SUBJECT/S: Labor’s proposal for a Royal Commission into the banking and financial services industry; Income tax cuts vs personal tax cuts; OECD anti-dumping conference; RSRT; ASIC funding; PM’s trip to China
SHORTEN: Good morning everybody. I've just had, along with Andrew Leigh our Assistant Treasurer, the privilege of listening to some very strong Australians who've been taken to a set of financial circumstances by their trust in banks, which has been betrayed. So I'd like to thank Jenny and Bill and Sid for being courageous enough to tell their stories and to some extent have to re-live the terrible set of exploitation. These people are family people, they're small businesses and what they've done is they've had their trust let down by banks in Australia. They're very supportive of Labor's call for a Royal Commission into banking and financial services. They've seen the regulator act and they just know the regulators are out gunned and under equipped to do the job which people expect. They know that a regulator cannot investigate itself and deal with the wide spread challenges that only a Royal Commission can bring to it.
So today, I reiterate my invitation called to Prime Minister Turnbull to stand up for customers of banks and have a Royal Commission into our banking and financial services sector. The stories are harrowing and these are customers. What we want to see is for the Liberal and National Party MPs do their day job. I want to see Mr Turnbull talk to some of the people who've been poorly treated by banks and he should explain to them why a Royal Commission is not necessary. I actually think it's quite extraordinary that Mr Turnbull will go to such lengths to protect big banks from legitimate investigation. It's now time, long time overdue for Mr Turnbull to stop protecting the big banks and instead side with customers, Australian banking customers. Our call for a Royal Commission has crystallised I believe the thoughts of millions of Australians who want to see a stronger, healthier, more ethical, banking culture in Australia. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, can I ask you, you talked about trying to expose some of these problems and have them documented but what do you envisage actually coming out of the Royal Commission in terms of action? Do you think that the banks should - the vertical integration of banking in the financial sector should be broken down? Would you like to see a new regulatory regime considered by the Royal Commission? What do you actually want to see come out of it?
SHORTEN: I want to see a stronger, healthier banking sector. I want to see an end to the constant string of scandals which populate the pages of your newspaper and other newspapers. Every time there's a scandal from a debate about financial planners hard selling and ripping off customers, from the debate about and proven problems of life insurance policies being sold by banks and the banks trying to wriggle out of actually honouring their insurance policies. We've got serious allegations about rate rigging that ASIC's now taking up against a number of our major banks. I want an end to the scandal. I want an end to the constant drip of whistle blowers explaining how the remuneration systems in banks are forcing people to coerce people, effectively, into financial arrangements which are not appropriate for customers of banks. I think it is bizarre that the defence of the Treasurer and the Prime Minister is that if we were to try and have a Royal Commission to improve the ethical standards of banks, that somehow improving ethical conduct weakens banks. I don't buy the argument that ripping off customers is the only way you'll have a sustainable banking sector in Australia. In terms of specific recommendations of a Royal Commission, one of the reasons why we want a Royal Commission, and nothing else will do, is if you want to have those broad powers of an investigation you need the powers that only a Royal Commission can bring. How on earth can we judge, and going to your specific question about the regulator and their effectiveness, how can we simply ask the regulator to investigate their own effectiveness? I've got a lot of time for ASIC but they're doing a lot of work with very few resources. That's why a Royal Commission with its broad-ranging powers to gather evidence to make those systemic analysis so that the harrowing stories of people, ones we hear about being ripped off, those harrowing stories are no more.
JOURNALIST: Would a Labor Government adopt the recommendations that arise from a banking Royal Commission?
SHORTEN: Well, I appreciate that the question recognises we're in this next election with a chance, let's see what the Royal Commission recommends first. I wouldn't see any reason why we wouldn't, but the point is, let's get the Royal Commission and indeed we don't need to wait until the election to start the process of a Royal Commission. My call today is upon Mr Turnbull. Do your day job. I think it is quite extraordinary you're going to such lengths to defend the banking sector against customers. I think it's time that Mr Turnbull shows allegiance to all of the customers in Australia not just to the big end of town.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, if you as a future Labor Government, if you were to adopt the recommendations of a banking Royal Commission, why has a Shorten Opposition ignored the recommendations of the trade union Royal Commission? Why listen to one and not the other?
SHORTEN: James there's more hypotheticals in that than a normal question…
JOURNALIST: Not really. You have dismissed the findings of the Trade Union Royal Commission. Why is that?
