Senate debates

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry, Minister for Small and Family Business, Skills and Vocational Education

3:00 pm

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Innovation) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Minister for Finance and the Public Service (Senator Cormann) and the Minister for Small and Family Business, Skills and Vocational Education (Senator Cash) to questions without notice asked by Opposition senators today.

I note, for the people who are here in the gallery today, that they're some of the lucky few people who are going to actually see this parliament work, because what we've got is a part-time parliament going on here. We've got a government that are running away from doing the job that they should do, and they certainly should be here. We've been calling on them, as the opposition, to come in and do their job as the government and respond to the banking royal commission that was delivered by Mr Hayne.

We've all got bank accounts. We're all interacting with the banks. And for years we have seen egregious action by the banks. We saw it; we called it. We called for a banking royal commission. And while we called for that for 600 days—600 days!—you heard in Senator Cormann's responses today a few of the things that the government did to try to plug the gap that exists between their reality and the reality that you and I know, that friends and family are experiencing with greedy banks—that is, they have broken an ethical and important relationship with the Australian people. Mr Morrison ran a protection racket for his big-end-of-town mates. And now with his part-time parliament, he's continuing that behaviour of protection.

One of the 76 recommendations that Commissioner Hayne made was that grandfathered conflicted commissions for financial advice should be removed, and he said it should be done 'as soon as reasonably practicable'. Mr Morrison was the last hold out; he was the very last one in the Liberal Party who finally caved and said: 'Okay. All right. We'll go ahead with the royal commission.' He only did that after the banks sent him a letter to do it. What's he doing now? Mr Morrison and Mr Frydenberg want to kick this reform off into the never-never. They say they won't do anything about that urgent issue until 2021. So what we're seeing today is a government, which voted against a royal commission 26 times, that has the hide to come in here and say it's doing a good job in response to that royal commission into banking—banking that we interact with every single day.

We know that the royal commission and all of the stories that we heard of families and people that were profoundly impacted have revealed a sector that has been operating in a manner that puts itself ahead of people, ahead of ethics and ahead of the law. And Mr Morrison did not see that. He didn't see it before. He opposed it on 26 occasions. He held it up for 600 days. He delayed the commencement of that inquiry by 18 months. We could have legislated by now. We could have done the work to protect the Australian people if this arrogant, out-of-touch government had listened to the people of Australia, had listened to the evidence of people walking these corridors day in and day out and telling us there was something rotten in the banks. If this government had the dignity of a real government and had the sense to listen, we would've had a response to the banking royal commission long before this.

After Mr Morrison had called the action of establishing the royal commission 'regrettable' and 'a populist whinge', now we finally have the report. With the report in their hands, do you think that the government could show up to work and undertake the legislation that needs to be undertaken to give protection to the Australian people? No, they're too busy with their infighting. They're too busy with the internecine warfare going on in the family of the Liberal Party. They're fighting with the Nats. The Nats are fighting with the Nats. The Libs are fighting with the Libs, former Libs and independents. People in that party are in a state of decay. They've decided that they know better than anybody else what should happen with the banks and they've decided that they're not going to come along and do the work that the Australian people need them to do, to protect us and to protect the very underpinning of business in this country, our banking sector. We all rely on it. We all need it to be ethical. We need it to be managed properly and the government— (Time expired)

3:06 pm

Photo of James PatersonJames Paterson (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is great to be back for a new parliamentary year. Welcome back, colleagues. I regret to say, though, that it appears the opposition has decided to start the new parliamentary year by taking the low road. Instead of focusing themselves today on weighty matters of state and substantive issues of policy, they've decided to pursue a strategy of personal smear, personal destruction and personal attack. It's a familiar theme for those opposite and I have no doubt that, further on in the taking note of answers debate, we'll hear more of it. As a government, though, we're focused on the things that actually matter to the people of Australia and actually affect their lives.

