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Wednesday, 27 June 2018
Page: 6561

Mr DICK (Oxley) (11:47): I'm delighted to enter the debate about the Treasury Laws Amendment (2018 Measures No. 3) Bill 2018 and I want to thank the member for Fenner, in particular, for moving the amendment to the motion for the second reading, which was moved to highlight the fact that there are a number of issues where the government is not delivering on action for consumers. In my speech on the amendment today, I'm going to focus on a couple of key issues that are very important, I believe, for consumers not only in my home state but right across the country. They are two issues that I've been speaking on and championing for some time because I've seen the impact firsthand, and because I believe governments should take action, where appropriate, to protect consumers but also ensure that businesses and small businesses are protected. They, of course, are the issues of cracking down on payday lenders and of requiring car manufacturers to share technical information with independent mechanics on commercially fair and reasonable terms, with safeguards that enable environmental, safety- and security-related technical information to be shared with the independent sector.

I have spoken about these issues in this place. At every opportunity that I get to demonstrate my commitment to the protection of consumers and businesses, I will take that opportunity. In moving the second reading amendment, the member for Fenner made it very clear how this government has let down consumers and continues to do so on a daily basis. This includes the government's failure to commit to a full suite of measures to strengthen the consumer watchdog. On this side of the chamber, we welcome the adoption of our policy to increase penalties, which we announced over two years ago. But the government is still falling well short of community expectations for the protection of consumers, as I said, in many areas.

Perhaps the most notable of these is the absolute failure by the government to crack down on out-of-control payday loans. I now put on the record in the House of Representatives that it's now been 1,055 days since the government initiated the review of the payday loans industry in this country. Despite repeated promises made by the government, including by the now Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister for Revenue and Financial Services, that we would see action to clamp down on the payday loan sharks, we've yet to see any decisive action. It was only earlier this week that we heard on ABC Radio that we heard of the heartbreak and pain these shonky lenders are causing everyday Australians like Jane, a childcare worker who took out a payday loan to cover a few bills and has ended up with over $10,000 in debt.

I'm delighted that the assistant minister who has responsibility for cracking down on payday loans has entered the chamber, because—

Mr Sukkar: You're delighted? I'm delighted to be here!

Mr DICK: He's just announced he is delighted to be here. Well, despite his sheer delight, it would be great if, rather than avoiding this issue, he could actually start siding with consumers rather than with payday loan sharks.

Mr Sukkar: Are you speaking on this bill? Which bill are you speaking on?

Mr DICK: I'm speaking to the amendment, if you could keep up. Through you, Mr Deputy Speaker, I'll take the interjection. I know the assistant minister doesn't like turning up to the chamber, as we've found out. We now have an amendment which he is clearly not on top of and which, clearly, because it is about his responsibility, he is trying to avoid.

For the benefit of the assistant minister, who hasn't bothered to even read the amendment before the House of Representatives today, I'll remind him that over 650,000 Australians who've turned up and taken out payday loans are now faced with outrageous terms and conditions and interest rates of almost 900 per cent. I met with the Consumer Law Action Group this week and with other people who deal with this. They also asked for a meeting with the assistant minister, who is at the table, this week. His office told them he would be happy to meet, but he never followed up. That is a government that is out of touch and not listening to stakeholders. If the minister is true blue about listening to the stakeholders, he should meet with the people being affected by the loan sharks in this country.

We know the cost of living has drastically risen under this government and that 1.8 million households are now financially distressed, which has resulted in 650,000 families turning to payday loans just to get by. I place on record again that these figures have almost doubled in the past decade. In return, consumers are paying interest rates as high as 884 per cent for household goods like fridges and washing machines, which would normally cost $350, but which end up costing consumers almost $4,000 because of loan sharks looking to rip off vulnerable Australian families.

I pay tribute to the Minister for Revenue and Financial Services, who actually led the charge on this and sadly has now been rolled by the hard Right of the Turnbull government and by the friends of payday lending inside the government. I know, from talking to welfare agencies and experts in the field who try to help people put their lives back together, that government can take action. They can take action. Do you know why, Mr Deputy Speaker? Because the government initiated a review. They've actually committed to legislation surrounding this. Instead, they've hidden it; they've kept it secret. They've just sat on their hands and done absolutely nothing. I remind the House that we did see that glimmer of hope but, unfortunately, the hard Right of the Liberal Party, perhaps in a factional spat, has now decided not to proceed with that. The minister and the new Deputy Prime Minister committed to real reform, but, as I've said, for 1,055 days the government has sat on this report and done absolutely nothing.

In receiving the report and recommendations from their own review, the minister at the time was full of praise. I'll remind the House of memorable quotes such as, 'the government supported the vast majority of the recommendations, in part or in full'. And:

Implementation of these recommendations will ensure that vulnerable consumers are afforded appropriate levels of consumer protection while continuing to access SACCs and leases.

