Thursday, 25 February 2021
National Consumer Credit Protection Amendment (Supporting Economic Recovery) Bill 2020; Second Reading
The National Consumer Credit Protection Amendment (Supporting Economic Recovery) Bill 2020, which I'm very happy to speak in support of, is a bill that Australians would expect of this coalition government—that is, one that supports jobs and growth. In the simplest understanding of this bill lies the very clear intention to support those individuals who wish to take advantage of the rising tide that is currently lifting all Australian boats. All around us, the evidence of economic recovery can be seen; I will describe some of that in a moment.
First, it's important to view this bill in the context of the world around it. The year 2020 saw the greatest economic challenge the world has seen since the Great Depression. Stories that were once passed down to our generation from grandparents and great-great-grandparents are once again the stories of our time. I think of my uncle, Don Prentice, telling stories of his time during the Great Depression, of packing up his swag and going to find work. We aren't there, but those memories remain.
The year 2020 changed us. It shocked our economy and hurt many people's health and security. Whilst Australia has done very well in comparison to other economies, we have hurt. Just as the National Consumer Credit Protection Act 2009 can be viewed as responding to the challenges of its time, as the previous speaker detailed—in our case it was the global financial crisis—this bill responds to the challenges of today, and they're very different challenges. As difficult and dark as 2020 was for so many of us, Australia ended 2020 with consumer confidence at a 10-year high and the people of Australia found their feet after the initial turbulence of the pandemic. They found faith in the community's ability to work together, in our health system's ability to guide us towards safer shores and in the Morrison government's plan to rebuild our economy.
This bill offers something of an opening up of Australia's ability to access credit, and that is exactly what the people of Australia's confidence calls for. As a people we understand now is a time of growth, that 2021 must be a time that Australia proudly and deliberately takes a step forward out of the uncertainty that engulfed us in 2020. As a government we support that confidence. As a government we understand that a confident nation needs our support, not our suppression. As a government we understand the importance of leading with our strengths, and today we must view that 10-year high in consumer confidence as a great strength of this nation.
Earlier this year I spent time with Downs Group Training, listening to their plans to develop workforce capacity and capability in the Toowoomba region. I heard from their CEO, Kris McCue, on his organisation's optimism for the year ahead. We're talking about young tradespeople entering the market, viewing all the work that's happening, particularly as a result of the wonderfully received HomeBuilder scheme. It's great to see them entering their careers with optimism. As I often, do, I popped my head into one of Toowoomba's many fine cafes—on this occasion, The Finch. I had a great chat with the owners, Dan and Edwina, who confessed to me the worst-kept secret in Toowoomba, which is that they are expanding—a second Finch. I'm sorry, guys, but the word is out. This is a business that was initially hit hard by the pandemic shutdowns but which survived with the help of the Morrison government's economic recovery plan and their lifelines and which has now come out on the other side of that very difficult time with confidence. They are no longer looking for the light at the end of the tunnel but are now looking for the sunglasses as a bright new day dawns. It's not here yet, but it is dawning.
My local Toowoomba Toyota dealer tells me that his sale lots, which were almost completely empty only 12 months ago, are now full of people looking to take advantage of the government's economic recovery plans. The comeback is on. Almost 800,000 jobs were created in the past seven months, and the participation rate has recovered and reached a record high of 66.2 per cent. We know that our temporary JobKeeper payments and the billions in economic support provided enabled Australians to stay in work or connected to their employer. That is great news. It's a great thing for households, businesses and the economy. We know that our COVID-19 economic support measures helped families and have boosted business balance sheets by more than $200 billion. Again, at the heart of this government's efforts was a desire to support individuals and businesses during the pandemic.
We are continuing to work with business so that the private sector can lead our recovery. The government's full expensing for new business investments, creating jobs and our loss carry back scheme provides a much-needed cash flow boost for those who continue to do it tough. In Groom, that's assisting some 4,000 small and medium businesses. I believe the Prime Minister described this as 'a game changer like no other' and I heartily agree with that assessment. These measures saved not just livelihoods but lives. They kept food on the table, ensured that bills were paid and, importantly, ensured that the breadwinners of households stayed connected to employment. This meant there was significant economic flow across the economy, supporting jobs, particularly in small and family businesses. Feedback from business across the Toowoomba region has been clear that this support was critical during the lockdowns, particularly in regions such as mine, where case numbers were relatively low and people were going about their business safely and as normally as possible.
