Senate debates

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Parliamentary Representation


5:01 pm

Photo of John WilliamsJohn Williams (NSW, National Party) Share this | Hansard source

I have been fortunate in my life to have three honours bestowed on me. The first was to be made a life member of the Apex clubs of Sapphire City and Inverell. Sadly, Apex is waning throughout Australia. The second honour bestowed on me was back in 2006, when the New South Wales National Party Central Council preselected me as No. 1 on their Senate ticket. Hence, at the 2007 election, I was the 532nd Australian elected to the Senate since 1901. The third honour bestowed on me was to have a cricket ground in Perth named after me called the WACA! Well, it's worth a try. I'll check with Peter Taylor later on.

I'm glad to have contributed almost 11 years of my time here. When I first started, we received a $4,800 a year increase to our electoral allowance. I thought I could live without it, so each year I have donated it to a rural dental scholarship, for someone from a regional area who is going to do a first year dentistry degree, in the hope that they will return to regional areas and increase the number of dentists out there. It has been a very successful program. Each and every one of those who have come forward for the scholarship have done very well. Something like six or seven of them have completed their degrees and are now practising dentistry in regional Australia. Can I thank the National Rural Health Alliance for their management of that scholarship. Geri Malone is here today. I went to school with Geri in the early 1960s in Jamestown.

One of the great jobs I've had here is chairing the Parliamentary Friendship Group between Australia and Ireland. I thank Your Excellency, Mr Breandan O Caollai, and your wife, Carmel, for being here today. It has been a wonderful time meeting you and having something to do with you, and I hope one day we can visit your country.

Over the almost 11 years I've been in the Senate, I've been pleased to play a role in many things. I remember back in January 2009, when I had been a senator for seven months, I was called up to Redcliffe and Brisbane to meet the victims of Storm Financial. It was not a pretty picture, I can assure you. There were people who were 65, 75 and even older who had worked all their lives, saved, got some financial advice and invested in Storm Financial. It looked like they would be kicked out their houses onto the street. They were way past their working life. They could not rebuild. All I could promise them was a parliamentary inquiry, which we had, which was conducted by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Corporations and Financial Services. The government's response to that inquiry became the FOFA laws. The committee was chaired by—what was his name?—Bernie Ripoll. That's the bloke. Sorry, Bernie, I forgot your name. Terrible on names, I am!

The one sad thing that I see about the Senate is that it works a lot better than the public think. When the public look at the TV, they see hand grenades being thrown around the chamber—a bitter atmosphere. It is not like that at all. We work closely together on our committee work and we have achieved so much.

I remember when I launched a banking inquiry back in 2011. We were in Parliament House in Sydney, on Macquarie Street, and I asked one of the bank chiefs, 'Why did your bank give a 30-year loan to a 97-year-old lady who's in an aged-care facility?' Strange enough, the senator with a strong Scottish accent interjected, which is pretty rare in this place! He said: 'How old did you say she was, Senator Williams?' I said, 'Ninety-seven, Senator Cameron.' He said, 'Must be a bloody good aged-care facility!' The bank manager went to jail for six months.

In 2009, I launched the liquidators inquiry. I see they're in the headlines again today. We had full unified recommendations. Sadly, nothing was done for many years, and I thank Kelly O'Dwyer for bringing those changes in now. We had one liquidator who did not have a very good reputation. He was in charge of Carlovers, a Malaysian car washing company. He took overseas trips. He took his kids overseas, went on holidays et cetera. He spent three years in jail once we'd finished with him. It took Carlovers $1.8 million to fight in the courts to have him removed. Now, with a majority vote in value of the creditors, with just one meeting, the liquidators can be removed. So that's made them sharpen their pencil and hopefully do their job better.

I remember going to a meeting in Sydney. I'd been invited there by a bloke by the name of Mr Jeff Morris. We had an interesting chat about financial planning. I'll talk more about that later on. Not that long ago we completed the life insurance inquiry, and there's certainly some work due there. I'm glad to see the FSC has adopted virtually every recommendation it can in relation to life insurance. Of course, I pushed for a royal commission for many years. That's just been wound up, and I will have more to say about that soon as well. The best of the Senate is when the committees are working together, and I'll talk about our franchise inquiry before I finish as well.

I remember, after meeting with Jeff Morris, a whistleblower from Commonwealth Financial Planning, we were in Senate estimates and I asked a question to ASIC. I said, 'Why did it take you 16 months to act on the whistleblower's information about the Commonwealth Bank, the "ferrets"?' We got a strange answer which was nowhere near the answer. So I repeated the question, and, once again, no answer. I turned to the then chair, Mark Bishop, a Western Australian Labor senator, and said, 'Chair, how do you get these people to answer a question?' Talking about Senator Cameron, his staff member said, 'Hey, Dougie, the belt and Wacka are up.' So Senator Cameron came up to the committee room, and he said to me, 'I'm coming in to help you out, mate.' He put a few questions to ASIC in probably a firmer way than I did. When we'd finished that question session and Senator Cameron had read the riot act, he said to me, 'Wacka, we should have an inquiry into ASIC.' I said, 'Good idea.' It was Senator Cameron's idea. We launched the inquiry, and it became clear that Macquarie Private Wealth and the whole financial planning systems were so wrong. The inquiry was chaired by Mark Bishop, a good fellow from Western Australia—a good bloke—and he did a good job. We recommended a royal commission. That was when a royal commission was recommended by a committee—when we had the inquiry into ASIC. Now it's a bit sad to see the politics being played, but, if both sides of the chamber had listened to that recommendation back in those days, in 2014, we would have achieved a lot more a lot sooner. However, as they say, better late than never.

