Senate debates

Tuesday, 25 June 2013


Banking Amendment (Unclaimed Money) Bill 2013; Second Reading

11:01 am

Photo of Mathias CormannMathias Cormann (WA, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

Another day and another fix to some Labor Party stuff-up. This government is the most chaotic, the most dysfunctional, the most divided, the most incompetent government in the history of the Commonwealth. It is a government that has made a complete mess of our budget. It has spent $220 billion more than it raised in revenue; it inherited a strong budget position with a strong surplus and with no government net debt from a government that was collecting net interest payments instead of planning to pay $34 billion in net interest payments over the current forward estimates. This government inherited a situation with Commonwealth net assets of about $70 billion and, of course, they have turned that around very quickly into a situation whereby we are now on track for $191 billion worth of government net debts.

So, we have a government that is always desperate for more cash, that is always casting around for more money and that, in the lead-up to the last election, deliberately and intentionally misled the Australian people about what it would do to return the budget to surplus—at the time promising, come hell or high water, that it would do it by 2012-13. In the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook in October last year the government was trying to keep the illusion alive that somehow there would be a surplus 2012-13, albeit a wafer-thin surplus of just $1 billion. We know that since then, as a result of the budget just a few weeks ago, the government has instead been on track for yet another massive deficit of about $19.4 billion. Despite yet more waste and yet more mismanagement, the government in last year's Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook was trying to keep this illusion alive that somehow it would deliver a surplus. How was this achieved? How was the pretence of a surplus in 2012-13 achieved, when last year's Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook was presented?

The government pushed a rapid raid on people's supposedly lost super, their supposedly lost bank accounts and their supposedly lost life insurance policies and so on. I say 'a rapid raid' because within less than six months the government wanted to collect hundreds of millions of dollars—in fact, close to $750 million—from people's supposedly lost super, bank accounts and so on. The government was trying to pretend that somehow the objective was to reunite people with their own money more quickly. Yet the government expects to raise nearly a billion dollars from people's superannuation accounts and supposedly lost bank accounts. If people are to be reunited with their money more quickly, why is all this money expected to hit the bottom line to help this dishonest Gillard Labor government keep alive the illusion of an early surplus for a little bit longer? It is an illusion that has since been smashed. Everybody always knew it was going to happen. It is now one of the many high-profile broken promises of this incompetent Gillard-Swan Labor government.

At the time this substantive legislation came through the parliament, which sought to introduce this rapid raid on people's bank accounts and supposedly lost superannuation, we said: 'This is too rushed. This is indecent haste. You should think this through more carefully.' But of course the government was so desperate for cash as quickly as possible so that they could count it against the budget bottom line in 2012-13 that they just rammed things through, with the support of the Greens, as has been the case way too often under this very bad government. And of course they got things wrong. Over the last few months we have seen many people getting caught by the incompetence of this government.

A lot of the money that is taken out of people's bank accounts supposedly goes to ASIC and then ASIC is supposed to reunite people with their money, but of course it ends up in the government's budget bottom line. In Senate estimates the other day I asked ASIC, 'How much money have you received?' They had no idea. I asked, 'How much money have you reunited with people whose money has been taken away without their knowledge?' They had no idea. I then asked, 'If you do not know how much money you have received, how long will it take you before you can reunite people with their own money?' They had no idea. The evidence of ASIC was breathtaking in its absolute inadequacy.

It was the whole intention of this government to go after people's money more quickly by saying, 'In the case of any account where there has not been a transaction for three years, we are going to grab that, thank you very much,' irrespective of how much money was in there. There were hundreds of thousands of dollars in some bank accounts. People had essentially put that aside for rainy-day savings or whatever purpose. If there has not been any transaction for three years, this government says: 'Thank you very much—that is now ours. By the way, if you claim it back we will give it back to you. But it will take forever.'

The Banking Amendment (Unclaimed Money) Bill 2013 amends the Banking Act 1959 to exempt reactivated accounts from being reported and transferred to the Commonwealth as unclaimed moneys and to allow the Commonwealth to provide refunds to authorised deposit-taking institutions if moneys are collected unnecessarily. Why was that not done in the first place? It was not done because we have the most incompetent government in the history of the Commonwealth and because we have the most incompetent, part-time Minister for Financial Services and Superannuation, who is more focused on the job he wants after the election than on the job he has now. That is one of the problems with the modern-day Labor Party: if they do not have their hands at each other's throat or a knife in each other's back or if they are not packing up their office or jumping ship, they are planning for their jobs after the next election, in opposition. We have Mr Combet saying, 'I will ditch Ms Gillard as Prime Minister if you make me Treasurer.' We have Mr Shorten backgrounding the media about the fact that it is going to be up to him as to who is going to be the Prime Minister at the end of the week. What sort of a state of affairs is this? No wonder they get bills like this one wrong and no wonder people across Australia are getting hurt. The government do not dot the i's and cross the t's because they are too focused on themselves; they are not focused on the public interest and they are not focused on getting things right. People across Australia deserve better than this. They deserve so much better than this.