It's only this side of the House that has shown leadership when it comes to clamping down on payday lenders by introducing legislation earlier this year on 26 February. Sadly, not one coalition MP rose to support it. This is, in fact, despite the issue that the bill was the identical copy of the draft legislation released by the newly minted Deputy Prime Minister when he had responsibility for small business in 2017. The bill was approved by cabinet but later buried, as I said, as a result of pressure from the parliamentary friends of payday lenders. If these reforms were good enough for Minister McCormack and the coalition last year then they are surely good enough now.

As recently as just last month, my office obtained a copy of the letter from the Assistant Minister to the Treasurer, again, pledging that the legislation will be implemented this year. I won't be holding my breath, because after 1,055 days we've heard all of this before.

I say to the assistant minister who is responsible and is now in the chamber: start backing consumers and start listening to those people being ripped off by the loan sharks in this country. I've received countless examples—on it goes—of victims and of outrageous behaviour, that's the only word I can use. The government sides with the payday lenders rather than consumers.

The government is just not serious when it comes to protecting Australian consumers from businesses who do the wrong thing by them. Under this government, the Turnbull government, penalties for engaging in anticompetitive conduct and for breaching the rights of consumers are simply inadequate. Penalties are too small to act as a deterrent, are low by international standards and are seen as a mere cost of doing business according to the Federal Court, the ACCC and legal experts.

Over the last five years we've seen a range of appalling contraventions of consumer rights, often targeting the most vulnerable members of our community. These include predatory consumer leasing agreements, breaches of product safety standards, scams and misleading advertising. The maximum penalty a corporation faces for breaching the ACL is $1.1 million. This is a very small amount relative to the annual revenue of large companies and is one-tenth of the size of the maximum penalty under the CCA's competition provisions.

I want to say very clearly on the record today: let's not forget it's the Labor Party who was the party of encouraging competition. Competition means lower prices, higher wages and better quality products for Australian families. It means a more productive and more innovative economy that has more jobs and a higher standard of living. Strengthening competition is about defeating vested interests. It is about promoting a fair and equal society, which, sadly, cannot be said for those opposite when it comes to giving people like Australian motorists a fair dinkum choice as to where and when they get their car serviced.

We know, and I've spoken about this in the parliament this week, because more and more car and vehicle manufacturers are holding back information from local service centres, meaning higher costs for motorists and less choice as to where you can get your car serviced. Yet again, it has been left to Labor to show leadership in this space, particularly the member for Fenner, who has done a great job in advocating for our great policy, alongside Bill Shorten, the Leader of the Opposition. Presently, car manufacturers generally own and control technical information and, in many cases, are the only sources of codes and software upgrades, which means that independent car repairers, who comprise the vast majority of Australian mechanics, are at a competitive disadvantage since most car manufacturers do not supply the same information to independent mechanics that they provide to authorised dealers. But I'm really pleased to support Labor's Your Car, Your Choice policy. We are seeking to change this to support the thousands of independent service mechanics right across Australia.

I listened to the debate in the Federation Chamber on this exact matter earlier this week. Government speaker after government speaker started talking about roundtables into roundtables, committees into committees. 'Trust us. We'll get to it. We might do something on the never-never.' I know that, when I've spoken to mechanics at Sumner in my electorate, when I've taken the shadow Treasurer and the Leader of the Opposition to sit down and listen to the mums and dads and small business operators in my community, they are sick and tired of the government not taking action. They want to see some action.

We hear a lot from the LNP and the coalition government that they're the party of small business. Time and time again we hear these lectures. It's time now that the so-called party of small business started listening to small business, particularly the auto mechanics—people like Ian from Mr Spanner's and Scott from Future Auto Sumner Park. I know how much that would mean for their local businesses. Owners have told me that not only would it allow their local businesses to better service local residents but it would also be a huge win for our local economy as they could employ more mechanics and more apprentices to ply their trade.

I know this government sits by and does nothing. They weren't even able to defend their position in the Federation Chamber this week, as I already said. What we heard and continually hear is a lot of wishy-washy defence about how 'We're thinking about doing something about it down the track.' After consulting with industry, we know that this clearly isn't the case and we know that there is so-called consultation but only one-way consultation on this issue. We have heard that the government has a working party, yet I'm proud to say in the chamber today that the industry haven't heard anything about this. They've also apparently had a working party for some time, but that's also news to the industry, who said that's not their understanding but rather the government is meeting those who call them up. Let's call it what it is. That's not consultation; it's a joke.

So we know that this government, when it comes to consumer protection, simply cannot be trusted. When it comes to simple-yet-important changes that are needed to support local industry and local businesses, I call on the government to adopt Labor's Your Car, Your Choice policy of mandatory information sharing, which would mean a fairer playing field for all. Labor is committed to increasing the rights of consumers. We'll always stand by the consumers because Labor is on their side.