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Tuesday, 8 May 2018
Page: 3271

Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry

Ms PLIBERSEK (SydneyDeputy Leader of the Opposition) (14:50): I have a question to the Prime Minister. Before I go to that, may I very briefly associate the opposition with the minister's comments on the necessity for a truly national redress scheme.

My question is to the Prime Minister. Labor members have been contacted by victims of the rorts and rip-offs of the banks. Those victims in some cases have been required to sign non-disclosure agreements to get compensation. Can the Prime Minister assure the victims of bank misconduct who have been silenced by non-disclosure agreements, including my constituent, that if they give evidence to the royal commission they will be protected from any adverse legal consequences?

Mr TURNBULL (WentworthPrime Minister) (14:51): I will ask the Attorney-General to answer the question.

Mr PORTER (PearceAttorney-General) (14:51): I thank the Prime Minister and I thank the member opposite for the question. It's obviously a very serious issue. One of the points of difference between any other type of commission of inquiry that's called and a royal commission is that the processes and procedures of a royal commission are necessarily independent, completely divorced from the government and unable to be affected by government decision, as properly should be the case. Nevertheless, Commissioner Hayne has addressed this matter in several of his opening addresses at the royal commission. The situation is, of course, that many victims of the banks, by consent with the banks, entered into agreements where money was exchanged for wrongs that had occurred. In a number of cases they were subject to non-disclosure agreements or clauses as part of the overarching agreement. A non-disclosure agreement which governs one of those particular individual settlements has an effect.

What the royal commission has noted is that its standing powers enable it, in effect, to override the existence of any of those non-disclosure agreements. The point that you make, I think, is there will be a small class of those agreements where a question may arise as to whether or not someone who has signed the agreement and is subject to the agreement can in the prima facie instance alert the royal commission to its existence so that the royal commission can ask questions with respect to it. What Commissioner Hayne has said—I don't have the transcript in front of me, so this is necessarily my best recollection of his approach—is very similar to the approach that royal commissioners used in the sexual abuse royal commission, which was of this nature: if any bank sought to enact a non-disclosure clause in an agreement to prevent someone alerting the royal commission as to the existence of the agreement, such that the royal commissioner could then override that non-disclosure agreement, that if he became aware of that activity he as the royal commissioner would ensure that the royal commission placed its microscope scrupulously over that bank, its conduct and the types of agreements it signed.

It seemed to us at the time that that was a very proper approach and precisely the analogous approach to that taken in the royal commission against sexual abuse in organisations which we've just heard about with respect to redress. I am very happy to brief you further with the transcript, but it does seem to us as a government that the royal commissioner has done his absolute best within the confines of the law to address that situation. I have not had anyone approach my office specifically with respect to issues of this nature. If you have, then they can be brought to my attention and we can have a look at those on a case-by-case basis.