House debates

Monday, 18 February 2019

Bills

Treasury Laws Amendment (Strengthening Corporate and Financial Sector Penalties) Bill 2018; Consideration of Senate Message

5:01 pm

Photo of Clare O'NeilClare O'Neil (Hotham, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Justice) Share this | Hansard source

God forbid we have one of the relevant ministers come into the chamber! Both bills have been quite radically altered in the Senate, and we haven't had someone from the government come in and talk about the reasons why that's happened. But I'm here, and I'm able to provide a little bit of the subtext and the narrative around what's happened here.

I'm very glad to speak on the changes that have come back from the Senate, because these are actually Labor's reforms. Over the weekend, the Treasurer had what might be kindly described as an onset of pathological revisionism. In fact, I woke up on Friday morning and I started to read all these articles about these brilliant changes to corporate penalties that occurred in the parliament, and nowhere did it mention in the article and nowhere did the Treasurer say, 'Thank you, Labor, for moving these strengthened penalties,' which is exactly what happened.

Far from spearheading the reforms that are contained in the amendments in the bill, the government actually voted against them. Again, I heard the Treasurer on the radio and read the Treasurer in print on the weekend talking about what a tough guy he is on the reforms that we're passing today. He didn't mention that he actually voted against almost exactly these amendments in this House, and we'll be interested to see what he does when we have that discussion later.

These are really important reforms. They take some of the most significant offences in the Corporations Act, and Labor has moved motions to increase the maximum penalty that someone can serve jail time for from five years to 15 years. This is really important in the context of what's happening with the royal commission, and, indeed, one of the offences that we have attached that higher jail term to is fees for no service, which of course was one of the most significant potential crimes that was uncovered in the royal commission. We've also pushed for much more significant financial penalties for companies that do the wrong thing, who will now in some instances have a maximum penalty of half a billion dollars.

We think these reforms are really appropriate because what I hear everywhere around this country when I talk to people about the royal commission is a deep sense of frustration about the lack of accountability for all of the things that have been done wrong to them, in particular by the big banks. We should not live in a country where if you steal from a bank you end up in jail, but if the banker steals from you they end up getting a promotion at the end of the year and a big fat bonus. It's just not the way that we run things here in our country.

We're really proud that we put these reforms forward. We're a bit frustrated that the government voted against similar reforms in the House of Representatives and then had some sort of great awakening over in the Senate and decided to support our reforms, but I don't think it would be beyond them to note that these actually came from Labor.

I'm frustrated, obviously, about what has happened but I'm not surprised, because this is completely consistent with the approach to corporate crime and financial wrongdoing that we see on the other side of the House. That is the crowd that voted against a royal commission 26 times. The government did everything in their power to protect the big bankers when they had done so much wrong by the Australian people. In fact, while on this side of the House Labor was calling for a royal commission and talking to victims of financial misconduct, the government were over there trying to give the banks a $17 billion tax cut. To find an example in public policy today that shows you the deep differences in values by those who sit opposite one another in this parliament, that's it.

I'm disappointed in the government's unwillingness to recognise that these are Labor reforms—a complete rewriting of history—but I'm glad that they finally saw sense. It may have had a little bit to do with the numbers in the Senate, knowing, as they did, that they were not going to win a vote to try to keep these ridiculously low penalties for bankers and other crooks who do the wrong thing. So I'm proud of these reforms and proud to support the amendments in the House.

Question agreed to.

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