House debates

Tuesday, 27 November 2018


Banking and Financial Services

7:49 pm

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

I want to use this time this evening to provide a bit of an update for the House on the discussions Labor's been conducting with bank victims around Australia. Labor has been calling for a banking royal commission for a long time now, and at a time when it was actually quite controversial to be doing so. It's not a secret that those on the other side of the chamber did not want a royal commission into banking. They fought it with everything they had. The Prime Minister voted 26 times against holding a banking royal commission and he called it 'a populist whinge'.

When the government was dragged, kicking and screaming, into this accountability that was so obviously necessary, they didn't really give the royal commission the time that it needed to have a look at this; that would have involved bank victims. One of the consequences of that is that, of 10,000 bank victims who made a submission to the royal commission, just 27 have had their chance to tell their story. We believe these people who have lost so much at the hands of the big banks in particular have a very serious right to participate in this debate. In fact, we actually need them to participate in the debate because there is no-one better in this country to tell you how we can fix this sector than people who have suffered at the hands of it.

For that reason, Labor has been conducting discussions with bank victims around Australia. It's not a replacement for a royal commission. It's not even second-best to a royal commission; it's something much further down the list. Nonetheless, we are doing the very best we can to try to provide those people with a voice and an opportunity to tell their story. We would have liked to have seen the royal commission extended so that more of those victims were able to tell their stories in public, which I think they are entitled to do. Nonetheless, we're doing the best we can to provide them with an opportunity. Members of my party and I have spoken to victims from Perth to Launceston, from Adelaide to Karratha, to Frankston, to Newcastle and to Brisbane. I want to share some of the outcomes of those discussions.

The first thing I really want the parliament to understand is how incredibly damaged and hurt people have been by some of the things that the banks have done. I've been disgusted by some of the things that I have heard. I think there are stories that I have heard in some of these roundtables that would make the skin of every single person who sits this this chamber crawl. I've heard of behaviour by the banks that is inhuman, virtually, in the way people have been treated—some people who are going through the worst thing that's ever happened to them in their lives.

One of the things that's really important to understand is that when I speak to people outside of this community of bank victims they say, 'People borrowed too much, they did the wrong thing.' In some instances that's the case, but in other instances it's not. I've dealt with a lot of people through this process who are victims of wrongdoing by the banks, and the banks took them to court for some reason. We're supporting a woman in Melbourne who owned her own house and was a victim of bank fraud by CBA. The bank took her house when she didn't repay a mortgage she never took out, and still today, 12 years later, she is trying to reach a settlement with the Commonwealth Bank of Australia. That's just one example of so many stories I hear at every single one of these roundtables. I hear about people who have got lifelong mental health impacts, people who have lost homes and farms that had been in their family for generations, people who have had marriage breakdowns, and people who have had illness emerge.

One of the other issues I want to make sure is put on record is the way some of the banks have abused the legal system in order to get an outcome they want and to prevent access to justice for people in this country who are using bank services. It is not uncommon—in every roundtable, in fact—that the key issue is the way the banks have used the law to stop people from getting something that in many instances I believe they're entitled to. I frequently talk to people who are representing themselves in supreme courts around this country, and opposite them sit two law partners, a QC and a bunch of junior lawyers. That's who they're meant to be arguing with in a court of law in Australia. What I see is a legal system that is stacked against these people. We should not have laws in this parliament that support the big end of town against the little guy. That's an issue that Labor is very much looking at at the moment.

I want to quickly mention the failure of FOS and AFCA to deal properly with these disputes. This is an issue that must be looked at.

Can I finally say the government still has the opportunity to do the right thing and extend the royal commission and provide these people with a voice. They have lost so much. They are entitled to participate in this debate—not through our roundtable process but through the proper royal commission which allows them to voice their concerns. (Time expired)