as strange as when the Prime Minister said about a month ago that he was responsible, that he should take all of the credit, that he was the hero of the day. Well, the victims do not think that he is the victor in this story. I would like him to tell that to the families that have lost millions at the hands of big banks. And, whilst we await the final report of the royal commission, we don't want to sit by and idly do nothing in the meantime. This bill will seek to raise the bar of penalties so that banks, the financial sector and corporate organisations don't flout the system by taking advantage of small penalties as a small price to pay against the massive profits they reap from doing the wrong thing.

This is a necessary reform. This will help to prevent the outrageous situation that we currently have where companies can make hundreds of millions of dollars, even billions of dollars, through breaking the law and then pay minuscule penalties. This current system is unjust and goes against community expectations of how our corporate sector operates. It is why so many victims—over 10,000, in fact—have come forward and provided submissions to the banking royal commission, telling their stories about how they have been ripped off. With this bill, we seek to put in place deterrents that will in future avoid, potentially, these awful stories. We know that this bill will increase penalties for individuals and corporations for both criminal offences and breaches of civil penalty provisions. It makes several changes to restrict absolute liability offences, create several new ordinary criminal offences—that is, those requiring a mental element to be proven—introduce a remedy for ASIC to use in civil penalty proceedings to force the surrender of benefits gained from wrong-doing and create new infringement notice provisions, giving ASIC more options in punishing misconduct.

Labor is supportive of increasing deterrents and of sending a strong message to our banks and financial service providers that the community expects better. For far too long, we know that they have got away with ripping off Australian consumers just as a way of doing business. It was only this week that we heard from NAB chief executive Andrew Thorburn, who told the banking royal commission that the bank's bonus schemes encouraged bad behaviour, saying that 'we put the bait right there for the people'. He went further and admitted that the NAB became distracted by failing systems in non-core businesses and had 'drifted' towards short-termism at the expense of customers.

I stand in this parliament to say that this type of business behaviour must end, as we parliamentarians can see it, by ensuring that the strong deterrents are put into place. In the past, it has been clear that our banks and financial institutions have failed to obey the law on so many occasions because, as they have shown, they do not take the laws seriously. Today that changes. We need to send a message to companies, directors and senior executives that compliance is not optional and that, if they put in place structures and cultures that facilitate illegal conduct, there will be very, very serious consequences. We know that this must happen because we have seen from the banking royal commission that the corporate sector ignores the deterrents that are already in place. As we know and as we have heard time and time again, over 10,000 submissions from the public were made to the royal commission. I want to put into the record it is actually 10,140 in fact. That is over 10,000 Australians who took the time to let the royal commission know about their experiences of banks and financial services misconduct. But, because of the time line imposed by the commission and this government, only 27 victims had the chance to tell their story in person. That is just 27 victims out of 10,000 who made written submissions.

Today I want to congratulate and thank the Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, and shadow minister Clare O'Neil. They are doing the hard work that this government failed to do. When we see a problem, Labor listens and Labor acts. When we hear that people are being ripped off, Labor listens and Labor acts. That is exactly what the shadow minister has done—listened to Australians, giving them the decency to have their story told, giving them the honour of listening to what they want and giving them a voice. Shamefully, the government has completely outsourced this role. They have just completely abandoned victims once again. So I thank the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow minister, the member for Hotham, for their outstanding leadership and for the work they have done in ensuring that people are given a voice.

I hosted one of these victim forums in my own community. I invited people who were frustrated, who were angry and who were devastated at being ripped off by big banks. I heard from individuals who had been treated appallingly. I heard from people who were taken advantage of, whose lives were destroyed and they were left to simply pick up the pieces. I want to read into the record today, into the parliament of Australia, the feedback that I heard on behalf of these victims, so that they have a voice, and so that their story is heard. I heard about a 'sell and win at all costs' culture, costly and drawn-out legal costs to fight injustice, credit given by banks to financially disadvantaged citizens who should never have qualified for the loan in the first place, falsified documents and fraud, internal dispute resolutions that restricted access to documents, unauthorised transactions and missing signatures.

More importantly, I heard about the major impact victims experienced—I heard this from the victims that I have spoken to directly, face-to-face, in person. I heard about the impact on women who were 'embarrassed to come forward' and about people who have been forced to turn to charities as a result of the financial situation they have been left in. But, most importantly, I heard from people with tears in their eyes about a simple lack of compassion. So, today, we can take a stand and move forward for these victims, but we need to do more. In conclusion, Labor is supportive of this bill. But, as I said, we can and we must do more to ensure that we never again have to hear horrific stories like the ones we heard about in the royal commission.

These measures go some way to doing that, but we must remain vigilant and we must ensure that the appropriate and necessary deterrents are put in place. That is what Labor is committed to, and every single member of this side of the chamber will continue to fight for justice for these victims. The Leader of the Opposition, the shadow minister and members of the Labor team have been travelling the country, criss-crossing the country, listening to the stories, because those people aren't just numbers on a piece of paper; those stories aren't simply statistics. They are real people with real stories, whose lives have been impacted by these decisions, whose lives, in some cases, sadly and horrifically, have been destroyed.

We want to ensure that more families aren't ripped off, to ensure that more small businesses aren't ripped off. We want to make sure that those people get the justice that they deserve and that those people who do the wrong thing are punished in time. So, whilst we support these measures, I place on record that Labor will continue to fight for these victims and continue to make sure they get justice as well.