Monday, 4 December 2017
Questions without Notice
Banking and Financial Services
My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Brandis. The Prime Minister has described his backflip on the bank royal commission as regrettable. Nationals senator for New South Wales Senator Williams said that he's very proud of the work done by Senator O'Sullivan and others to make the inquiry happen, recognising that they 'made it very difficult for the Prime Minister'. Is Senator Williams right to be proud of his colleagues making it very difficult for the Prime Minister?
I'm sure Senator Williams is proud of the fact that he and Senator O'Sullivan and others from the National Party backbench were able to prosecute a case and get an outcome. It was not the government's preferred course, as Prime Minister said in his press conference on Thursday announcing the matter. It was regrettable, in the government's view.
Senator Carr, there is one thing that I have never understood and I fear I will never understand and that is why you in the Labor Party seem to think that, when different people have different opinions, that's a problem. It's not a problem for us. It's not a problem for us, because good decisions are made on the basis of hearing a variety of voices in the course of an argument. That is a fundamental intellectual and cultural difference between the Liberal Party and the National Party on the one hand and the Labor Party on the other, with your Stalinist mentality.
Nevertheless, Senator Williams and Senator O'Sullivan had a point of view, which they prosecuted. The government ultimately adopted it, for the reasons the Prime Minister explained at his press conference on Thursday. It wasn't our preferred course. It was not our preferred course, but, because of the way in which the debate had developed, including, I might say, some very irresponsible contributions from the Labor Party and the alternative government, there was a growing concern about the stability of the Australian financial system. So what we did is we identified a highly suitable and eminent person, the Hon. Kenneth Hayne, a former High Court judge with 17 years experience, to conduct this inquiry, with focussed terms of reference and a relatively near reporting date, so that it can get to the meat of the issue immediately.
Yes, he is. The once and future Deputy Prime Minister, my colleague and friend Barnaby Joyce, is quite right in identifying that certain National Party politicians, including our colleagues Senator Williams and Senator O'Sullivan over there, have prosecuted this case for a long time. It was not the cabinet's preferred course of action. But, in view of the way the debate was developing, the government took the view that there were—not from them, I might say, but from your side of politics and others—very wild and irresponsible things being said that, in the view of the government, and indeed in the view of the banks themselves, posed risks for the stability of the Australian financial system. Whatever we do, this government will protect the stability of the financial system and, for that reason, we moved as we have done.
Given that the Prime Minister was ruling out a royal commission just days before it was announced, continued to describe it as regrettable, and admits he was forced into it and has failed to consult with the victims of the banks on the terms of reference, why should victims have any faith that this royal commission will result in any change that they would want to see?
For a start, Senator Carr, they could have great faith in the immense experience and integrity of the royal commissioner, the Hon. Kenneth Hayne, a High Court judge for 17 years, a person renowned for his forensic skill, his deep knowledge of the way the commercial system works, as a commercial lawyer, and with a very, very tenacious sense of justice. They can be confident that the terms of reference will ensure that the entirety of the financial system—not just the banks, but other areas of the financial system, including industry super funds, which have a reputation for abuse—will also be subject to scrutiny. I wonder, Senator Carr, why it is that you demand that one part of the financial system be subject to scrutiny, but you seek to protect another part of the financial system from the same scrutiny you demand of the rest. (Time expired)