Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 13 September 2018
Page: 58


Mr BOWEN (McMahon) (15:19): With all the melodrama and the self-focused soap opera we have had from the other side of the House over the last few weeks, it's perhaps easy to forget with all that melodrama just how many big calls this government has got wrong. It's not the daily ups and downs nor is it the ambitions and opportunities and Newspolls which are the reasons why this government is a failure; it's because it's been faced with some big decisions and, on almost every occasion, got those big decisions wrong, perhaps none more so than its decision to block a royal commission into Australia's banking and financial services sector.

More than two years ago the Labor Party, the Leader of the Opposition, the member for Isaacs, the member for Rankin—the then shadow minister for financial services—and I announced that a Labor government would call a royal commission into the banks and financial services sector. We said at that time we would do it in office but we hoped the Liberal government would do it earlier. We told the Liberal-National government they would have our full support if they called a royal commission into the banks and financial services. What we had was two years of obstruction, two years of denial, two years of delay, two years of inaction and two years of excuses, and in all that time the financial services scandals continued. In all that time the bad behaviour continued as this government continued to run a protection racket.

I acknowledge that the Prime Minister yesterday admitted that was wrong. I acknowledge that he admitted his mistake. But the key point is: it's not important what you admit when it is obvious you were wrong, when it is undeniable that you were wrong. What is important is your judgement when it's a hard call. When the Leader of the Opposition, the member for Isaacs and I announced a royal commission, it was controversial. We were pilloried as being populist. We were pilloried as being damaging to Australia's international reputation. We were told that we had it wrong. But we knew that the case for a royal commission was strong and that we could defend it and justify it against the political attacks and the attacks of those vested interests who denied it was necessary.

Having the judgement and the courage to get it right when it's a hard call is what governments are all about. Not admitting when it is so self-evident that it should have been done two years ago is not something to be proud of. Something the government could have been proud of was if they got it right when it was controversial. The Prime Minister says, 'Look, I made a mistake.' He's hinting, implying that, you know, he had not given it that much thought and that maybe should have given it that much more attention. It's not just that he didn't call the royal commission when he was Treasurer; he voted against it 26 times.

The government did everything they could to avoid a royal commission into the banks and financial services sector. It wasn't just that they voted against it. The Prime Minister called it, in his normal blustering way, 'a populist whinge'. He called it 'a political exercise for a political hack', referring to the Leader of the Opposition. He said that a royal commission was pursuing 'crass populism', undermining an institution that is critical to our country and our economy. He said it was a 'stunt'. He said that they only proposed a royal commission to help one person: the Leader of the Opposition. He said it's intended to bolster and prop up the stocks of the Leader of the Opposition. He said the Leader of the Opposition was doing it to pursue political gain.

It shows just how out of touch this Prime Minister is that he said all these things over such a long period of time. But I have to say it wasn't just the Prime Minister. The person responsible for the implementation of the royal commission's recommendations will be the Treasurer. What did the Treasurer say? He said the banks are already heavily regulated. He said when he was asked if there was no need for a royal commission, 'That's my view, yes.' He said it's 'just a distraction' from Bill Shorten. He said, 'I think it's a bit of populist politics from Bill Shorten.' That's what the now Treasurer said, joining a unity ticket with the now Prime Minister to ignore the need for a royal commission into the banking and financial services sector.

There has been a real cost to be paid for this misjudgement by the now Prime Minister and now Treasurer. What we have seen and what the Australian people have seen out of the royal commission is nothing short of scandalous; nothing short, in many instances, of stomach-turning; nothing short of immoral; and nothing short of outrageous. It has continued on for two years longer. If the Prime Minister had had his way, we never would have known about this. It was only because of the royal commission that we know about fees for no service. It's only because of the royal commission that we know about what happened at AMP. It's only because of the royal commission that we know that people who were dead were charged fees. It's only because of the royal commission that we know—we saw it this week—about perhaps the worst of all the revelations, about the push-selling to some of Australia's most vulnerable people of insurance they did not need and did not want. We know about the messages to staff to sell, sell, sell, and think about the holiday to Bali. Why do we know about all these things? Because of the royal commission.

We said the royal commission was necessary to get sunlight onto the problems in our banking and financial services sector, to get the issues out, to get the issues exposed, so that the parliament could deal with it and so that the people could know about it. We didn't know every detail about what would be found—of course we did not—but we knew there was a problem, and we knew it had to be fixed. We knew, as tough as it was, that a royal commission was justified and necessary. Even when the government called it—even when they were dragged, kicking and screaming—for political purposes, they said: 'It's very regrettable. We wish we didn't have to. We really regret having to do this, but we're doing it for political purposes.' It says a lot about the government. We did it because we knew it was necessary; they did it because they thought they had to. That says it all.

If the Prime Minister had had his way, we still wouldn't know about these scandals, and we would be no closer to getting a banking and financial services sector which works for all and not just for a few. But, if the Leader of the Opposition had had his way, this royal commission would have started more than two years ago and would now be finished. The government would now be implementing its recommendations. Not only would the bad behaviour have been highlighted and public but it would have been dealt with. We would have implemented the necessary regulations and changes. The 300,000 breaches of law by ClearView would have been known and dealt with. The problems at IOOF would have been known and dealt with. The problems of push-selling of insurance to vulnerable Australians would have been known and dealt with. All would have been done by now. We would have been getting on with it. We would have passed legislation; banks would have dealt with it; insurance companies would have dealt with it; mortgage brokers would have dealt with it; and the country would be better off.

Here we are, two years later, still talking about it and still seeing the almost daily revelations out of the royal commission. What does the government say? 'Sorry about that; we got it wrong.' You betcha you got it wrong. You betcha the government got it wrong. It goes to their judgement. We've seen plenty of misjudgements from this Prime Minister in his various portfolios. This Prime Minister thought it was a good idea to increase the GST. This Prime Minister thought it was a good idea to cut all Commonwealth funding to public schools. This Prime Minister, with his predecessor, thought it was a good idea to have state income taxes. There were all those misjudgements and more, but this, in many senses, is the worst.

The Prime Minister wants to reassure us all and reassure the Australian people that he's in touch. He's on their side, he tells us. He's on their side, and he wears a badge to remind him whose side he's on, he tells us. You don't need a badge to remind you whose side you're on if you know that the problems facing the Australian people need to be dealt with by this parliament and by tough action. Tough action is sometimes telling people what they don't want to hear. I rang the four chief executives of the banks and said, 'I'm giving you a warning that in a few hours Bill Shorten and I will be announcing a royal commission into the banks.' They weren't pleasant conversations, I have to tell you, Mr Speaker. It wasn't a welcome call for the four chief executives of the big banks. But, I tell you, I'm glad I made those calls.

I'm glad I'm a member of a political party with the toughness and the courage to make those calls. I'm glad I'm a member of a political party with a leader tough enough to make those calls. We know that not everybody will welcome our decisions, but we will put the Australian people first. We don't need to wear a football hat to tell people we'll put Australian people first. We don't need a selfie on a train to tell people we're in touch with their concerns. Our actions speak louder than our words, and our action two years ago, by calling for this royal commission, spoke louder than anything the government and their weasel words could do today, because we did it when it wasn't easy. We did it when it wasn't conventional. We did it when it was controversial. We did it when it was necessary. These people opposite not only didn't call a royal commission; they opposed our Future of Financial Advice reforms when we were in government and then tried to repeal them when they were in office. They are completely out of touch— (Time expired)