SHORTEN: No we haven't actually. What I have said is the Trade Union Royal Commission produced some unacceptable examples of very poor behaviour from a number of individual trade unionists and I have no time, I have no time for any official who was taking members' money and doing the wrong thing. Absolutely no time. But that to me does not mean that we cannot have a discussion, a debate and indeed a Royal Commission into the banking industry of Australia. Every Australian over 18 just about has a bank account, every Australian or most Australians have a credit card, most Australians aspire to having a mortgage if they don't already have one, most Australians have insurance policies many of which are sold through the banking sector. It is not good enough every time there is a problem for Mr Turnbull, Mr Morrison or the big banks to say, "Nothing to see here. Keep moving along." There clearly is something to be seen here. The Labor Party will not rest until we have the strongest and healthiest possible standards in our banking sector.
In terms of the recommendations of the Royal Commission into union governance, some of them we accept and others we don't see the case is made out for. We will look at the merits of recommendations based upon the evidence, but how much more evidence does Mr Turnbull need to stop being the body guard of the banking system of Australia, the big banks and their conduct and instead stand up for all the other Australians who are customers of banks in this country? I didn't invent the disappointing and the very hard, harrowing stories of the people I've just met and there are thousands of other customers who've been let down by their banks. The complaints against banks run into the tens of thousands and it isn't good enough for Mr Turnbull to say - to go to the Westpac birthday bash, give them some lecture about - he said himself that there are too many problems here just to be swept under the carpet so in the next couple of days the Labor Party says, you know what, Mr Turnbull, you're right, there are too many problems to be swept under the carpet. And what does Mr Turnbull do, get his broom out and sweep it right under the carpet again.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, there's a full-page ad in one of the papers this morning that contains an open letter to the Prime Minister. It's been signed by many prominent Australians, union leaders Ged Kearney, Andrew Dettmar and it calls on the Prime Minister not to cut taxes at this time and certainly not for companies. In your view is now the right time for personal income taxes - tax cuts and is it also the right time for company tax cuts as well?
SHORTEN: It is not the right time for corporate tax cuts. We've seen reports revealed today in some of the newspapers which show that in fact the cost of a corporate tax cut will cause more economic mayhem than it will cause the proposed advantages. I do not know why Mr Turnbull is proposing a cut for large corporations. Indeed the Australia Institute calculates that a corporate tax cut for our banks will send them a $9 billion windfall in the future. Mr Turnbull is having a debate about cutting taxes for banks. We just want to have a Royal Commission to make sure that the banks are behaving in an ethical fashion.
In terms of the broader question about Budget repair that is fair, Labor believes that you've got to do a mix if we want to repair the Budget. We've got to reduce wasteful government spending. That's why we wouldn't support the Emissions Reduction Fund Payments or Tony Abbott's scheme to pay large polluters for poor environmental outcomes. We would also not go ahead with a marriage equality plebiscite, $160 million for an opinion poll which members of Mr Turnbull's own party have said they won't adhere to. This is why we're also proposing to reform tax concessions. Why on earth will Mr Turnbull fight to the death to be able to give a property investor the ability to have the taxpayers of Australia subsidise the interest payments on their 10th property yet do nothing for first home buyers? And we've also said that it's long overdue, long before you think about corporate tax cuts, to make multinationals pay their fair share of taxation.
JOURNALIST: But is it correct to also say that it's not the correct time for personal tax cuts?
SHORTEN: Well we've got to see whether Mr Turnbull can find it in the Budget, but you know, trying to guess the position of the Government from morning to afternoon is a guessing game.
JOURNALIST: What's Labor's position?
SHORTEN: First of all, let's go to the Government's Budget because that was the first part of your question. Mr Turnbull's proposed several tax reforms since he magnificently overthrew Tony Abbott seven months ago. Remember there was the GST where he said a well-designed GST increase should be on the table? For six months poor old Scott Morrison went up hill and down dale working on a 15 per cent GST increase, only Labor said at the outset that we thought it was a bad idea so his first plan, Mr Turnbull's first plan until Labor's staunch opposition discouraged him, was to make all Australians pay 15 per cent for the goods they need at the supermarket and elsewhere.
