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Thursday, 13 September 2018
Page: 62


Ms O'NEIL (Hotham) (15:39): It's been a very disturbing and a very distressing week in the royal commission. People who are observing the work of the commission will know that at the moment we are dealing with the insurance round. Commissioner Hayne has set aside two weeks to look into just this industry. What we're seeing is an industry that has many and significant issues. The stories we've heard told are genuinely gut-wrenching. I want to begin with the case of Grant Stewart, whose son has Down syndrome. His son was pressured into buying insurance that he didn't want and he didn't need. Words just cannot describe how angry I was and how angry I know my colleagues were listening to the audio tape of this young man and his disability being exploited by someone so that an insurance company could meet a sales target. For me, this incident actually encapsulates so many issues that this royal commission is uncovering.

Anyone who is in the chamber now or who is listening at home, if you've ever had a doubt about why this royal commission is necessary, why it is crucial, then I urge you to go and find the audio of Grant Stewart's son being sold this policy. One of the things that is most shocking about this incident with Grant Stewart's son is the fact that this happened two months after the Prime Minister, who was the then Treasurer, on the other side of the chamber, voted against a royal commission into the financial services industry. We know, because we have sat here for almost two years watching this person, the Prime Minister, the member for Cook, lead the charge on the other side of the chamber against this royal commission. Those opposite tried every trick in the book to stop this from happening. And when Australians are watching on television the things that are coming out of the royal commission, I want them to remember this: these are the stories the Prime Minister didn't want them to hear. And if he had had his way, if he had not buckled to the pressure and the leadership of the opposition leader then we would never have known about these problems and we would never have this once-in-a-generation opportunity to look at the matters facing this sector. I've talked about the one incident of Grant Stewart's son, but it is one of so many.

On the first day of the insurance round, on Monday, one of the first things we learnt was an insurer, ClearView, has probably broken the law 300,000 times. We heard about CommInsure, which has been the subject of a number of media inquiries about its monitoring of insurance. One of the instances we heard was about a customer who suffered from breast cancer. She had multiple surgeries but when she went to claim on her insurance, it was refused on the basis that because her operation wasn't a full mastectomy, it was not radical enough to be paid out under an insurance claim. That is just what we have heard about this week, but it is the tip of the iceberg of the despicable conduct we have seen come through in the royal commission.

One of the stories that sticks in my mind, and I am sure some of you on the benches behind me will remember this, was of a man who was a gambling addict. He knew he was a gambling addict and he went to his bank, the Commonwealth Bank, and said, 'Please, stop increasing my credit limit.' He was an addict. Instead of doing that, the bank continued to pursue him, continued to write to him and continued to increase the limit on his credit card. One of the images that sticks in my mind is of this man weeping in the dock of the royal commission as he explained his story—another story that never would have been told if the Prime Minister had got his way in avoiding the royal commission.

The Prime Minister did not just vote against a royal commission 26 times, he led the charge of his government against this. He called this 'a populist whinge'. He called it 'just a distraction', 'a QC complaints desk'. He told us he already knew what all these issues were, so then we asked the obvious question: if he knew this was happening, why didn't he do anything about it?

I feel incensed by something that I keep hearing from the other side of politics at the moment, that the reason they didn't support a royal commission was because they didn't understand the hurt the Australian people were feeling about this. This is not about hurt feelings. This is about law-breaking on a very large scale within a service industry that supports almost every Australian, almost every Australian business. You can only trust one party in this country to clean up this mess, and that is Labor.