To support those businesses to get back up and running more quickly, with existing staff back at work, serving and selling, JobKeeper supported some 4,700 businesses in Groom, keeping us connected as a community. As JobKeeper steps off and businesses get stronger, our government will continue to support Australian households and businesses, and we'll do that by putting more money back into Australians' pockets and protecting more of what they have earned. In my electorate of Groom, 65,600 taxpayers benefit from this government's tax relief measures, and that's great. It means there is more money circulating in our local economy across the Darling Downs, supporting businesses in our community. As a result, we've seen the consumer and business confidence recover as the strong restrictions come off. It is the intent of the bill before us to support households, small businesses and the economic recovery. It's critically important that we deliver our economic recovery plan and provide households and businesses with more confidence to invest and create more jobs.
Part of that plan is simplifying Australia's credit framework and supporting the flow of credit to the Australian economy, with interest rates remaining at historic lows and fiscal policy having a greater role in supporting national economic growth, especially on the back of a coronavirus induced economic downturn. It's important that our regulatory settings are adequate for the issues of today. This bill will help facilitate, rather than hinder, the economic recovery and protect consumers and borrowers. This is not about the short term. This is not about getting a rush of credit. As part of our recovery plan, this bill is about improving the financial services sector for the medium to longer term. This bill removes excessive, duplicative barriers that hamper access to credit approval and make the process more timely. Our regulatory framework does not have to be burdensome to be strong, and this bill demonstrates as much. As businesses recover and seek credit to invest, we need to ensure our regulatory framework incentivises investment in jobs in our economy. This bill will enable that, while also protecting consumers, particularly vulnerable consumers.
This bill ensures authorised deposit-taking institutions will continue to comply with APRA's lending standards, requiring sound credit assessment and approvals criteria. The bill adopts key elements of APRA's ADI lending standards and applies them to non-ADIs. In reducing the duplicative burden, the bill enables lenders to rely on the information provided by borrowers, replacing the current practice of 'lender beware' with a borrower responsibility principle. The credit assessment process relying on information provided by a consumer, particularly by a small business where, in large, information is preverified through an accountant or other financial adviser, will avoid the need for extensive and intrusive verification processes. Of course, if there are reasonable grounds to believe the information being provided is unreliable, the bill maintains that lenders can make inquiries in relation to a consumer's situation like the existing conduct obligations. This enables a strong regulatory standard of assessment as to whether a credit application is suitable prior to making a loan without overburdening the applicant.
The government recognises that we need to simplify the system, and this bill does that by moving away from a one-size-fits-all approach while at the same time strengthening consumer protections for those who need it. This bill will protect the vulnerable in my community, especially within Toowoomba city. Toowoomba has for many years been designated by the federal government as a refugee and humanitarian settlement area because of the success of well-established collaboration and partnerships at different levels of government, settlement services, NGOs and the diverse community who provide support to new arrivals. On 22 June 2013 Toowoomba Regional Council became the third local government area in Queensland to become a refugee welcome zone. We are one of the largest regional refugee settlement areas and are very proud of that. I acknowledge Mayor Paul Antonio's fine leadership in this.
Our most recent arrivals include 2½ thousand Yazidi people with a refugee background. Many experience language difficulties and, unfortunately, trauma issues. Catholic Social Services, through the Toowoomba Refugee and Migrant Service, TRAMS, provide refugees and migrants who are new to our region with support to get settled into community life and enjoy a smooth transition into Australian society. The TRAMS program provides these refugees and migrants with assistance to become self-reliant and to participate equitably in Australian society as soon as possible after their arrival in the Toowoomba community. I note two small businesses in central Toowoomba are run by Yazidis. It's great to see them engaging so heartily in the community and doing so well.
At a recent meeting with Catholic Social Services it was highlighted that, due to trauma, these new residents are vulnerable and this often results in uninformed decision-making that consequently ends in bad outcomes, including bad financial outcomes. This section of society are still settling in and finding their way. They often have the barriers of learning a new language, learning how to read and write, learning new skills, customs and laws, and engaging in the workforce. This bill, particularly as it relates to small-amount credit contracts, helps protect these groups. These changes will make it easier for the majority of Australians and small businesses to access credit, will reduce red tape, will improve competition and will ensure that the strongest consumer protections are targeted at the most vulnerable Australians. I recommend this bill to the chamber.