Tuesday, 5 December 2017
Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers
Banking and Financial Services
That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Attorney-General (Senator Brandis) to a question without notice asked by Senator Ketter today relating to the proposed Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry.
The question that I asked Senator Brandis related to the issue of the banking royal commission and the incredible about-face that this government has taken in respect of this particular issue. This Prime Minister, for more than 600 days, argued that a banking royal commission will do nothing. There are so many examples of what this Prime Minister and this Treasurer have said over the past 12 months or so to try to avoid the cause of a banking royal commission.
Back in September of last year, we saw the Treasurer describe the Labor approach of having a royal commission as 'a crass populist approach'. The Treasurer, in April of last year, described the call for a royal commission as 'a cynical exploitation of people's genuine concerns and the politicisation of their pain by the opposition'. This is the sort of contortion that this government now has to go through to distance itself from what it has said in the past on a royal commission. In a question time in September of last year, the Prime Minister indicated:
A royal commission can do nothing … It cannot change a law, it cannot change a regulation, and more importantly—most importantly—the compassion you seek to offer to your constituent cannot be fulfilled by a royal commission, and you know that …
So these are the sorts of comments that the Prime Minister and the Treasurer have made over the past 12 months to avoid the need for a royal commission. The Prime Minister has also said:
… a royal commission … will enrich the legal profession … take many years and end up, no doubt, recommending the types of measures that are already in this year's budget.
Well, this year's budget came up with a cracker: having the Australian Financial Complaints Authority, which is the Prime Minister's attempt at trying to take—and I quote him—'real action' on dealing with the consumer complaints about the banking system. We will be debating that bill a bit later on, but it's quite clear that that bill essentially, on the one hand, is a repackaging of the ombudsman services that we currently have without any new powers being provided to those schemes and, on the other hand, is actually a step backwards because we're abolishing the Superannuation Complaints Tribunal. So, rather than real action, this is a step backwards in the fight to protect consumers against the ravages of the greed of the banking system. The Prime Minister has said in the past, 'We're not having a royal commission; we're taking action.' Well, these most recent comments and this amazing backflip stand in stark contrast to the comments that this Prime Minister has been making over the past 12 months.
Today in question time, Senator Brandis indicated that the reason for the about-face was, to use his language, the 'very wild' comments that have been made publicly about the banking system, which he said were the real risk to stability. This is reminiscent of what he has said earlier in the week, and it's quite clear that this government is acting at the behest of the banks. The banks have dictated to this government the terms of reference on this royal commission and the time frame. The time frame is specifically designed to avoid an in-depth analysis of the real issues. When this Prime Minister says that it is regrettable that we're going to be having this royal commission, I'm just flabbergasted by that as a senator who's participated in the economics committee's inquiries into financial scandals involving the major banks. We went through that and listened to the pain of those people who have had their lives destroyed, their finances destroyed and their family arrangements left in tatters. Yet this Prime Minister says that the stories of those people do not matter.