Tuesday, 22 February 2011
Suspension of Standing and Sessional Orders
by leave—I move:
That so much of the standing and sessional orders be suspended as would prevent the Member for North Sydney from moving the following motion forthwith: That this House notes with deep concern the release of 25 secret Treasury documents contradicting the Treasurer about the impact of its proposed banking package including:
- claiming on 12 December 2010 that the package would “build up competition in our banking system” when the secret Treasury advice demonstrates that the absolute opposite is true;
- claiming on 12 December 2010 that the banking package would “ensure that interest rates are lower over time” when in the secret Treasury advice again the absolute opposite is true;
- for failing to heed the warnings of the Treasury that “there are a lots of risks and sensitivities associated with banning exit fees” including higher interest rates, higher bank fees and less transparency in banking;
- for failing to heed the warnings of the Treasury that the Treasurer’s banking package “could disproportionately impact first home buyers”; and
- for failing to heed the warnings of smaller financial services providers such as Aussie Home Loans, Bank of Queensland and Suncorp Metway that the banking package may reduce banking competition and lead to higher overall costs for consumers.
Everything this Treasurer touches turns to mud. No wonder he scurries away. He has no ticker to defend government policy. What he does is set up his so-called mates. He set up his so-called mate from Nambour with a mining tax that was a dud. He set up his so-called mate from Nambour with a war on inflation that never occurred. He set up his mate from Nambour with a program of spending that was, on an international scale, lauded as probably the biggest package in the world. He is now setting up his mate from—
That is right: his mate from Lalor. I am choosing my words carefully and I apologise for embellishing the term ‘mate’. He is using his office to set up the member for Lalor with a mining tax, a carbon tax, a flood levy and now a banking package that his own Treasury says is flawed.
Late last night, 25 documents in relation to banking were released by the Commonwealth Treasury. It followed a freedom of information request from the ABC. Of course, as Treasury does these days, in what seems to be a relatively new practice, whenever a media organisation requests documents through FOI, in order to kill off media interest the Treasury then releases the information publicly at the same time. Mr Nick Loan, manager of the bank competition unit, in relation to the government’s own banking package, says:
In short, there are lots of risks and sensitivities associated with banning exit fees …
He goes on in numerous ways to outline exactly why the government’s own banking package may increase interest rates. You remember the front page of the Australian: ‘Banking overhaul will bring down rates: Swan’. I happen to know that the Treasurer was not very happy about that. This will come as a rude shock. I understand there was an extensive complaint from the Treasurer about the treatment by the Australian of that issue. But, because I am a thorough guy, I went back to 12 December, the day before the story, and checked what the Treasurer actually said:
… this package is all about helping the customers, helping households, and helping business so that we can build up competition in our banking system which will ensure that interest rates are lower over time.
That was the Treasurer of Australia who said that. I want you to listen to this, Swanny—don’t let me off the hook here. He said that interest rates would be lower and competition would be greater.
Let’s go to what the Treasury advice says:
The banks’ costs of early termination are likely to be recouped by a combination of higher up-front fees and interest rates …
This is the Treasury advice specifically on the initiatives that he talked about. So you have the Treasurer out there saying interest rates will come down because of these changes and you have the Treasury saying, ‘No, interest rates are going up.’ The advice says:
Were existing customers to seek a new provider following an out of cycle rate rise, they would still, at least initially, face the same barriers to switching …
The official from Treasury goes on to say:
… mortgage providers will need to find alternative ways of covering their costs, which could lead to a range of unintended consequences from the Government’s action that could outweigh the benefit of the ban.
These include: (1) increasing interest rates, (2) increasing other fees, (3) reducing the transparency of bank fees and (4) a disproportionate impact on first home buyers. He goes on to say that the decision of the government may adversely affect smaller institutions such as credit unions and building societies:
… more than the major banks, and therefore reduce the ability of credit unions and building societies to effectively compete.
These are damning words. This is an advice to the Treasurer dated 13 October 2010.
In doing this, the Treasury itself has belled the cat. The Treasury itself has pointed out that this Treasurer is a fraud. He makes promises he cannot deliver. He makes commitments to the Australian people that he knows cannot be delivered. In fact, he received advice not just from Treasury; he received the advice from Aussie Home Loans, from Mark Bouris, from the Bank of Queensland, from Suncorp Metway and from Westpac.
Do you know what? If this Treasurer were half smart—and God forbid that we should have a Labor Treasurer that is half smart, but if he were half smart—I would say to the Treasurer: why is it that on the first trading day after he announced his banking package the prices of the major banks’ stocks went up? It is because he established and laid out a package that benefited the major banks and, at the end of the day, it actually hurts the people most vulnerable. It hurts bank customers because their fees are going to go up. It hurts the borrowers because their interest rates are going to go up. It hurts competition, because the small banking players have said, ‘This package will hurt competition.’
