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Friday, 12 June 2020
Page: 4076

Mr CHRISTENSEN (Dawson) (10:43): It's my pleasure to speak on the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority Amendment (APRA Industry Funding) Bill 2020 and associated bills. I concur with the member for New England: this might make for good bedtime reading—short bedtime reading! But, nonetheless, it is an important bit of law. What we are doing here is fixing an issue with the levies, the taxes, that we put on some of the big banks. In the current financial year, 2019-20, we've found that legislative barriers are preventing the largest banks from paying their fair share of the cost of the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority to actually regulate them. This has resulted in $3.1 million in levies being deferred. These levies will be paid by these institutions once this barrier is addressed, which is what this bill is intending to do. It's intending to address the legislative barrier and ensure that the government—the Morrison Liberal-National government—has adequate flexibility to set the level of levies required so that the big banks pay their fair share into the future. That is very, very important because one of the major costs that we need to recover from the banks—and I really hope that it is going to come from the banks' profits and not be passed on to customers, because I can tell you: customers are well and truly aware of these little things that the banks do to sting them, when the cost should be taken out of the banks' massive windfall profits, and customers will vote with their feet—is of the new regulations relating to supervising banks in the light of the banking royal commission.

I want to talk about the banking royal commission in detail today, actually, because it is important to know the history of how we got the banking royal commission. I want to give some thoughts on where I think the banking royal commission might have been a little bit deficient. But, in the main, it has been a good thing in terms of cleaning up the industry and it has certainly made a lot of the big banks and their executives sit up and take notice of what the public has been saying on these matters for quite some time.

I had held concerns about the banking industry and their misconduct for quite some time, long before it became fashionable to call for a banking royal commission. I'd raised the matter repeatedly in government. The member for New England, who was the leader of the Nationals, knows that all too well. I was raising these issues alongside others, particularly then senator John 'Wacka' Williams, who was on this matter well and truly before I or anyone in this place or the other place was. The member for Wide Bay, the member for Leichhardt, the member for Kennedy, former member of this place Ann Sudmalis and former senator Barry O'Sullivan were some of those from this side of the House or the other place who were well and truly agitated by some of the misconduct they'd seen from the big banks.

In late 2016, I realised that the then Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, was not for turning. He'd come from the big banks, from the banking sector, and he was not going to upset his mates. So I resolved in late 2016 that if we got a meaningful motion—not a do-nothing motion, because there are plenty of motions that come before this House that just say, 'We support this,' or, 'We support that,' without actually having anything concrete to show for it—to the floor of parliament then I would vote for it, and the only meaningful motion that this parliament could actually vote on, on this matter, would be one for a bill for a law that established a parliamentary commission of inquiry into the banks.

A commission of inquiry, for those in the know, is simply another name for a royal commission. Royal commissions are established by the executive—by the government of the day, not the parliament—and the only one with the authority to set that up would be, obviously, the Governor-General, on the advice of the Prime Minister. I did some deep diving into this and saw that a parliamentary commission of inquiry was something that a parliament could bring into effect and which had exactly the same powers as a royal commission. So I resolved in late 2016 that if we got to a position where there was a bill that could be brought before this place then I would be voting for it, regardless of the government's point of view on the matter.

In early 2017, I realised that the only way that that would happen was if I was part of the move to actually get such a bill. So I started working with the member for Kennedy on a draft bill that was later picked up and amended, and probably made stronger and better, by then senator Barry O'Sullivan. It is not just my recollection of history that would lead you to think that. There are many commentators, but I'll just go through a few who have shown that. This is important, because it is to get the facts straight. During the last election, and before that, I had missives from the Labor Party and the union movement coming into my electorate, claiming that I had opposed a royal commission into the banks. The facts are another matter altogether. Samantha Maiden, writing in The New Daily—an online journal that is certainly not favourable to me or to the coalition, said:

The government’s backflip on a royal commission was ultimately informed by the threat of backbenchers, including Nationals MP George Christensen, to cross the floor.

James Massola of The Sydney Morning Herald, no friend of mine or the government's, reported:

Nationals MP Llew O'Brien—

I should say the member for Wide Bay, but that's what's in the newspaper—

is set to join his Queensland Nationals colleague George Christensen and vote in the lower house for the banking commission of inquiry after the revolt was kick-started by Queensland senator Barry O'Sullivan.

Independent Australia, a left-wing online journal, said:

With his eye on the 2019 election, Turnbull told us in November 2017 that a royal commission was unnecessary and will harm the image and reputation of our major banks. 'There is not going to be a banking Royal Commission', he thundered.

