House debates

Monday, 18 February 2019


Treasury Laws Amendment (Enhancing Whistleblower Protections) Bill 2018; Second Reading

12:44 pm

Photo of Craig KellyCraig Kelly (Hughes, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

) ( ): I am pleased to rise this afternoon and speak on the Treasury Laws Amendment (Enhancing Whistleblower Protections) Bill 2018. Whistleblowing plays a crucial role in uncovering corporate and tax misconduct. It is a key means of combating poor compliance cultures by ensuring that companies, officers and staff know that misconduct will be reported. The opaque and complex nature of corporate crime makes it difficult for law enforcement to detect abusive practices. In many cases, corporate crime is only detected because individuals come forward, in many cases at significant personal and financial risk.

The importance of protecting whistleblowers has been recognised for many years. However, while protections allegedly form part of the Corporations Act 2001, since 2004 they have been sparingly used and are increasingly perceived as inadequate, having regard to advances in the public sector and overseas. Currently, there are no specific protections for tax whistleblowers, and the range of secrecy and privacy provisions relied upon are incapable of guaranteeing absolute protection.

That is why, in the 2016-17 budget, the coalition government announced greater protections for those who disclose information about tax misconduct to the Australian Taxation Office. This will further strengthen the integrity of Australia's tax system. Active protection of whistleblowers to encourage them to make disclosures is essential, and the government is determined to ensure that it has the right legislative settings in place to achieve this, while at the same time ensuring disclosures can be fully investigated and that procedural fairness is provided to those who may be subject of a disclosure. That is why the government, led by the former Minister for Revenue and Financial Services Kelly O'Dwyer, committed to creating more transparency and accountability in business, by strengthening the current framework to ensure both corporate and tax whistleblowers can be confident of protection and greater incentives to make a disclosure. This legislation delivers on the government's 2016 budget commitments to protect individuals who blow the whistle on tax avoidance behaviour, tax evasion and other misconduct. It delivers on the government's commitment in Australia's first Open Government National Action Plan, released in 2016.

To have an open, transparent and fair tax regime is very important to making sure that we are attracting capital and that that capital is being invested where it can be put to the most productive uses. When we look at our overall tax scheme, we must be concerned about the 30 per cent rate of corporate tax that is payable in Australia and how that is internationally competitive with other jurisdictions. We are up against tax regimes in Hong Kong and Singapore, where tax rates are 15 and 17 per cent. In the UK, they are reducing their tax rate down to less than 20 per cent, and in the US we are seeing one of the biggest reductions in the US rate of corporate tax. We have to consider how much longer Australia can maintain that 30 per cent rate of corporate tax.

There have often been great concerns that, if we did reduce that rate of tax, it would somehow cut into government revenue. But our history tells us the exact opposite. If we look at our history from when Paul Keating reduced the corporate rate of tax to when Peter Costello and John Howard reduced the tax, surprisingly, and this applied every single time, the actual tax revenue that flowed into the Treasury was greater—not only in real dollar terms and nominal dollar terms but also as a percentage of GDP at the lower rate of tax. There is no guarantee that that will happen in the future, but we need to be very careful in monitoring the international situation to ensure that Australia's corporate rate of tax remains internationally competitive.

Apart from the corporate rate of tax in Australia, there is also the application of franking credits, a system that was introduced by Labor and backed by Labor governments past, because they understood that this was an important method to get capital creation into the Australian economy, to make sure that there was encouragement for savings and investment and that new businesses and new business opportunities could be taken up in Australia. That was the principle behind the franking credits. But what we see is a proposal—which is unfair, which is discriminatory and which is regressive—to change the application of franking credits in the Australian taxation system. What this ultimately does is separate a clear ideological fault line between those who sit on that side of the House and those who sit on this side. On this side, we fundamentally believe that, at first instance, the profits of a business belong to the shareholders. It is the shareholders who have put up the capital and taken the risk. The profits of the business belong to the shareholders and, if that profit is then distributed to those shareholders, it is taxed at their marginal rate of taxation. That is what we believe, and we believe that should apply the same for a sole trader, whether profits are earned in a partnership or whether the profits are earned by a business using a corporate structure. The 30 per cent tax rate is effectively a withholding tack. It is a tax for foreign investors. For Australian shareholders and Australian investors, it has been the policy of both sides of this chamber that that belongs to the individual.