So, as I have mentioned, in an attempt by the government in the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook 2012-13to find supposed savings to bolster their now-abandoned commitment of delivering a surplus in 2012-13, they announced an array of changes relating to unclaimed moneys in bank accounts—life insurance accounts, superannuation accounts and corporations. The changes sought to bring forward the time at which money is recognised under the relevant law as lost or unclaimed money so that the government can get their hands into people's pockets more quickly. It was nothing but a blatant grab for cash to create the illusion of a surplus that was never going to be—it was never going to be, because this Labor government do not know how to manage money.

This Labor government get every budget wrong. They go through the same charade every time. They overestimate, quite dishonestly, the revenue they expect to raise. For last year's budget they wanted us to believe that government revenue would go up by 12 per cent. Even though the economy was expected to grow more slowly, even though the terms of trade were expected to fall, this government, dishonestly and unbelievably, wanted people to believe that revenue would go up by 12 per cent. It was never going to go up by 12 per cent—it was never going to happen. And, because revenue now is growing by six per cent, what are the government telling us? Are the government telling us revenue is growing strongly by six per cent, which is well above the rate of inflation—more than double the rate of inflation, in fact? No, the government are trying to make people believe that somehow revenue has collapsed. That is the most dishonest spin that you can ever get from a federal government.

It is absolutely untrue to suggest that government revenue has collapsed. It is lower than the overly optimistic, and always unbelievable, and aggressively out-there predictions of the Treasurer and the Minister for Finance and Deregulation, for sure. But these estimates were never going to be achieved. Look at the track record of this government, even since the last election. We have had two financial years since the last election for which we have either a final budget outcome, or we are now close to the end of the 2012-13 financial year and we have a fair idea where we are going to end up for 2012-13.

So let us look at those two financial years. In the lead-up to the last election, when the government were trying to make us believe that they were on a pathway back to surplus, what did they tell us about the budget outcome for 2011-12? The dishonest Gillard-Swan Labor government wanted to make people believe that, as part of their journey back to a surplus in 2012-13, the deficit in 2011-12 would be $10 billion. They wanted people to believe it was just a small deficit, that it was not too bad. But guess what. When all was said and done, when the final budget outcome came out, the deficit in the final budget outcome was $43.7 billion—it had more than quadrupled. There was a deterioration in the budget bottom line, for just one financial year, of $33.7 billion.

In the lead-up to the last election we were told initially that the surplus for this financial year, 2012-13, would be $3½ billion. Of course, we now know we are on track for a $20-odd billion deficit—another deterioration under this government of more than $20 billion. So the deterioration over the last two financial years under this government, from what they promised to what they delivered or are about to deliver, is in excess of $50 billion—just over two financial years. It is no wonder they are always desperately casting around for more cash, at the expense of the Australian people: because they do not know how to live within their means.

The Gillard-Swan Labor government are still at it; they are still misleading people. This year's budget papers are as dishonest and as unbelievable as the budget papers for 2011-12 or 2012-13. They have not changed their tack at all; they have not learnt from their past mistakes. To pick one example, the government wants us to believe that this financial year revenue from the mining tax will increase by about a thousand per cent over the forward estimates—1,000 per cent! When you look at the detail in the budget papers, even the budget papers are predicting a fall in the terms of trade and that commodity prices will go down, but Treasury happens to say that the Swan-Wong budget papers are too optimistic when it comes to the terms of trade—that they will fall by more than what the budget says. The situation is actually going to be worse. The budget is predicting that the exchange rate will remain high. The two arguments that the Treasurer has used to account for his failure to raise the predicted revenue from the mining tax were falling terms of trade and the exchange rate. How come the government can predict a 1,000 per cent increase from the mining tax, when in the first year of its operation it came in at a staggering 95 per cent below the original forecast?