Things I have achieved people would probably not be familiar with: the Personal Property Securities Act and the Personal Property Securities Register. It probably means nothing to the people of Australia, but hire companies would hire their machinery or their equipment out, and, if they hired it out for longer than 12 months, they'd have to register it on the Personal Property Securities Register. If they made one digit mistake on their ABN or ACN number or anything on the date, it was invalid. If the company who'd hired their equipment went broke, the receivers and the banks could take their equipment. The hire companies actually lost their equipment. I'm glad to have been part of getting that changed. It's now up to two years, and we put some relief on the industry as it is now. Can I say that the best work we do in the Senate here is the work people never know about. It's the work we do behind the scenes, working with people, solving problems. I think that's part of politics—solve as many problems as you can for the people you represent.

I've had a very fortunate life, when I look back at family history. My grandfather, Eric, served on the battlefields of France. My late father, Reg, was a rear gun on a Lancaster bomber—apparently not a very good job at all. I was of the fortunate generation; I never had to go to war. Perhaps the only wars I've fought were in this building. Had a few wins, had a few losses.

I have a long list of thankyous to go through here. Can I start with our Clerk, Richard Pye, and your staff, who are magnificent people who work hard and are very well respected. Thank you, Richard, Maureen, Tim, Jane, Jackie and all the crew for the wonderful work you do. Your advice is always spot on and you're always very relaxed.

Of course we needed your advice big time in a recent inquiry into the franchise industry, where Senator Ketter, Senator Whish-Wilson, Senator Deb O'Neill and I were involved in a hearing. It was the first time in 10½ years that we actually had to summons a witness, Mr Tony Alford from Retail Food Group. We wrote to Mr Alford and Ms Atkinson and said, 'We have the power to summons you,' and the reply was, 'If you summons us, we'll take you to the High Court.' It united the committee like never before. Each and every one of us, right around the political scene, ganged up and said, 'We won't be pushed about.' We put the summons on them and they took us to the High Court. They ran second, and there are no second prizes in court decisions. It reaffirmed that we do have the power to summons people.

The franchise industry inquiry has been a big inquiry. We will report very soon. There's a lot of repair to do there. We've had a lot of inquiries into the franchise industry since the mid-1970s. The fact that we're doing it again proves we never got it right. I hope that when that inquiry is handed down and the election is out of the road, the government acts on it and acts on it quickly.

The friendship built through the committee work is unbelievable. As I said, it's a sad perception that in this chamber we seem to be all enemies. That is not the case. In fact, I remember when we had an induction into here—our training before we were sworn in—they said, 'Some of your best friends will be on the other side.' How true that is.

As I said, I have a long list of thankyous. To the chamber staff—John, Adrian, Bryan, Fiona, Rosemary and Commodore Wally—thank you for your great work and for helping us all the time. Thanks to the COMCAR drivers that we get spoiled rotten with. Thanks to the security people around here that keep us safe in this building—sadly that's the case these days; you need a lot of security.

I want to make special thank you to the bank representation. I've worked closely with the banks. People might think I'm the banks' enemy, but I'm not. I thank the banks who worked closely with me, and Aaron Willins, Jade Clarke, Rob Londale from ANZ and many others. I thank them for working with us, because when we work the problems out behind the scenes there are no headlines and virtually no cost. Often I say, 'Well, the bank has got it wrong here,' but many, many times I say, 'No, the customer has got it wrong as well.' It's good to be able to sort those problems out behind the closed doors.

Can I thank the senators in this place. First of all, to my Liberal colleagues, it's been great to work with you all, and I enjoyed your company very much. We rarely had a disagreement; just the very odd one on the odd occasion.

Senator McKenzie interjecting—

Seriously, it's not funny, Senator McKenzie; you're exaggerating! We've worked very well together, and I've enjoyed your friendship and fellowship very much. Thanks to the Nats senators, you crew around here. I acknowledge former Senator Ron Boswell over there, and former Senator Fiona Nash. Great people. Bozzie, you're a legend. You left a great mark in this place and this country.

Honourable senators interjecting—

And a hanky, yes! Senator Nash, I wonder how many people have sat in this place or the other chamber since 1901 with dual citizenship. Would it be dozens or would it be hundreds? However, it came to light and, sadly, former Senator Fiona Nash, we lost you. You were a great mentor to me and a great friend, and I wish you all the best. My Senate colleagues. To our leader Nigel Scullion, thanks, mate, for your friendship, leadership and guidance. One of your great passions is our First Australians, and you've worked very hard. To our deputy leader, Senator Bridget McKenzie, you're good at sport, Bridge, and I know you love the portfolio of sport, from netball to clay duck shooting. I wish you all the best. To Senator Matt Canavan—it looks like he's not here. Where is he?

Honourable senators: He's behind you!

He's behind me. I was nearly going to call you green bottle, mate.


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