The Labor Party don't believe the profits belong to the individual but to the business. We have a progressive marginal individual taxation rate in this nation. Those who earn between $0 and $18,200 pay no tax. We decided that is fair. Low-income earners who earn below $18,000 pay no individual rate of tax. From $18,200 to $37,000, for every extra dollar they earn, they pay 19c tax. Above $37,000 and up to $80,000, they pay 32½c tax in every additional dollar. From $80,000 to $180,000, it is 37c for every extra dollar earned, and above $180,000 it is 45c in the dollar. Of course, the Medicare levy is on top of that.

Photo of Steve GeorganasSteve Georganas (Hindmarsh, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! The member for Fenner with a point of order?

Photo of Andrew LeighAndrew Leigh (Fenner, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

Fascinated as I am by the member for Hughes's recitation of the tax scales, I wonder if you might direct him to be relevant to the bill before the House.

Photo of Steve GeorganasSteve Georganas (Hindmarsh, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I have been listening to the member for Hughes, and he has wandered off a bit. It is about enhancing whistleblower protections. The member for Hughes may continue.

Photo of Craig KellyCraig Kelly (Hughes, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Firstly, on the point of order, if I may: this bill is about tax. It involves the corporate rate of tax in Australia. It involves the Corporations Act. It is a very-wide-ranging bill and, when it comes to whistleblower protection, whether the taxation system is fair, whether it is discriminatory or whether it is regressive plays a great part in the legislation requirements of whistleblower protection. So I was getting back to the provisions of the bill and also of our taxation system.

To have whistleblower protection and to have a fair and adequate tax system, it must be fair and transparent to all. That is a fundamental point of not only this piece of legislation but the entire principles of our tax system. If we're going to have a tax system where one class of Australians is discriminated against and pays different rates of tax on their income that they earn, this is unfair! This is discriminatory. This is regressive. And it is entirely contrary to the principles of this legislation. So, it doesn't surprise me that the shadow Treasurer jumped up to the despatch box and tried to shut down debate on this because—I apologise. I withdraw. He's not the shadow Treasurer. He got demoted. My apologies to the member for Fenner. No wonder he wants to get to the dispatch box and try to shut down debate on this issue. I believe in heart of heart that the member for Fenner knows that the proposed changes are unfair, he knows that they are discriminatory and, most of all, being a good Labor man, he knows that they are regressive. And yet he would prefer to have the debate entirely shut down. I would hope that a few members like the member for Fenner and others on the other side of the chamber gain their voices and speak up. Speak up for the low-income earners of this mission. You want to speak up for whistleblowers? That's fine. Also speak up for the low-income earners of this nation. If you're elected to government, you want to put in a policy that will reduce their incomes by up to 25 per cent. You are coming after people on incomes of less than $25,000—

Photo of Steve GeorganasSteve Georganas (Hindmarsh, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! The member for Hughes is straying again. The bill is the Treasury Laws Amendment (Enhancing Whistleblower Protections) Bill 2018. I ask that he come back to the bill.

Photo of Craig KellyCraig Kelly (Hughes, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the Deputy Speaker. I will come back to the provisions of the bill.

The Open Government National Action Plan was developed collaboratively by the government and civil society. The plan consists of a package of 15 commitments that aim to advance transparency, accountability, public participation and technological innovation in Australia. I will say that again: transparency, accountability, public participation and technological innovation. We need to encourage people to put their savings into Australian companies, to create jobs in this country and to create those technological innovations that will lift our productivity and lift real wages.

Yet there are those in this House that want to see a taxation system that encourages investment in overseas shares. They want to change the playing field and move the goalposts. Investment has happened in Australian businesses and Australian shares listed on the ASX, but they are now to be put at a disadvantage so that there will be encouragement in investment in money overseas. That is not only unfair, that is not only discriminatory, that is not only regressive; that is also anti-Australian. On this side of the House we will call that out every single day of the week.