Senator O'Neill interjecting

I'll take up Senator O'Neill's interjection about the banking royal commission. The opposition is very focused on playing petty politics here and on point scoring about who called for a royal commission when. They're very fond of pointing out the fact that they called for a royal commission before we did. What they're less fond of admitting to and acknowledging is that, in fact, there was a time when they too opposed a royal commission and when they voted against a royal commission after the Greens first presented a motion calling for one here in this chamber. We could have a debate about who was first in favour of it and who has been in favour of it longest, or we could instead focus on the 76 substantive recommendations made by Commissioner Hayne, how they will improve the lives of Australian people and how they will improve trust in the banking system.

Of course, when the government received the royal commission's recommendations, the opposition made a big song and dance about how we were taking far too long to release the report and far too long to respond to it. Well, in just a matter of days, the government was able to release, in full, a comprehensive response to the banking royal commission and allow the markets and the Australian public to observe our response. The opposition, on the other hand, who have now had twice the length of time that the government took to provide a response, are yet to provide any substantive response to the royal commission. Prior to the release of the recommendations, they said that they would implement them in full. What a careless, unthinking promise that was to make. Actually, now that they've realised that perhaps there might be a recommendation or two in there that they're not completely delighted by—or, more importantly, key constituencies of theirs, such as the union movement and the industry super funds that they control, might not be completely delighted by—they've instead moved to say that they will adopt all 76 recommendations 'in principle', whatever that means. We're yet to learn what that means. Yet they have the gall to come in here, to this chamber and to the other place, and say that this parliament needs to sit for extra weeks so that we can progress the recommendations that they don't even know what they're going to do with yet—quite a claim.

Another observation made today by those opposite, which no doubt we will hear more of this week, is the 26 times which the government is alleged to have voted against a royal commission. I haven't checked that figure; I'm not sure it's right. One figure that I do know is absolutely right, though, is the 22 times that those opposite in this chamber voted for a piece of legislation that their opposition leader and their shadow cabinet are now desperately trying to amend in the lower house because they've realised the disastrous consequences of that bill.

Every single one of you voted for a bill that your leader and your shadow cabinet now acknowledge could have allowed child sex offenders, murderers and other criminals to come to Australia without any recourse for the minister to prevent that from happening, without any recourse at all. You voted for a piece of legislation 22 times that even the opposition leader, Mr Shorten, recognises now is a dangerous piece of legislation that urgently needs to be amended in the House of Representatives. If they're successful in doing that, I hope when it comes back here that at least some of you have the decency to stand up and admit how wrong you were to hastily vote for a piece of legislation that had been poorly drafted, that had been ill-thought through. The advice of security agencies had not been sought before deciding on those votes; that is on your heads. It is on your heads, not just what you proposed to do but the legacy from your government.

As we heard in question time today, 1,200 deaths at sea occurred under your watch when you last tried to weaken our border protection laws, 50,000 people arrived by boat when you last weakened our border protection laws, 800 boats arrived, 17 new detention centres were established and thousands of children were placed in detention, which this government have got out of detention. We've been able to get the kids out of detention and off Manus and Nauru because we put in place, first and foremost, a strong border protection regime that discourages people from getting on boats in the first place. Yet again, you have proven you have not learnt the lessons of history and that you're prepared to make the same mistakes again.

3:11 pm

Photo of Doug CameronDoug Cameron (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Human Services) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Paterson talks about matters of state. Nothing can be more important than the public having confidence in ministers of a government. And what we see now is that the community, the public and the parliament have lost confidence in Minister Cash. Minister Cash argued that we shouldn't forget what this is about—another smoke screen, another whiteboard to try and disguise her involvement and the involvement of her office in the leaking of a raid on AWU offices.

This is a rabble of a government. It's a government with a disgraced minister in Minister Cash. This is a minister who has suffered a spectacular collapse of credibility and a minister who will not accept ministerial accountability. This is a discredited minister. Each time she stands up, she will not tell the truth. She has got contempt for the Senate, she's got contempt for parliament and she's got contempt for the people of Australia. She has got contempt for ministerial accountability. Five times she came to Senate estimates and denied there was any involvement of her staff in leaking information that the Federal Police said could have put their people in danger. She denied that on five occasions. And then what happened? She has had to come back in and concede that her staff were involved. She threw one of her junior staff under the bus.

