Monday, 19 June 2017
Major Bank Levy Bill 2017, Treasury Laws Amendment (Major Bank Levy) Bill 2017; In Committee
As I mentioned in my speech on the second reading, there are couple of elements of this bill which I, as a Liberal, do not like. It does open the way for future governments to have a super profits tax, and that raises the issue of how we can argue against that in the future, in the next 10 to 15 years, when there might be another government in power. But I am persuaded, because of the need to repair Labor's mess in the budget, that we have to do something. I am prepared to go along with that. I also acknowledge the argument that this is a sort of payment or licence fee for the guarantee that the Australian taxpayers give to these banks, as they did in the time of the global financial crisis and more broadly.
On balance, as I mentioned to my speech on the second reading, I do not really like it, but I am prepared to support it. But I do refer the minister to the recommendations of the Economics Legislation Committee—which, I might say, has a government majority—which had unanimous recommendations. There are five recommendations there, which I know the Treasurer would be aware of. I really want to confirm the government's position, particularly on recommendation 4, which I will summarise very briefly by saying it was all about the fact that it was raised with us that the Treasurer, if the economic and financial situation of the banks became quite critical—hopefully it never happens—but it was pointed out to us that currently the Treasurer was unable to give any relief in those extreme circumstances. We hope and expect they will never happen, but the committee thought that in that event it would be a good idea to give the Treasurer that ability and flexibility in those extreme circumstances to suspend the application of the levy. The committee was hopeful that the government would adopt that amendment. All of the amendments were done by the committee in good faith and after hearing the evidence.
I will spend a couple of seconds on recommendation 1. It was put to us—and I personally agreed with this—that this is a budget repair levy and when the budget is repaired the levy should stop. I easily equated to that view. But the committee took a more moderate approach, saying: 'Well, let's have a look at whether we should look at stopping the levy when the budget is repaired. This has been sold to the Australian public as a budget repair measure and, once the budget is repaired, why do you continue on with a levy which many Liberals do not like?' We do not like it because, again, I will briefly mention, profit is not a dirty word. The banks make profits, and we hope they do make profits. As Senator Bernardi said, 'The only thing worse than a very, very profitable bank is an unprofitable bank. We do not want them.' There are lots of mums and dads who are shareholders in banks and they want the banks to make profits. Of course, the biggest shareholders in the banks are the superannuation funds, who want the banks to make money so that they get big dividends so that they can adjust their superannuation payouts to all of us in Australia to look after us all in retirement.
The committee thought, as a mid-way post, that in two years the government should refer this back—not to an independent group or to some other organisation to assist—to the same committee, the Senate Economics Committee, to have a look to see whether the policy was fulfilling its stated objectives—that is, is it repairing the budget? Also, to look at the effect of competition on the banking market—let's have a look at that in a couple of years—and in two-years' time, after the levy has been working for two years, to see whether it is required in perpetuity, which is the current legislation as I understand it, and where it is going. It is there forever; it is not just until the budget is repaired. I would have hoped that in two years the—