Stronger whistleblower protection is the first commitment of the plan. It is designed to support the plan's objective of enhancing Australia's reputation for responsible, transparent and accountable business practices. How can we have accountable business practices where one class of Australians has to pay a 30 per cent marginal rate of tax on the first dollar that they earn? The government's commitment is to ensure that Australia has appropriate protections in place for people who report corruption, fraud, tax evasion or avoidance and misconduct within the corporate sector. This will be achieved by introducing whistleblower protections for people who disclose information about tax misconduct to Australian Taxation Office, and it will strengthen and harmonise corporate whistleblower protections for those in the public sector.

Specifically, the commitment will strengthen whistleblower protections and will advance the Open Government Partnership values of public accountability and transparency by encouraging, protecting and compensating whistleblowers whose information reveals artificial tax structures and misconduct. We don't want to see artificial tax structures in this country. We want to see that no Australian is discriminated against in the rate of tax that they should have to pay. It's a marginal rate of tax. Everyone should be under the same rules— (Time expired)

12:58 pm

Photo of Andrew LeighAndrew Leigh (Fenner, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

Whistleblowers play an important role in enforcing our corporate laws. When investigative journalist Bastian Obermayer received millions of leaked files from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, he set in place events which would shake the foundations of many tax structures around the word. The release of the so-called 'Panama Papers' showed that shell countries were perpetrating tax fraud and dodging global sanctions. It led to the resignation of the Icelandic prime minister and other prominent officials. Within Australia, the Australian tax office began investigations into 800 people identified in what became known as the Panama Papers.

Indeed, the very notion that whistleblowers may be protected and even rewarded provides an incentive for firms to do the right thing. A recent economic study by Eli Amir, Adi Lazar and Shai Levi looked at Israel's tax whistleblowing scheme and found that it significantly increased the amount of tax paid, particularly in industries that were especially prone to tax evasion. Once firms knew that there was an incentive for employees to report tax dodging, the amount of tax collected increased significantly.

Whistleblowers play a role which has been argued by some to be more important than auditors in detecting corporate fraud. Analysing hundreds of cases of US corporate fraud, a study by Alex Dyck, Adair Morse and Luigi Zingales found that the Securities and Exchange Commission caught just seven per cent of those cases. Auditors detected 10 per cent, the media uncovered 13 per cent and employees exposed 17 per cent. On that metric, employees were exposing more than twice as many corporate fraud cases as the Securities and Exchange Commission itself. So it is critical that those who blow the whistle shouldn't be punished, and it's vital that we ensure that there is not inappropriate blowback against whistleblowers. One study found that four-fifths of employees who disclosed corporate fraud were fired, quit under duress or had significantly altered responsibilities. Given this, as Alex Dyck and his co-authors note, 'The surprising part is not that most employees do not talk; it's that some talk at all.'

This bill is a modest step towards protecting whistleblowers. It ensures, in limited circumstances, that disclosures to the media and parliamentarians are protected. But it only protects corporate and financial sector whistleblowers who go to the media after first going to the regulator and where there is a risk to human life or safety, or a threat to the financial system. This bill doesn't protect external disclosures to tax whistleblowers. That's why, as the member for Hotham has said, Labor will recommend a Senate inquiry to investigate the limitations of this bill. As Professor AJ Brown, a leading expert in whistleblower protections, has said, this bill is 'a limited step' and 'more a sideways than a forward step on key issues'.

It has been, by contrast, Labor that have led the debate around ensuring appropriate protection and rewards for whistleblowers. We've said that, if elected, we'll set up a whistleblower reward scheme, establish a whistleblower protection authority, overhaul our whistleblowing laws with a single whistleblowing act and fund a special prosecutor to bring corporate criminals to justice. The issue of whistleblowers has been highlighted in the banking royal commission, in which a number of the key disclosures were only possible because whistleblowers and bank victims came forward and because Labor listened and from 2016 began to call for a royal commission into the banks, which was voted against 26 times by this government.

