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Wednesday, 9 December 2020
Page: 11033

Dr CHALMERS (Rankin) (11:20): I rise to speak on the banking royal commission bills. I think we learn a lot about this government, now in its eighth year, from its approach to the banking sector—particularly in terms of fairness in the banking sector and the treatment of consumers, and specifically from its approach to the banking royal commission. It speaks volumes about this government that, of the consecutive bills introduced from that dispatch box today, one of them was supposed to be about implementing the recommendations of the banking royal commission, while the very next bill was about undermining the banking royal commission. Not a full minute passed between the introduction of the two with the second bill all about undermining consumer protections in responsible lending—steps that the government is taking that the banking royal commission specifically recommended against. I think that speaks volumes about whether or not the government's heart is actually in doing the right thing by real people when it comes to the banking system and to the financial system more broadly.

The bills before us today have been a long time coming. It is almost five years since Labor first started championing and calling for a banking royal commission. Were it not for the subsequent royal commission, so many of the rorts and rip-offs which were uncovered by Commissioner Hayne and his team may never have come to light, which would have been a tragedy for everyone who has been impacted by wrongdoing in the financial sector.

It's important to remember that it was Labor that called for this banking royal commission in the first half of 2016. I was the financial services spokesman at the time, working closely with the member for McMahon and the member for Maribyrnong in calling for this banking royal commission. Those opposite opposed it tooth and nail for almost two years. They didn't want the stories which came forward from all the brave people who spoke at the royal commission to be heard, and we commend those people and acknowledge them and thank them for their bravery and honesty in coming forward. Those opposite fought tooth and nail for those stories never to come to light. They never wanted those stories to be made public. For almost two years they opposed it; they voted against the banking royal commission 26 times.

Only in late 2017, with the election getting closer—and only after the banks themselves had written to the government and given them a little permission slip to say they were okay with a banking royal commission—did the then Treasurer, the current Prime Minister, roll over and say that they would reluctantly agree to a banking royal commission. Between that partial capitulation at the end of 2017 and the election in May 2019, they spent a lot of effort pretending to care about the victims of misconduct in the banking system. If you go through that period, the now Prime Minister and others had all kinds of crocodile tears for victims of the rorts and rip-offs in the banking system. They pretended that they were deeply concerned about the revelations which were coming out on an almost daily basis. They pretended it was a really high priority.

Then, once the election was done and dusted, it was an afterthought once again. The foot came off the accelerator when it came to implementing recommendations. There was delay after delay, and deadline after deadline was missed. It took them until yesterday before they even realised that the parliamentary schedule wouldn't allow the passage of these bills in time for the 1 January start date. It was only yesterday that it dawned on them—such a high priority for those opposite! They're so keen to get justice and the right system for people who've been victims that they only discovered yesterday, 'Oh, we forgot to put it before the parliament, so we need to take some remedial action.' That speaks volumes as well about a government which has been dragging its feet when it comes to this.

They still haven't got it right. The member for Whitlam is here and he has amendments, and so does the member for Kingsford Smith. There are substantial issues here, which I'll leave to the member for Whitlam to explain to the House, given the pressures of time. But the government still haven't got it quite right. We want to support these bills and we want to expedite these bills, but we want to make sure that there are a couple of things which are cleaned up. My colleagues will talk about those.

I want to thank everyone who came forward in the banking royal commission, as I said, but I also want to thank the stakeholders for their engagement—not just the financial institutions but the consumer groups, the unions and others. The member for Whitlam is here, and I'll take the opportunity to thank the member for Whitlam very sincerely for all the work he's been doing in this area, as has the member for Kingsford Smith and as has the member for Fenner via the committee system. There have been hundreds and hundreds of hours of consultation and going through the detail of what's being proposed. I want to thank my colleagues for all of that work.

We want the banking system to be strong, and we want it to be strong on a basis of not treating people unfairly or cutting corners or engaging in rorts and rip-offs. We want it to be strong and fair at the same time, and that's not too much to ask. That's what the Australian people expect. The banking system can be a crucial part of the economy and a crucial part of the recovery, but we need to rebuild confidence in it. The banks themselves, and other institutions, have taken some steps in that regard, which I acknowledge as well, but we want this legislation to be as effective as it can be. It makes no sense to introduce one set of legislation to implement the banking royal commission recommendations and then have the next set of legislation undermine them.

We'll make our points about responsible lending on another occasion. We're prepared to support the main thrust of this bill, where it genuinely implements the recommendations of the banking royal commission. But there are a couple of things that need to be cleaned up. We'll try to do that via the usual parliamentary processes.