I would like to pause here for a moment. The government targeted an important industry—one of the best performing industries in Australia when the government came in—with a complex new tax, which they predicted would raise $4 billion in the first year. They spent all the money they predicted they would raise and more and it comes in 95 per cent below the government's forecast. Can you imagine if any chief financial officer in a publicly listed company had got his forecast wrong by 95 per cent? He would be sacked on the spot. If the company did not sack him, the company would be seriously marked down on the stock exchange. There is no way that a company could keep a chief financial officer who got the revenue forecast for a key measure like this so wrong as this incompetent Treasurer has. No matter where you look in the budget, the carbon tax revenue estimate is completely without foundation—literally. What they did was they took today's market price and drew a line to their fictional, self-identified $38 price in 2019-20 and said, 'Everything in between is now going to be our revenue estimate for he intervening years.' No wonder this government gets the budget so wrong and no wonder they need to come up with stunts like the Banking Amendment (Unclaimed Money) Bill to go after people's money in a quick and desperate way, because they are always running out of cash to feed their spending addiction. They are always looking for the next grab for cash.

To go back to the mining tax for a moment, in Senate estimates I asked Treasury officials whether they could point me to a precedent in the history of the Commonwealth—all the way back to 1901—of a circumstance in which a federal government introduced a new tax and put out a revenue estimate and came in 95 per cent below the original forecast. Treasury officials were a bit bemused and they were scratching their heads but could not really think of anything and so they took it on notice, as they usually do. At some point somebody piped up and said, 'Yep, I've got one.' In 1989-90 the Petroleum Resource Rent Tax was introduced, and I asked how much that was expected to raise in the first budget. Scratching their heads again and going through their books, they came up with this, and I wonder if Senator Wong can remember this. The revenue estimate in 1989-90 for the Petroleum Resource Rent Tax was zero dollars!

When Paul Keating introduced the petroleum resource rent tax as a new tax—or a structural reform, the way he saw it—it was not a grab for cash from him in 1989-90; he attached zero dollars to it. And guess how much he raised? When you put zero dollars up, it is very hard to underdeliver, I guess. You would know that you were not overpromising and you were not exposing yourself to the risk of underdelivery. But guess what happened? In 1989-90, the government collected $42 million in revenue from the PRRT, when they had predicted zero, which of course, in that financial year, actually put the government in a better position—unlike the efforts of the most incompetent, cash-grabbing, failed Treasurer that the Commonwealth has ever seen in its history, Mr Swan. Mr Swan should have resigned long ago for his incompetence, or, if he was not going to resign, he should have been sacked. If we had a Prime Minister who had any authority, she would have sacked him long ago. But of course Mr Swan is the only thing that stands between Ms Gillard and Mr Rudd. That is the only reason why he is still the Treasurer of the Commonwealth.

With those words, I finish where I started: this is yet another fix for yet another Labor stuff-up. We should not have had to waste our time on this. The government should have done its homework upfront. It should have dotted its i's and crossed its t's upfront. But this government is so dysfunctional, so chaotic, so divided and so incompetent that it always gets it wrong, particularly when it is going after the money in people's own bank accounts.

11:21 am

Photo of Barnaby JoyceBarnaby Joyce (Queensland, National Party, Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

There are certain things that, in the dying days of a chaotic government, personify exactly where this nation is off to, and this is a classic example. The Banking Amendment (Unclaimed Money) Bill 2013 should be called our Cyprus bill, because it is basically the theft of money from individuals. That is the clearest way to see it. People who have money in their bank accounts and superannuation funds, who believed that that money was safe in those accounts, who believed that their life insurance money could be claimed, are now to be divested of that money and see it invested in the state because of the Green-Labor-Independent alliance. Responsibility for the loss of these funds by the individual, to be invested in the state—their private savings in their private bank—lies with Mr Windsor, Mr Oakeshott, the Greens and the Labor Party, and they must accept that this is where our nation has got to.

This is why, when they say, 'Don't worry about us being $257.3 billion in gross debt today, don't worry about the fact that we have a $19.8 billion deficit this year, don't worry about the $43 billion deficit last year, don't worry about the $48 billion deficit the year before that, don't worry about the $54 billion deficit the year before that or the $27 billion deficit the year before that. Don't worry about that. Don't worry about the fact that we are going to be $370 billion in gross debt. No, don't worry about that,' you had better start worrying, because they are coming for your money. That is absolutely and utterly the case. They are doing this because they are trying to scrape together some money. What cash can this save them? They look forward and they think, 'This'll get us close to a billion dollars.' I think it was $900 million over the four-year period to 2015-16. That is where they are off to. So where are they going to get it?

So that people driving their cars along the highways today clearly understand, what the government will do now is go to your bank accounts sooner. In the past, if you had not touched them for seven years, they would go to the government. Now the government are saying that after three years they will come into your bank account. The government will go into your bank account and they will take your money.