What we've found out today is this was not about junior staff; this was about her chief of staff leaking information to the media, information that could have put the Federal Police, as they indicated, in danger. This is unacceptable, it's a criminal act, and it beggars belief that the DPP cannot find a way to prosecute the people who we already know were involved in this leak. And probably part of the reason they couldn't prosecute was that the minister herself has been disassembling, has been trying to cover up and has been using parliamentary privilege and the argument that the matters are before the court not to be honest and upfront with the people of Australia. This is a minister and a government with contempt for the people of Australia. The reason we are here on this is that this government has used government authorities to run their political attacks on their opponents. The Registered Organisations Commission, the ABCC and the Fair Work Ombudsman have all been engaged in this nonsense, this problem that we have with a minister who's not prepared to stand up and tell the truth.

What happened when this minister was put under pressure? She attacked young women in the Leader of the Opposition's office to try and cover up, and try and divert from, what was happening in her office. She accused them of all sorts of terrible things. It's one of the most pathetic performances I've ever seen in the 11 years I've been in this place, where a minister attacks these young women in the Leader of the Opposition's office to try and cover up what her office was involved in. We've now got concessions that they breached the law, and it's not the first time this has happened. Under Minister Cash's leadership, the ABCC commissioner Nigel Hadgkiss had to resign in disgrace.

This is a government that has seen its time out. This is a government that does not care. This is a government that will say anything and do anything. This is a government that needs to go. The sooner we get to an election, the sooner this place will be a better place. (Time expired)

3:16 pm

Photo of Jane HumeJane Hume (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Madam Deputy President, have you ever heard the phrase 'if you don't like what they're saying about you, change the conversation'? I have never heard the conversation changed quite so much today, during this take note session, as we've just seen from Senator Cameron. How extraordinary! You've got to feel sorry for the Labor Party; they've had a bad day. It's been a bad day when one of your members, the member for Lindsay, didn't turn up to work on a day when there's a crucial vote—she just made it, just slipped in—and when your coalition partners in the Australian Greens decide that, actually, they've changed their minds about you and they're not going to support your legislation through. When you've had a bad day like that, what's the best thing you can do? The best thing you can do is deflect. 'Look over there,' they say. That's exactly what the Labor Party have done today.

It's a shame, because they had a bit of pep in the step and glide in the stride over late last year—but it does seem to have diminished somewhat in recent weeks. I think that maybe they were getting a little bit too comfortable, a little bit too complacent, a little bit too confident, but that's certainly not the case. You can see the turmoil that the Labor Party find themselves in, particularly over this banking royal commission that was commissioned by the Liberal-National government and announced in November 2017. There have been 68 days of hearings. There have been 130 witnesses. They've reviewed more than 10,000 submissions. Now we have 76 separate recommendations that the government has considered and will take action on—all 76. We didn't jump the gun. We didn't say, 'We're going to support everything even though we're not entirely sure what we're supporting.' We waited. We considered the report that came from Justice Hayne. We went through every single one of those recommendations, one by one, and then we made a comment on each.

Unfortunately, the poor old Labor Party—I'm a compassionate person; I feel quite sorry for them—have gone: 'Some of those recommendations are a little bit uncomfortable. What are we going to do about default super?' Justice Hayne said there should be one single default super fund for all Australians. That doesn't sit particularly well with a Labor Party that has vested interests in the industry superannuation sector through its union affiliations. I mean, what can you do? Senator Cameron himself was a board member of an industry super fund. Senator Ketter was a board member of an industry super fund. Goodness me! The Leader of the Opposition himself was a board member of an industry super fund. How do you decouple superannuation from industrial relations, as Commissioner Hayne has suggested, while looking after your vested interests? It's a very difficult thing to do, which is why the Labor Party don't want to talk about it. They also don't want to talk about mortgage brokers. There are 27,000 individual mortgage brokers out there in Australia, and they provide over 50 per cent of the loans. Not only do they provide 50 per cent of the home loans but they are also responsible for improving competition in our banking sector, competition that is so very, very important.

Commissioner Hayne has made a series of recommendations, which the government has considered. Of those recommendations to do with mortgage brokers, we have said that we will adopt putting in place a best interest duty and that we will ban trail commissions and volume based bonuses on new loans, starting from July 2020, but we are not yet comfortable with the idea of banning upfront commissions. We're not yet comfortable with that because it will essentially decimate the mortgage broking industry—the 27,000 mortgage broking employees and the 17,000 broking businesses that are out there.