Blowing the whistle on crime and misconduct is incredibly difficult. Those who do so face reprisals, and many choose not to come forward because they are concerned that they might suffer as a result. So Labor have said that, in the case of whistleblowers, we believe it's appropriate for them to receive a part of the penalty. We announced this policy in the case of tax cases two years ago, and it was announced in the case of corporate fraud cases by the Leader of the Opposition, the shadow Attorney-General and the shadow minister for financial services on 3 February. We've said that the relevant investigatory or law enforcement authority will have the discretion to determine the level of the reward within a legislated range, and it will be funded by additional penalties collected by the government.

It has been, however, described by the Minister for Jobs and Industrial Relations, Kelly O'Dwyer, as a 'whacky' proposal. Well, let's look at how 'whacky' it is to reward whistleblowers. I's so 'whacky' that it's been done since Roman times in the form of qui tam lawsuits. It's so 'whacky' that it was done by Britain for a number of years. It is so 'whacky' that it has been an established part of the US system under the False Claims Act, known as the Lincoln Law, for decades. Americans who reveal fraud against their government can collect between 15 and 30 per cent of the money recovered, and since being revamped in 1986, the False Claims Act has recovered more than $40 billion from people who rip-off the US federal government. There's a similar US whistleblower program for tax cases, which has paid out millions of dollars to informants who reveal tax evasion.

Those opposite are very fond of saying we should go down the American path when it comes to low regulation or cutting corporate taxes or having an inadequate public healthcare system. But when it comes to learning from the United States' False Claims Act, they think it's utterly 'whacky'. Well, Labor takes a different view. Labor believes that amending the law to provide greater protection for whistleblowers is appropriate. In the case of those who blow the whistle and lead to more corporate tax paid, the reward would range up to $250,000. Based on the research by Alex Dyck and co-authors, we expect that would uncover tax fraud that would otherwise have remained hidden. Based on the research by Eli Amir and co-authors, we expect it would otherwise lead to firms behaving better than they would have done. We know that whistleblowers can play a valuable role in cracking down on the role of tax havens. Tax avoidance by millionaires and multinationals using tax havens like Panama is a clear and present danger to the global tax base. If we didn't have a whistleblower within Mossack Fonseca then some of their clients would still be bilking the Australian tax payer.

The fact is we need crack down on this egregious form of corporate fraud. Through appropriate whistleblower laws, we can do that. This bill is a very modest step relative to what experts like AJ Brown have advocated. This bill may well improve the regime around whistleblowers but certainly doesn't provide the comprehensive protections that Labor has called for. It doesn't provide the rewards that Labor has called for. It doesn't ensure that we properly crack down on corporate malfeasance.

What was extraordinary during the debate was hearing the member for Hughes say there ought to be more focus on this. To know how much focus there is on this, you need to look at the speaking list. It shows that for every coalition speaker, there are three Labor speakers willing to speak out on whistleblowing. We are willing to come in here, make a strong case for action on whistleblowers; the member for Hughes can't even get through 15 minutes talking about whistleblowers. He has to go off, wandering around like Brown's Cows, talking about the tax scales. We on this side of the House are focused on the issue of whistleblowers. We will put in place, under a Shorten Labor government if we're fortunate enough to win the election, tough and comprehensive laws for whistleblowers, which will ensure they do their job of protecting Australians from corporate rip-offs, from tax rip-offs, from the sharks and the shonks which used to be the target of the Liberal Party, but these days make up its base.

1:08 pm

Photo of Jason FalinskiJason Falinski (Mackellar, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'd like to thank the member for Fenner, who criticised the member for Hughes for not being able to make it through 15 minutes but managed to fail to do that himself—not that I would encourage him to speak longer for the sake of speaking longer! When we look at this Treasury Laws Amendment (Enhancing Whistleblower Protections) Bill 2018, I think it is important that we start from the first basis. The first basis of whistleblowing legislation is the removal of corruption in a systemic sense from institutions whether they be government, corporate or, indeed, charitable and political institutions. The reason that it is important for this parliament, indeed, for our society, to make sure that corruption does not become a way of life in any of these institutions should be apparent to all of us. But it is the normalisation of abhorrent behaviour which is what we seek to avoid and what every society must seek to avoid. Once it takes hold, like a cancer, it becomes very, very difficult to separate it and to remove it from the corporal body of our society. As such, what we do here in this regard is very important.