But let us look at what happens to most people's super. If you have been out shearing somewhere, you get a little super fund and you forget all about it; then you go to another manual job, you have another little super fund and you forget about that. Then you do another job, you get another little super fund and you forget about that one, as has happened to most people. The government are saying that, after 12 months, they will take it. They will take it off you. They will even take unclaimed life insurance moneys. They will not even leave the dead alone!

This is what is happening to this nation. This is how chaotic it has got. And out there we have this crazy soap opera between Kevin, Mr Kevin Rudd—is that the proper title?—the member for Griffith and the Prime Minister, apparently, of Australia—but who knows; what time is it? Whilst that chaotic soap opera is going on in the foreground, in the background they are flogging your dough. We have to try to understand exactly where this nation has got to. This bill, like other bills, will be guillotined. Debate on it will be shut down because the Australian Greens, who were supposed to be the archangel Gabriel of transparency and democracy in this chamber, will vote for that. They will vote to shut this down so that the Australian people will not know that their money is being stolen.

This is pathetic. It is pathetic that this is now happening in our nation. We have got ourselves into this because of the massive debt. The Greens, the Independents and the government that Mr Windsor and Mr Oakeshott put into place with the Labor Party concocted the most bizarre amalgamation of nutty ideas and bad management. It has been the worst financial management this nation has ever had, and now it is coming to this tawdry end. This government is the thief that breaks through car windows and steals the coins out of the ashtray. They are going anywhere to find the money. They are going to pick up anything that is not nailed down. You will see that in the last couple of days there are 56 bills that we are not going to get to debate. They are going to shut down the debate. This is the sign of the chaos that surrounds this chamber and the chaos that surrounds this building. The Australian people deserve better than this. The Australian people deserve better than having their money stolen. The Australian people deserve better. When people are doing it tough doing the many little jobs they have to do, they may come back to find that their money is gone because the government has stolen it.

The government has stolen it to prop up the ceiling insulation debacle. The government has stolen it to prop up the $900 cheques. The government has stolen it to prop up the NBN. The government has stolen it to prop up their millions of nutty ideas. The government has stolen it to prop up the climate change department. The government has stolen it to prop up the mad Green ideas that have infected Labor Party policy. There is no point standing back and saying, 'You're so emotive over there.' When you go through the figures, this government is the worst by far.

How on earth did we get our nation into this position? Last time the Labor government left office we were about $105 billion in gross debt and $96 million in net debt. It took 10 years to pay it off. We got $45 billion of that from the sale of Telstra, so it took about 10 years to pay off $50 billion. Now these clowns, by their own figures, are going to leave us about $370 billion in debt. You know what they say? They say that it is not a problem because we are not as bad as Greece. They say that we are not as bad as Spain or Ireland and so it is all right. That is like walking around the global financial graveyard and saying, 'That person is less dead than that person.' It does not matter; we have arrived there. You arrive there when bills such as these turn up. In simple terms it is this: they are coming to steal your money. They are coming to take your privately earned funds. They are going into your bank accounts. They are going into your superannuation accounts. They are going into your life insurance policies. That is what is happening in our nation right now.

I would welcome finding out from the Greens what the explanation is for this. I would welcome finding out from Mr Windsor and Mr Oakeshott. Maybe they can explain it to the shearers in New England and horticultural workers who are working in the fields doing those little jobs and who have little superannuation accounts. Maybe they can explain to those workers why their superannuation is now under threat. I welcome them explaining it to pensioners who have a quiet bank account that they have never touched, that they have just left there for a rainy day, just in case. Now, even though they have left it there, we have the government sitting over the top of it and, after three years, they will say: 'Bang! That's it.' This is yet another example.

The Greens and the Labor Party have decided that we are not even allowed to debate these things anymore because this is not a democracy. We are not allowed to debate anymore. I am not quite sure whether Senator Boyce wishes to say something about this. I am happy to let my position go for Senator Boyce to speak.

11:30 am

Photo of Sue BoyceSue Boyce (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I would like to thank my colleague Senator Joyce for giving me an opportunity to speak in the very, very limited time that we have because of the gag that has been put on the Banking Amendment (Unclaimed Money) Bill 2013, as it has been put on another 54 bills this week. Thank you to the Labor-Greens government for doing that! I will speak briefly, because I do not have any other choice on this bill. I would just like to remind senators and those listening that, in the whole three years of the Howard government from 2004 to 2007, there were 32 bills where a gag or guillotine was applied. This government has almost doubled that with 55 just this week, and with ridiculous time limits like 20 minutes for the debate of an entire bill.