Ask the Labor Party what it is that they want to do on mortgage brokers, because they haven't actually landed on a solution yet. They've gone silent. Instead, they're saying: 'Look the other way. Look the other way.' They haven't landed on a decision about what to do with superannuation. What are they going to do about default super? What are you going to do about default super? What are you going to say to your vested interests? Are you going to say, 'Yes, you're right: we'll decouple industrial relations from superannuation from retirement incomes'? That should have been done years ago. But they can't do it because they have vested interests. Look the other way. If you don't like what they're saying about you, change the conversation, and that's exactly what the ALP have done today. (Time expired)

3:21 pm

Photo of Murray WattMurray Watt (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I also rise to take note of the answers from Senator Cash to questions today regarding this never-ending scandal involving her and her office over the leaking to members of the media of confidential police information regarding a police raid, something which the commissioner of the Australian Federal Police himself described as conduct that endangered the lives of his police officers.

Just a quick refresher for those who've forgotten the detail: what this involved was a leak of police information about an imminent police raid on union offices, which was leaked to the media by a former member of Minister Cash's staff. We know that that's how it occurred because Minister Cash, eventually, under protest, confirmed to Senate estimates that the leak had come from one of her own staff members and that he had finally admitted this in the process of resigning from her office. But, of course, before we got to finding out the truth—that this leak came from a former staff member of Minister Cash—we had to sit through Minister Cash on five occasions misleading the Senate and Senate estimates by saying that no-one in her office leaked the information and that she didn't know anything about it. In fact, at the estimates hearing on 26 October 2017—and we've referred back to what she said on that occasion—she assured the Senate that she had interviewed every member of her staff when this story finally broke and asked them whether they were aware of the police raids prior to them occurring. She told the Senate that every one of her staff members had said that they did not know and that they were not aware of these raids. We learnt today, through court proceedings brought by the Australian Workers' Union, that that is actually not true. Yet again it seems that we have Senator Cash providing incorrect, false information to the Senate.

Yesterday, in proceedings brought by the Australian Workers' Union, Minister Cash's former staff member, who resigned over this affair, refused to answer questions as to who informed him about the imminent police raids. The reason he gave for why he wouldn't answer those questions was very interesting. It was because he believed that he would incriminate himself. If that doesn't show illegal conduct, conduct that would potentially make him the subject of police or other legal action, I don't know what does.

Today, the truth has finally come out. Today, in evidence before the Federal Court, the former staff member of Minister Cash has identified Minister Cash's former chief of staff as the person who informed him that the raids were imminent. Let's remember, back in October 2017, the day that these raids occurred, the day that this scandal blew up, Minister Cash finally came into the Senate and Senate estimates and admitted that it had come from her office but that she had spoken to every single one of her staff members and they had assured her that they didn't know anything about these raids.

We now know today, through evidence given in court, that in fact the source of this information was her former chief of staff. Contrary to what she has said, it is in fact the case that other members of her staff knew about the raids and were in on the scandal. There really can only be two situations here: either Minister Cash was telling the truth at the time, and all her other staff members lied to her in saying that they did not know about these raids; or we have a former chief of staff of Minister Cash being fingered in evidence, given up in evidence by another member of the staff, and it would seem that someone has potentially lied before the court. Either of those situations is very serious and there will be definitely be more questions to answer.

Now that we know that more than one member of Senator Cash's staff knew about the raids, the obvious question is: who else knew? We have been saying for some months now that it is impossible to believe that only one member of Minister Cash's staff knew about the imminent raids and was in on the leak. We have learned today that it now involves two members, including her former chief of staff. It defies belief to think that it is confined to those two staff members and that other staff members were not involved, and perhaps even Minister Cash herself was involved in this. But of course we continue to get this refusal from Minister Cash to answer questions. She wheels out the whiteboard before estimates; she's effectively wheeled out a whiteboard again today. But I can assure her that we're not going to let this rest and there are more questions coming.

Question agreed to.