This is a damning indictment of an incompetent Treasurer. This is a damning indictment of a man who is not fit to be the Treasurer. Not only is he not up to the job and not only does he make mistake after mistake. How many versions of the mining tax are we going to have? We had the Ken Henry version, we had the Wayne Swan version and we had the Julia Gillard version. Now we are going to have the Green’s version and then we will have the mining companies’ version. Sooner or later, someone will say, ‘Mate, do you get anything right?’ No wonder Julia Gillard rang up Peter Costello and said, ‘Can you deliver the budget next May?’ just as she rang up John Fahey and said, ‘We need you to oversee Wayne Swan, the Treasurer, in Queensland.’ I bet old Swanny—I bet the Treasurer—did not even know that John Fahey was going to be appointed. Can you imagine the conversation? ‘Ah, Wayne, I tried to call you that day.’ Yeah, right. That is why John Fahey is being called in to oversee the Queensland flood reconstruction.
A whole lot of issues have come out of these 25 documents. Not only on 13 October did Mr Loan—ironically named—point out the flaws; he did it on 6 October, when he said:
Banks are likely to move to recover the legitimate costs associated with establishing a mortgage—
and could ‘penalise consumers’ who do not want to switch.
There is document after document and all the proof you need about a Treasurer that is incompetent; about a Treasurer that is a follower and not a leader; and about a Treasurer that is pushing up interest rates, pushing up the cost of banking and reducing competition—and, at the end of the day, proving to Australia and sundry that this is a man not up to the job of Treasurer.
I certainly second the motion. It is seconded because this is a compelling matter of concern to not only consumers right across Australia but also the small business community. When you hear the term ‘Treasurer Swan’, no-one thinks of competition; they think of corrosion—corrosion of confidence, corrosion of our financial standing, corrosion of the opportunities for our country to go forward and corrosion of the concept of competence in government. That is what people think of: Treasurer Wayne Swan equals corrosion.
We see that corrosion captured in the advice he receives. Not only do we have policy based evidence—that is where the Treasurer rushes out and makes a declaration on the front page of the paper and then they reach back and ask Treasury, ‘Is there some way you can justify these utterances from the Treasurer?’—but we also have these documents released under FOI which make it absolutely clear that there is no way of justifying the statements of the Treasurer. There is no substance to his claim that the actions he is taking on banking competition will have any positive impacts whatsoever.
If you do not believe the coalition, the banking sector or consumers and small business, who are suffering under this government, believe the Treasury document. The Treasury document lists a litany of errors and misjudgments and says to the Treasurer, ‘Mate, do you really think this is a good idea?’ There are pages and pages saying: ‘I know you have made the statement but stop digging. You are corroding the confidence in the economy and you are making statements that add nothing to competition in the banking sector.’
The shadow Treasurer has outlined page after page of the impact of the Treasurer’s headline statement, ‘Let’s bank mortgage exit fees’. Treasury makes the point that if you do that it is going to put upward pressure on interest rates, because there are costs in exiting a mortgage. If you are not going to pick up the costs from those exiting their mortgage you will have to pick them up somewhere else, and you will effectively see everybody else with that bank having to cover for the costs of one of the customers deciding to exit their mortgage. So people who might be happy with their mortgage—or maybe in this current climate are less unhappy than others—who choose to stay put will actually carry the cost of those who are planning to move.
As to the other recommendation in here about this being something that needs to be reconsidered, the point is: where are those funding changes going to come from? Imagine a banking cost balloon. The point in this Treasury document is that if you artificially squeeze one part of the balloon it will blow out somewhere else. It makes the point that there will be upward pressure on other fees and that there will also be a problem with establishment fees and the ongoing costs of operating those lending instruments.
When you read further you find that it actually says that the Treasurer could argue that these fees are unconscionable under existing law, but then it says, ‘But they might not be’. You actually need to make the case. You actually need to show how the fees being charged are completely out of whack with the cost to the bank. It actually says in here that there is an option—a cunning plan that only our corrosion-enforcing and -inflicting Treasurer could come up with. The option is that, under the definition of what is an ‘unconscionable fee’ under the National Consumer Credit Protection Act, you do not actually test whether it is unconscionable; you just say it is—declare it to be unconscionable even where there has been no effort to actually prove that point.
The document goes on further and actually talks about the coalition’s banking competition plan. Remember that price-signalling bill and the price-signalling gap in the competition law that has been raised with this government over and over again. In this FOI document there is evidence of reports being given to the Deputy Prime Minister at the time about the fact that they had been urged to take action on this. But would the government take action on it? No. the government had to wait until Joe Hockey, on behalf of the coalition, announced our banking competition plan. It had to wait until we introduced the anticompetitive price-signalling bill. The FOI document actually says to the Treasurer, ‘If you’re going to venture down the path of anticompetitive price signalling, actually make competition better.’ What the government have come up with is to say, ‘We’ve got this price-signalling power,’ but they are not even going to test whether it is anticompetitive. They just want to look like they are doing something. And if there is information out there that is pro competitive, pro consumers, you can still get cleaned up under the government’s bill but you do not get cleaned up under the coalition’s bill.
