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Monday, 23 February 2009
Page: 1520

Mr BILLSON (6:48 PM) —I was pleased to host with the Deputy Leader of the Opposition some small business forums in the Dunkley electorate. I would like to thank all those involved, particularly Antonio from The Sober Mule Cafe. It was fitting that we had this roundtable discussion at the Sober Mule, because the sentiment was certainly sober and the economy was characterised as plodding along a bit like a mule—not like the Mornington Cup racehorses that were competing not that far away.

A recurring theme that came up was just how appalled many small and medium sized businesses were about their treatment by the major banks. We heard case after case where the major banks were unilaterally calling in lines of credit, unilaterally advising that a business had had its risk profile re-rated and that this was going to put up the interest rates it was paying on its business finance. In fact, we saw cases where fees charged by some of the major banks had reportedly gone up by four per cent.

The major banks have benefited considerably from the support of the taxpayer with recent announcements, and I think it is way past time that the major banks actually recognise some reciprocal responsibility to this engine room of the Australian economy, these small to medium sized businesses having a red-hot go to make sure that their caution and concern about future economic prospects do not lead to unnecessary job losses. What we are hearing is that the major banks are making a difficult situation worse. They should pass on interest rate cuts. They should end this calling in of loan facilities, where they now do not like the terms and conditions, and they should take a good hard look at themselves. (Time expired)