I am reminded of John F Kennedy, who was the first modern president to hold televised press conferences. He promised during his election campaign that he would make these press conferences regular, and he held about five a year. It was considered to be something of a remarkable thing that the President of the United States would make himself available five times a year to be questioned by reporters. Of course, in a Westminster system, this is something that would be seen as remarkable if it didn't happen weekly. Nonetheless, he was once asked, 'Would you prefer to live in the Soviet system'—where Nikita Khrushchev was at that point the Supreme Leader of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the Communist Party—'where you have complete and absolute control over what the media says and does?' John F Kennedy was taken aback initially by the question—because obviously, I don't think there is a politician anywhere in the world who wouldn't like to be able to tell the media what they should and shouldn't be allowed to say and, indeed, get them to apologise when they don't say it properly—but he thought carefully about it and realised that, in actual fact, the inherent advantages in a free press, in freedom of speech, and, indeed, in allowing people to call out corruption no matter where it is taking place and no matter what their station in life is, were critical to a free society. He said something that I think was quite remarkable when you think about it from the viewpoint of the 1960s, which was that the advantage of a free system is not its efficiency but is, indeed, its dynamism, its ability to adapt and meet people's needs. Marx, when he was writing Das Kapital said that the benefit of capitalism is its ability to adapt and change—so the problems that I foresee today will not be problems that capitalism has tomorrow—and how true that has proven to be.

In Kennedy's answer is, I think, the key to why whistleblower legislation is so important. It's not that we must have a just and fair society. It is not that we must have a free society that respects order and preserves what is best about our society. We must be seen to have those things as well. For a free society to advance and to thrive every participant in it must believe critically that that society gives them the opportunity that they may not have in any other system to participate in the opportunities and benefits that that society provides and that is capable of being provided by that society. It is not good enough, in other words, for people to believe that the system is rigged against them.

I sometimes think when I stand in this place that it is most unfortunate that we have over and over again the perception of political leaders telling younger Australians that they have no hope and that they have no future because the system is horribly rigged against them. This legislation, more than anything else, will ensure that that perception, that claim, never becomes a reality. Above and beyond all else, it ensures that people who take the critical step of blowing the whistle on what they see as aberrant behaviour are doing something that none of us can ever do from Canberra. They are behaving as individuals in their place and at their time with knowledge that cannot be contained by a single person to point to the aberrant behaviour that otherwise may go unnoticed, unreported and certainly uncorrected. That is why whistleblower legislation is so important.

I note that the minister at the table, Mr Irons, is the former chair of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Corporations and Financial Services, one of the best committees to be a member of in this parliament—and not just because Senator John Williams is a member but also because it does great work.

Photo of Peter KhalilPeter Khalil (Wills, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

And because he buys you lunch!

Photo of Jason FalinskiJason Falinski (Mackellar, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator John Williams has been known to eat lunch and, indeed, have it bought for him. The important thing about what the corporations committee did early in 2017—one of the first inquiries when I came to this place—was to have an inquiry into whistleblower legislation. It was interesting inquiry because I had not really considered it in-depth until that point in time or considered the benefits and costs of not having whistleblower legislation. Certainly, there are the benefits I have highlighted. There is more to be highlighted in this piece of legislation in front of us, as to protecting people.

There was a particular professor—Professor AJ Brown, who is from a Queensland university—who was very knowledgeable and, more importantly, very wise on this issue. I thought he posed some important questions to us. One was whether we should have an omnibus or a single point of protection for people who wish to make a whistleblower claim. In discussing that, I actually ended up disagreeing with him, and this legislation points to why. In a legislative approach, having competing legislation actually ensures that we can test different provisions and we can determine whether those provisions are being used or abused.

For example, in the United States, Abraham Lincoln—one of my favourite political leaders and certainly one of the wisest who I've read about—introduced a piece of whistleblower legislation that talked about how if you called out a piece of corruption then you, as the whistleblower, were entitled to a percentage of the damage that that was doing. The result of this in the United States—being the United States—has been that people and, in particular, law firms have industrialised this and created economies of scale. What you have are private companies being constantly bombarded with claims of corruption by whistleblowers because what they're really after is the 10 or 20 per cent pay-off from the quantum of the alleged corruption.

