Monday, 18 February 2019
National Consumer Credit Protection Amendment (Small Amount Credit Contract and Consumer Lease Reforms) Bill 2018; Second Reading
That this bill be now read a second time.
It is difficult to fathom why this bill, which seeks to protect vulnerable consumers from the unscrupulous practices of many operators in the business of payday lending and rent-to-buy schemes, is now being introduced to this House for the third time. That's right; it is no less than the third time this bill, drafted by the government, drafted by those opposite, has been brought before this House.
The provisions of this bill have been very well ventilated in this chamber, but I think it is very important to go through the history of this reform process that should have delivered by now a fairer, more just small-amount credit and consumer lease system in this country.
There is widespread support for this reform. There used to be support from this government for this reform. It has been fully 811 days since this part-time government accepted all the recommendations of the independent Review of Small Amount Credit Contracts, carried out in 2015. After the now Treasurer and member for Kooyong started the review process some 1,291 days ago—that's 3½ years ago—the then minister responsible, the member for Higgins, accepted the time was right to place some restraints on unscrupulous payday lenders and consumer lessors preying upon vulnerable consumers. Again, that was 811 days ago.
Nearly a year later in October 2017, the next minister responsible and now Deputy Prime Minister, the member for Riverina, released an exposure draft of the legislation, pledging that the government would implement small-amount credit contract and consumer lease reforms. If I could remind the House of the solid support the now Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister for Small Business, the member for Riverina, had for this bill that I present today. I quote from a media release of his:
Minister for Small Business Michael McCormack said these reforms will increase financial inclusion and reduce the likelihood of vulnerable consumers defaulting on repayments and encountering difficulties meeting their basic needs.
The commitment of this government to do something to protect vulnerable consumers is widely welcomed, but, just as they began to do the right thing by consumers, powerful interests brought this government to heel. The interests had this government voting 26 times against a royal commission into the misconduct of banks. The loan sharks, consumer lease companies bludging off the government purse as they are bankrolled by the out-of-control Centrepay system—they got organised, and the coalition parliamentary friends of payday lending swung into action. The next minister responsible, the member for Deakin, started the go-slow, and this bill disappeared from the legislative agenda of this government.
So, while protecting vulnerable Australian consumers fell off the agenda of this government, what didn't fall off the agenda was leadership spills and ministerial reshuffles. These have continued enthusiastically, and now there is another assistant Treasurer in the portfolio: the member for Fadden and co-convenor of the Liberal-National parliamentary friends of payday lending loan sharks. Maybe this minister will be the last in the conga line of incompetents that will deal—or, in this case, will not deal—with payday lending reforms.
To be clear, this bill replicates exactly what this government in the draft legislation, word for word, presented to this House, to the public in October 2017. And what's the latest excuse for not bringing in this reform, for not supporting the first time this bill was presented and then the second time? The crossbench introduced this reform last year? And now the third time it comes in today. Well, the last excuse was the royal commission itself. The member for Fadden came into this place and used the royal commission as an excuse to not take any further action into this bill, into the very bill that they drafted. His words on 23 October 2018 in this place were:
We'll sit and wait for the royal commission's advice.
Well, the findings of the royal commission are in. The time for sitting and waiting is over, Assistant Treasurer. You've had this report for 18 days. You've been consulting on your draft legislation for 483 days, since October 2017. Your government supported the intent of this bill 111 days ago.
The royal commission into banks was never an adequate excuse to delay these reforms, but now even that's not an excuse. There are no excuses left. Time is up on this government. Like bad sports, though, this part-time government continues to run down the clock. The Liberal-National parliamentary friends of payday lending have spent years—literally years—running down the clock and, with only seven sitting days of this parliament left, they were going to keep stalling and they will continue to fail Australian consumers.
It is a government so bitterly divided that its conservative backbenchers rolled the cabinet on this very legislation that the government drafted and the cabinet agreed to two years ago. The power of backbenchers in this government to roll sensible reform to payday lending and consumer leases beggars belief, and this country could understandably be very disappointed.
This government has some pretty exceptional form of delay tactics. It held back the royal commission into the misconduct of banks for some 18 months but its delay on reforming payday lending and consumer leasing is in another league, and Australia will not thank this government for its delays during which another 150,000 households have signed up for payday loans in the current predatory environment. It is a shocking shame this government has been able to waft through this place, ignore the review that it commissioned in 2015, ignore its statements, ignore its cabinet ministers—the member for Riverina, the member for Higgins—and then go and pretend that the need to protect Australian consumers is unnecessary.
Those opposite don't care. They don't care about protecting Australian consumers. It's time to support this bill, like the crossbench have supported it before, like Labor has. We will continue to push to get adequate protections for vulnerable customers from payday loan sharks and dodgy operators in the consumer leasing space.
I second the motion. Thank you to the shadow minister and member for Brand for her leadership on this issue, alongside every single Labor member of the opposition who has been standing up for over 800,000 Australian households which have been ripped off by the loan sharks in this country—the member for Lalor, the Shadow Treasurer, the member for Mayo, the member for Indi and the Leader of the Opposition. It has been this side of the chamber and the crossbench that have been standing up for vulnerable Australians. We know, just like the banking royal commission and just like every other important issue, it has been this side of the chamber under the leadership of the Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, who have taken the ability to act. We saw last week, just like throughout the entire 45th Parliament, a government more interested in fighting amongst themselves, shutting down this parliament, turning it into a part-time parliament than dealing with the issues of this nation.
I want to go through a couple of quick figures which mean something to this bill today. The first is seven—the potential seven days we have left of this term of parliament to take action. The second is, as the member for Brand said, 1,291 days—this is the number of days it has been passed since the government announced a review into the out-of-control payday loan sector. The third is 24—the number of recommendations from the report into small amount credit contractors and consumer leases which the government proudly announced they supported and would take action on. But here we are with a handful of sitting days left before this government runs out of puff, knowing that 800,000 Australians are continuing to be ripped off by the loan sharks. What's worse is those opposite don't care. They are not interested in the issues facing working and average Australians.
After writing to the Prime Minister last year asking him to honour the former Prime Minister's words in writing to me, saying that this bill would be introduced, I got a weak response from the assistant minister to the Prime Minister saying it was outsourced to the part-time Assistant Treasurer. We know that the Assistant Treasurer and member for Fadden is on record saying that we will wait until the royal commission and then we will take action. Well, where is it? Where is the reform? Where is the protection for vulnerable Australians? It is not good enough. We are sick to the back teeth. I ask members of the government: go meet with the charity and community sectors, listen to the stories of people who have been ripped off day in, day out.
I'm urging the government to act on this issue. We have been waiting for years for something to be done. Sadly, I'm not going to hold my breath, because, when it comes to protecting those who need it, those opposite are found wanting, time and again. I call on the government: bring on the debate today, stand up for those people, bring the vote to this parliament and let the Australian people have a vote on this issue. Stop being worried about losing votes on the floor of the parliament and start acting for the people of Australia. We will not let this issue go. We will keep standing up for frail and vulnerable Australians. (Time expired)