An honourable member interjecting

Mr CHRISTENSEN: Was he what?

An honourable member interjecting

Mr CHRISTENSEN: Yes, that's right, the former Prime Minister was involved with HIH. Independent Australia goes on to say:

Nevertheless, Nationals Senator Barry O'Sullivan and MPs John (Wakka) Williams and, to a lesser extent, George Christensen had their ears to the ground and were listening to their electorates, whose members were recounting stories of disgraceful behaviour by the Big Four, and demanding action.

Success has many fathers, but the real heroes of the Royal Commission should be recognised. It pains me to say this, but these are the three National Party representatives who forced Turnbull’s hand.

Barry O’Sullivan, John Williams and George Christensen: take a bow!

That is echoed by Michelle Grattan, the esteemed journalist of The Conversation, who previously had written that while cabinet had considered, and people in it had argued, whether the government should be pragmatic and hold a royal commission into the banks—and Turnbull had refused that. She said:

… the Government was forced to drop its resistance when Nationals rebels threatened to revolt.

Take a bow, Queensland Nationals backbenchers Barry O'Sullivan, George Christensen and Llew O'Brien. You did everyone a service.

Sharri Markson of The Daily Telegraph said of the banking royal commission:

They were facing a backbench revolt led by Nationals MP George Christensen over the issue at a time when the Coalition’s numbers in Parliament were down as a result of the dual citizenship crisis.

She further said that, in effect, the banking royal commission 'was forced on the Turnbull government by the renegade George Christensen'. I distinctly remember the day there was that grand backflip and the announcement that a royal commission into the banks and banking misconduct would go ahead. The ABC reported: 'Malcolm Turnbull has done what he vowed he would never do: call a royal commission into the banks. If the government hadn't set up its own inquiry, parliament would have forced one.' It would have forced one through the very legislation that I worked on with Bob Katter, the member for Kennedy, and then senator Barry O'Sullivan. This legislation would have established a parliamentary commission of inquiry into the banks. It probably would have been something that would have been greater than the banking royal commission that we got, because it would have looked at so many other areas.

I reiterate the words that I said that were quoted in that ABC News story that night. It's very sad that it took a number of National Party backbenchers to drag the then Prime Minister kicking and screaming to the decision of holding a banking royal commission. I'll leave this part of my comments at that, but to say that if anyone wonders why the former Prime Minister pursues a vendetta against me, it's that.

The banking royal commission exposed so many different areas of misconduct, but it actually didn't go far enough. I think there was a great deficiency in looking at small business, because we had a situation where the banks were basically wantonly throwing money at different small businesses, regardless of their capacity to pay. They had structured loan deals such that if a small business ran into a bit of turmoil or, even if it hadn't, if the region, such as the Mackay region, suffered a downturn—which we did when the mining industry had a bit of a dip—the banks would come in and say, 'We're going to set up some sort of emergency measures and put you into management,' to the small business. They would impose on them measures like penalty interest rates. They would impose on them measures like having their books audited, their businesses audited, by major accounting firms, which costs tens of thousands of dollars. They would put on them all of these restrictions and all of these costs, which were what would actually cripple the business. It was not the natural economy but the banks intervening that would bring about the harm that would cause a difficulty to make payments. The banks would just bleed and bleed the business until the business had no more to give. At that point the bank probably got just about all it could out of them, which would have been more than what had actually been loaned to that business, and then they would move to wind them up. That's what happened.

I've got to say it's not happening so much now, but we've got a perverse outcome where the banks now realise they can't enter into these dodgy deals anymore, because of the royal commission, because of the focus on them, because of the regulations that have been put in and because of the regulations that have been coming. The banks had no risks. They basically stitched up contracts where they said: 'We will never ever lose here. We will bleed you dry. We will never ever lose.' People, if they had their eyes wide open and saw what their contracts actually said when they entered into those loans would never have signed the bottom line.

Now that situation's changed and banks aren't lending. They're not providing any money. I think that's a bit of an indictment still on the banks, because any business arrangement has got to be one in which both parties accept some form of risk. You can't have a situation where we just simply don't supply finance because we have a risk. Well, welcome to the world, big banks, welcome to the economy, welcome to business. Everyone starting a business, everyone entering into a business arrangement has got to accept some form of risk and the bank should too. What we've had is the government stepping into that void and providing capitalisation, billions of dollars, to the non-big banks and the smaller lenders to try and fill that void for small business. Hopefully big banks will see the error of their ways but, I have to tell you, this bill will make sure that they pay for the regulation that oversights those errors.