This has made the whistleblower legislation in the United States very contentious, because people claim that whistleblowers are not coming to the table with clean hands. They claim that whistleblowers are not, despite claims to the adverse, coming to the table with pure motives and that some are motivated by financial pay-off. Some law firms have used such provisions to ensure that people get paid out rather than taking it to court. It is important that this legislation, and Australian legislation, does not go down that avenue does not go down that avenue. What it would do is not create an avenue where corruption and aberrant behaviour was being called out increasingly, but it may in fact create an industrial-scale assault on institutions—government, political and charitable—where you will find that there are people who are not doing what is right.

One of the other points that Professor AJ Brown made, which has stayed with me and I see as encapsulated in this legislation, is that when you see—in another institution—high-profile whistleblowers standing up on merit against corruption and against aberrant behaviour it sends a shock through the cultural institutions across a society. One would have to think—and there have been many fine speeches in this chamber—about some of the corruption and some of the aberrant behaviour in our charitable organisations and, indeed, in some of our churches. There has been a royal commission into that. Many of those crimes—because they were crimes—took place in a time and a place in Australia where it was not seen as appropriate, or not seen as the done thing, to dob on your mate or to call out corruption.

We, as a parliament, must always make it clear that calling out corruption, no matter at what level, and calling out aberrant behaviour, no matter at what level, is part of our Australian culture. When you do it, it protects the institutions on which so many Australians rely and trust. I'm told that, when you look at modern opinion polls, trust in institutions in our contemporary society is much lower than it was at other times in our society. I've always found this to be a matter of irony, because I think that our institutions now are more transparent than they used to be and are certainly less capable of being corrupted than they used to be. When I say irony, as the Speaker would prefer I think of a sense of 'ironical', because what we have is a situation in which these sorts of bills and this sort of legislation ensure that, wherever you are, you can undertake and be clear that where there is aberrant behaviour you can report it and you will be protected in making that report. But it is also important that we must never—we don't do this, but I know some of those opposite are advocating for it—reward a person for making a report. The minute you do that, you introduce a new motive into the system which, of course, creates doubt as to what was motivating that person to make a report.

In the Commonwealth, we've had numerous cases with CommInsure where people made claims and had those claims upheld. One, famously, was for a person who went to a conference overnight, was booked into a hotel room and, during an act of great excitement, managed to bang her head on a lamp. At the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, they found that CommInsure was liable for that person's damages, hurt and injury, because the person was, essentially, there for work. I think most people would say that doesn't pass the pub test. I would say that wanting a bunch of drunk people testing you is quizzical. I don't quite understand why we have the pub test in Australia; I thought you'd want sober people to be judging what you're doing, but, apparently not. Anyway, some people would claim it doesn't meet the pub test: people going on a work function, behaving irresponsibly and then somehow making their employer responsible for their behaviour.

In New South Wales, we have very similar whistleblower legislation to this at the state government level. What we have found is that that legislation has been misused. Effectively, where it's been misused is by employees, who, when a manager calls them in and informs them that they will be performance managed because they are not undertaking their role as required by their employment contract, normally—or not normally, but there have been many instances—instead claim whistleblower protection. Therefore, the performance management must then go on hold while this is investigated for 12 to 24 months. It is important that whatever legislation we put in place achieves the purpose that it was put there for, and is not misused by those who would seek to use it for other reasons.

1:23 pm

Photo of Matt ThistlethwaiteMatt Thistlethwaite (Kingsford Smith, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Treasury) Share this | | Hansard source

I am speaking in support of the Treasury Laws Amendment (Enhancing Whistleblower Protections) Bill 2018. Labor understands the importance of having strong whistleblower protections and laws in our country. That has been highlighted perfectly in the wake of the evidence that's come from the banking and finance royal commission in Australia and the litany of cases in which there's been wrongdoing, rip-offs of customers, scandals and underhanded activities that have been uncovered by people who have been brave enough to blow the whistle on what was going on in that particular industry.

