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Thursday, 2 September 1993
Page: 893

Senator KEMP (12.02 p.m.) —In view of the fact that the estimates committees are waiting to commence, I will speak briefly to the report of the Standing Committee on Finance and Public Administration on annual reports. In particular, I wish to speak about the hearing that Senator Coates referred to with the officers of the Commonwealth Bank. I would like to bring to the attention of the Senate a number of issues, but that will have to wait.

  The most important issue that I wish to direct the Senate's attention to is what I regard as quite disgraceful behaviour. Mr Deputy President, you will be aware that there was a merger between the State Bank of Victoria and the Commonwealth Bank. The announcement of this merger was made in a press statement from the then Premier of Victoria, Mrs Joan Kirner, and the then federal Treasurer, Mr Paul Keating, on 25 August 1990. I draw the Senate's attention to the assurances that were given in that joint statement by Mrs Kirner and Mr Keating. The key paragraph said:

Ms Kirner said clear undertakings had been received from the Commonwealth Bank of Australia that there would be no compulsory staff retrenchments resulting from the sale of the bank.

We put that issue to the officers of the Commonwealth Bank who came before the standing committee in Sydney, which Senator Coates referred to. There was some discussion on that and there was a follow-up response from the bank, which we received quite recently.

  Bearing in mind what was announced in that joint press statement by Mrs Kirner and Mr Keating, we now learn, in response to a question that was put to the Commonwealth Bank officers, that the bank has said that no assurances were given by the Commonwealth Bank regarding retrenchments arising from the merger. Well, there are assurances and they are the assurances that were given by Mrs Kirner and Mr Keating.

  We have learnt that in Victoria the total job losses resulting from the merger are now in the order of 3,665 and may well rise to 4,000. Twice the number of people have lost their jobs in this merger compared with when the Nissan car plant was closed down. Its job losses were in the order of 2000. This is an enormously serious situation. We also learnt that there were some 423 compulsory retrenchments.

  The employees of the former State Bank of Victoria have been dreadfully let down. They have been let down because the promises that were made by Mr Keating and Mrs Kirner have not been kept. I believe why they have not been kept will be a matter for a further inquiry.

  As far as the Commonwealth Bank is concerned no assurances were given regarding compulsory retrenchments. I have heard from State Bank employees in Victoria that these compulsory retrenchments have caused, in some cases, great personal distress, as one would expect. I note that this is a matter that will not be allowed to rest.

  If the Commonwealth Bank did not give those assurances, we want to know why it did not give them. Did Mr Keating tell the Commonwealth Bank, having managed to have this politically driven merger, this negotiated merger, that the commitments that were given at that stage were no longer operative.

  We have had a disgraceful series of broken promises from Mr Keating following the 13 March election. There have been appalling broken promises.

Senator Burns —All banks have been retrenching.

Senator KEMP —Senator Burns knows that they were broken promises. I point out to the Senate that the government has also broken its promises to the employees of the State Bank of Victoria. I believe that this is a matter which will not be allowed to rest.

  Debate (on motion by Senator Panizza) adjourned.