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Tuesday, 27 March 2001
Page: 25704

Mr CADMAN (2:38 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Financial Services and Regulation. Would the minister inform the House of any recent initiatives that will help consumers get better banking services? How did this policy come about, and is the minister aware of any alternative banking policies?

Mr HOCKEY (Minister for Financial Services and Regulation) —I would like to thank the member for Mitchell for his question. Yesterday there were two policies released on banking—one was treated seriously and one was not. The one that was treated seriously—

Mr Howard —One was stolen and one wasn't.

Mr HOCKEY —The one that was treated seriously in fact came from the banks themselves. I think the government welcomes the initiatives that the banks announced yesterday because, in the first place, they are going to deliver to five million Australians fee-free and low fee bank accounts. We welcome that for the most disadvantaged Australians. Secondly, the banks have indicated that they are going to develop a disability plan with HREOC which is going to provide better and more accessible services to people with disabilities around Australia. Thirdly, they have given a commitment to maintain face-to-face banking services in rural and regional Australia, and we welcome that. Fourthly, the banks have committed to put in place a protocol covering bank branch closures where they will consult with the local community for three months. Some credit for that—in fact, considerable credit for that—should go to the member for Wannon and his committee from the House of Representatives who made that recommendation some months ago, and the banks have reacted to that recommendation.

I have been asked as well about the second policy that was released yesterday, which is the Labor Party's policy on banking. A little earlier the Prime Minister suggested, quite rightly, that the most important policy you can have on banking is low interest rates. In the Labor Party's policy of eight pages, if you include the photo of the Leader of the Opposition—

Mr Anderson —No, we won't.

Mr HOCKEY —Seven pages then—that is seven pages of content and one of no content. In the Labor Party's policy on banking there is no mention at all of interest rates. There is probably a good reason for that. I was making some comparisons between interest rates under the Labor Party and those to date. Under the Labor Party, interest rates in March 1996 were 10.5 per cent; today they are 7.25 per cent. Today, interest rates for the average home loan are $270 a month cheaper. Of that $270 a month, $100 was the margin that the banks were charging under the Labor Party. I say again: of the $270 a month more the average Australian was paying for their home loan under the Labor Party in 1996, $100 a month was the banks' margin.

There is no reference at all in the Labor Party's banking policy to interest rates. What a surprise! What about interest rates for small business? What about personal home loans and interest rates? If you are looking for a documented hypocrisy, it is the Labor Party's banking policy. The very best evidence of that is in relation to the monitoring of fees. Page 5 of the Labor Party's policy states:

Labor will direct the ACCC formally to monitor bank fees and charges.

That is interesting. I was having a look through the records and I wondered whether the Labor Party had ever made a pledge on that. In 1983, there was no pledge; in 1984 and 1985, no pledge; in 1986, 1987, 1988, 1999 and 1990, no pledge; and in 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994 and 1995, no pledge. I found a pledge in 1996 on bank fees. Do you know what? They came out four days before the federal election. After 13 years—four days before the Labor Party lost government on 2 March—Ralph Willis pledged that he would write to the chairperson of the ACCC requesting formal monitoring of fees and charges of banks. In a revelation, the Labor Party are going to be tough on those banks; they are going to monitor fees and charges. After 13 years—and I am happy to table this document—the Labor Party did absolutely nothing on bank fees and charges. And they had the hypocrisy to put into their policy released yesterday that, should they be elected, they will monitor fees and charges. The Labor Party banking policy is a document in hypocrisy.