What we have here today is a bill to fix a bill, which of course is quite common with this government, which could not implement its way out of a paper bag. It is just appalling that it had this wonderful legislation all lined up and passed in December last year but now, less than six months later, it is putting through amendments because it did not listen to the comments made by the coalition and by the Australian Bankers' Association at the time.

The first thing that this government proposed was that they would change the timeline for unclaimed moneys from seven years to three years and that the banks would implement that the day after it was given royal assent by the Governor-General. I have spoken often in here about this government's complete lack of knowledge of the real world and of how a corporation, a company or, indeed, a business of any sort behaves. But to expect that every ADI—every deposit-taking institution in Australia—was going to be able to identify the customers whose bank accounts had been inactive for three years, within 24 hours, when seven years had been the benchmark, was just crazy. But of course this government could not see that, and now they are back here trying to sort out the mess that they have created by saying, 'Well, let's have a deadline of December; well, no, let's have a deadline in May; oh well, let's have another deadline now,' and trying to recoup the damage that they have done in the meantime.

I was interested to see on the website of ASIC—the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, which is the body that has to accept these funds from the government before they go into consolidated revenue—that they give a huge amount of detail around claiming your moneys and looking for lost money. They point out that there is more than $750 million in lost shares, bank accounts and life insurance currently in the system. They go on to suggest to people other ways that they might 'find' money. One way they suggest—in fact, the first way they suggest—is to do a budget. You might find extra money if you do a budget, says ASIC. It is a shame that ASIC did not mention that to the Treasurer, Mr Swan, because his budgeting abilities are pretty appalling.

One other amendment that this bill makes is to return the money to the people who took money out of their accounts when this government had decided they were inactive accounts, even though they were not inactive accounts. There have been two examples in Queensland of this. This government tries to suggest that that is somehow the fault of the banks—that they have acted prematurely. This is the banks that were being told they had 24 hours to act initially. It is suggested that they have acted prematurely in moving money across. They have not acted prematurely. They have acted in the way a corporate body the size of a bank will always act. They cannot move in 10 seconds to the next thought bubble in the way that this government does.

A 75-year-old Toowong pensioner emerged from a quintuple heart bypass to find that his bank account was empty. More than $22,000 had been handed over to the federal government. That 75-year-old spent 21 days in hospital following his bypass surgery. When he and his wife went to check their Suncorp account, they found that there was not $22,616 in it, as they had expected; there was $0. They had been carefully putting money aside for 14 years to pay for health-related costs. That money was simply going into that account and being kept. Mr Duffy, the gentleman from Toowong, said:

My understanding of the definition of stealing is to take something without somebody's knowledge and not tell them. As far as I'm concerned, that's exactly what happened - (the Government) took it without telling us.

That is stealing, and that is what this government has done. We also have the case of a Brisbane woman, Ms Margaret Franklin, who is a financial planner and accountant—so someone who is financially knowledgeable. She had an account with $157,644 in it cleaned out. She was out of town and did not react to the one letter she received from her bank. But, as she points out, she notified a change of address on that account less than 12 months ago. Would this suggest that that is an inactive account? No, it would not. But, with the way this government went about it, anybody who has put some money aside and done nothing except let it build up interest is considered to have an inactive account after three years. There are literally thousands of accounts like this and there are literally hundreds of reasons why an Australian—a careful, prudent Australian—might set up an account and leave it with nothing but the interest coming in. Of course, the government would not understand 'prudent' and 'financial' in the same sentence, so no wonder they do not know what it is all about. Ms Franklin, who has two children, made what I think is a very relevant point. She pointed out that her finances are none of the government's business: 'It's my opinion that I can transact as often or as infrequently as I like, because after all it's my money.'

In both these cases, the money was appropriated before the new rules came in, and that is squarely and only on the government. It is the government's fault. One of the ASIC commissioners, Mr Peter Kell, gave evidence to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Corporations and Financial Services last Friday, and pointed out that there is currently $709 million in unclaimed money across banking, life insurance and companies. But, as he pointed out, as a result of the change from seven years to five years, there was a one-off increase at the end of May of $471 million. It went across in one lump. As has already been mentioned, this was a pathetic attempt by the government to try and meet the budget surplus way back when, before they gave up trying to keep their promise on this. Yet the government somehow suggest that it is the banks' fault that there is this mess going on, and we have this bill to fix the bill that should have been fixed in the first place—and it would have been if there were the slightest knowledge in this group of how to be competent. There is not.

What is more, half a per cent of all Australian bank deposits is in unclaimed money. That strikes me as being quite a lot of money: one in 200. Half a per cent—it is ridiculous and this government should be condemned utterly for it. (Time expired)

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The time allotted for this debate has now expired. The question is that this bill be now read a second time.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.