When you read through these pages and pages you see that the document outlines time and time again the error of the government’s ways and the risk for the banking sector and their customers. Small business is doing it tough. This is the Harvey Norman of government policy—no interest in the impact on small business for four years. That is why we should be debating this issue. (Time expired)
This is a distraction in order to delay the matter of public importance that has been selected by you, Mr Speaker, to be debated before this House—that is, the matter of public importance moved by the member for Chifley in the following terms:
The urgent need for leadership to re-affirm our commitment to a non-discriminatory immigration policy for Australia’s future.
This is desperation from the Leader of the Opposition. It is very interesting that he could not actually pick any of his factional mates to do this; he had to pick the shadow Treasurer and the member for Dunkley to do this—two people who have, I think, a very proud record on issues relating to migration and who are prepared to stand up within their party against the extremists who would press buttons in order to seek political advantage. Today, on the doors, the member for Gippsland said:
You’d have to suggest that what the polls are saying to us is we have to get our act together. That is a clear message to us in the coalition. We’ve had a bad couple of weeks. There’s no point gilding the lily on that point.
Indeed, they have had a shocker of a couple of weeks! The backbencher, the member for Gippsland, went on to say:
There’s a message there to the traitors in the ranks. There’s people in our ranks who think they can climb over the corpses of their colleagues to get themselves further ahead in their political careers …
They had a crisis in the party room this morning. They had a crisis over the member for Cook’s private member’s motion that came before the parliament last night. He moved a motion to cap the number of visas given to asylum seekers who arrive by boat. He was taken on in the party room this morning by Judi Moylan, who broke ranks to challenge the member for Cook’s motion and called for an end to the historical rhetoric over the issue of refugees.
Mr Speaker, on a point of order: the motion to suspend standing orders is very clear and specific. There are five points to it. None of them would allow the Leader of the House to traverse the subjects that he is now traversing. I would ask you to bring him back to the suspension—
The Manager of Opposition Business will resume his seat. The mover and seconder went beyond the suspension of standing orders and I allowed that. The Leader of the House knows he must relate his comments to the suspension, and I thought that that was what he was doing.
Absolutely, Mr Speaker. The Manager of Opposition Business was instructed by the Leader of the Opposition to move that point of order because he will do anything to distract from this debate. The reason why we should not suspend standing orders is that we should hear from the member for Chifley, because he knows firsthand what the grubs opposite are prepared to do when it comes to migration.
They will do anything to stop debate, because the member for Chifley, when he was the candidate for Greenway, saw firsthand what the Liberal Party was prepared to do. We have seen a lot. For those in the cheap seats, here is a recap of the last couple of weeks. We saw the Leader of the Opposition kick things off by emailing people to ask them to donate to the Liberal Party instead of helping to rebuild Queensland. As he was sending out that email, he found another one from One Nation, and that is when he decided he should cut the Indonesian schools program as was recommended by One Nation.
Mr Speaker, on a point of order: I am well aware of the tolerance given to debates on matters of public importance and other kinds of motions, but he is not speaking to any of the points in this suspension at all. What he is doing is slagging off the opposition—
I certainly am, and that is why we should get on with the motion moved by the member for Chifley. That is why you have moved this suspension: to avoid this debate. We know that the member for Cook has embarrassed many people of decency in the coalition. We know also, as a result of the comments by the member for Cook when he said on 15 February, ‘If relatives of those who were involved wanted to go to Christmas Island, like any other Australian who wanted to attend a funeral service in another part of the country, they would have made their own arrangements to be there,’ the Leader of the Opposition backed it up—
Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. You have twice upheld the point of order of the Manager of Opposition Business. Again the minister at the dispatch box is flouting your ruling. I would ask you to ask him to return to the question of the suspension.
The Leader of the Opposition, in response to the member for Cook’s comments, said this:
That’s a fair point and I guess I am curious as to why that couldn’t have happened and I’m also curious as to why rellies are being flown around the country.
Mr Speaker, on a point of order: the fact that the standing orders regarding suspensions were changed in a previous parliament does not mean that the Leader of the House can speak on any subject he wants. It does not allow him to say whatever he wants. We will shortly go to the MPI. Are you ruling, Mr Speaker, that he can speak on any subject he wishes?
The fact is: the reason we should not suspend standing orders is that we should get on with the MPI debate. They will do anything to avoid this debate, because we know that the Leader of the Opposition’s own parliamentary secretary went out there last week on radio—