At the outset, I wish to pay tribute to two individuals who did this at the Commonwealth Bank. Of course, there is Jeff Morris, who uncovered what was going on in the wealth management arm of the Commonwealth Bank. Despite his efforts on numerous occasions to contact ASIC and get ASIC to take a look at what was going on in wealth management in the Commonwealth Bank, it took him having to walk into the ASIC offices and demand that they take action before they did. Jeff deserves much praise and credit for uncovering what was going on in the Commonwealth Bank and, indeed, it led to further inquiries into other banks to uncover some of the underhanded behaviour that was occurring in wealth management in Australia. Without his bravery and without his conviction we may not have got to a royal commission and we may not have got to uncover some of the wrongdoing that's been occurring and many of those victims may not have been given the opportunity for compensation where that wrongdoing occurred. The other person is Ben Koh, who was working in a medical capacity for Comminsure and blew the whistle on what was going on in terms of outdated definitions that were being used by this particular insurance company to deny claims to people—and we've seen many cases of that being highlighted in the media recently.

I pay tribute to those two individuals who blew the whistle in Australia on what was going on in banking and finance. But, unfortunately, because of doing so, they have suffered not only in their employment but also with the psychological and health effects that come from doing something like that and the trauma associated with it. It shouldn't be the case. That's why Labor supports strong whistleblower protections in this country. We have a very proud record of providing those protections through legislative action in government. In government we introduced the landmark Public Interest Disclosure Act for public sector whistleblowers. We've already committed to introducing tax whistleblower protections, and we'll push for a stronger and more comprehensive scheme of whistleblower protections in the private sector than is being proposed by the government through this legislation.

The banking and finance royal commission highlighted the appalling and, even arguably, criminal misconduct in the banking sector. It was only because of the actions of brave people like Jeff Morris and Ben Koh that we uncovered those behaviours. The Liberals did everything that they could to protect the banks from that royal commission and to keep some of that misconduct hidden—and for that they stand condemned by not only those on this side of the parliament but also by many Australians who will not forget that this government voted 26 times against a banking royal commission because they didn't want to uncover what was going on in this industry. Despite the fact that people like Jeff Morris had been talking about this for years and had given evidence to Senate and other committee inquiries in this place, the government denied that banking royal commission and only really agreed to it once the four big bank CEOs wrote to the government and said, 'It's okay; you can have the royal commission now. We're sick and tired of all of the controversy around our industry.'

The Prime Minister and the Treasurer's response to the banking royal commission recommendations has, in many respects, been a slap in the face to those whistleblowers who stuck their necks out to uncover what was going on in the industry and those bank victims who wanted to see a swift, strong response from the government to clean up the sector. We all know that they have been tardy in their response and they haven't accepted all of the recommendations.

Mr Irons interjecting

That's why you've been tardy, because you haven't even given one. They've been slow to adopt the recommendations. Labor has committed in principle to the recommendations. We've said that we will act swiftly. That's why we said that the parliament should sit for an additional two weeks to get on with legislating some of these recommendations, because they are urgent and those bank victims deserve the attention of this parliament—not going away for six weeks because the government are afraid of the parliament sitting because of what will happen when it sits. These bank victims deserve the attention of this parliament. We need to ensure that we get on with delivering the legislative responses necessary to clean up this sector and that we act on the advice of people like the whistleblowers that are the subject of these bills.

The fine print shows that, in many instances, the Liberals are taking no action at all or are taking entirely different actions to what's been recommended by Commissioner Hayne. The government's response is full of weasel words and has in many respects abandoned those brave whistleblowers who stood up against this wrongdoing in their workplaces. It's no surprise that the Prime Minister and the Liberals have once again sided with the banks over everyday Australians on these issues. It was Labor that called for the banking royal commission. It was Labor that fought for the banking royal commission. Labor will work day and night to protect Australian businesses and consumers from misconduct and back the whistleblowers who help to expose the shocking behaviours that we have seen in this sector. In this respect, Labor have been consulting over the past two years—

Photo of Kevin HoganKevin Hogan (Page, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 43. The debate may be resumed at a later hour.