Then they had this idea, where I think Scott Morrison in a bout of honesty or candour, conceded there's excesses in negative gearing. Remember that? Now he's retreated from that and apparently if you touch the ability of people to get a tax subsidy for their 10th investment property, it is the end of the share market as we know it. Then of course, Mr Turnbull had the famous 'Penrith Declaration' where he said he thought it was a very good idea to allow states to increase income taxes on all Australians. We affectionately know that as Mr Turnbull's double taxation plan. Now what's happened is that Mr Turnbull is musing about corporate tax cuts. The only thing which this Government seems intent on doing is trying to set the date of the election and organise it so they can get re-elected. There's no tax reform in this Government. The Turnbull Government has given up governing some months ago. They're just desperately trying to work out how they can wring a few votes out of the electorate. In the meantime, only Labor has fully funded policies. Only Labor in the last number of months, has been outlining policies which will repair the bottom line of the Budget. Labor's ready for the election because we've got positive plans for Australia's future. Mr Turnbull is just trying to desperately stitch together a plan to keep his own job.
JOURNALIST: Can I draw you out on this, Mr Shorten? Bracket creep has been identified as a problem by both sides of politics. Are you telling people just to suck it up? And secondly, can I just ask you whether you will support the legislation that the Government intends to put to the parliament when parliament resumes next week, to abolish the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal?
SHORTEN: No, I would never say to the Australian people what you just put to me. The truth of the matter is - and you quite kindly reminded me - not only in this sort of tax reform Thelma and Louise journey which Mr Turnbull and Mr Morrison have been on, not only did they want to increase the 15 per cent GST but we spooked them for the time being, not only did they want to go for double taxation until we said this was just a crazy idea, not only did they identify excesses in negative gearing and run away, but they have been talking about bracket creep. If you remember some of Scott Morrison's famous interviews, bracket creep was the thing that kept him up at night, now they've given up on that. I don't think we'll see much from the Government in way of tax reform. I am not holding my breath. I have given up trying to guess what's in the mind of the Government because clearly the only thing that is, is their survival. When you talk about the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal, Labor has a very straight forward position - for years we've debated, looked at the evidence and we have formed the view based upon the best safety experts, based upon countless reports of people in the transport and heavy vehicle industry, that if you pay the rates of pay too low to owner-drivers, you increase the chances for fatalities and serious injuries in the heavy vehicle sector. It is a fact that the transport industry and the heavy vehicle industry is amongst the most dangerous, if not the most dangerous, occupation in Australia. It is beyond doubt that the heavy vehicle industry has a fatality rate 12 times the national average across all industries. Now the Government wants you to believe that drivers are racing through the night, fatigued, in some cases taking drugs they shouldn't take to try and cut corners, to be able to, on their meager pay, still be able to do the job and get paid and the Government says there is no correlation between unsafe rates of pay and safety on the roads. The Government wants you to believe that somehow owner-drivers who on average receive $32,000 a year compared to employee drivers on $56,000 a year, that they want to keep getting $32,000 a year. This order of this tribunal is after three years of evidence. Please look through the history books, look at how many times Mr Turnbull's ever spoken about transport safety, truck driver safety and this remuneration before last week. He has been in public life since 2004 yet all of a sudden he burst on to the scene of transport road safety and said that this order needed to be stayed until January of next year and the tribunal needed to be scrapped after the election. His first position was never to say anything about it and then last week it was to say the order had to be stayed, the minimum wages order, you know, and this tribunal, an independent tribunal, be scrapped next week. Now, today, he's out there saying, "I'll just get rid of the whole tribunal next week." Mr Turnbull has taken different possessions, not because he cares about truck driver safety fundamentally, not because he's shown a great interest in public life about the wages of truck drivers or owner-drivers, but because he feels this is a way of keeping the right wing of his Party happy and he is trying to scrap an independent tribunal. And I also have to say this about Mr Turnbull, first of all for us, we are standing up for truck drivers, low-paid owner-drivers and road safety of all motorists. The other thing I say is, this is an independent tribunal, it's heard evidence and it's made a decision. It is independent of the Parliament in terms of the decision it's made. He now wants to scrap an independent tribunal's wage determination. So if an Independent tribunal decides it wants to defend penalty rates, if it wants to introduce shift loadings or proper casual payments, will Mr Turnbull now, using the precedent of scrapping one wages tribunal, extends the view into scrapping other independent tribunals? Mr Turnbull should sit down with the industry rather than playing politics with safety on our roads and the pay rates of low-paid owner-drivers.
JOURNALIST: The OECD is about to hold a major anti-dumping, anti-steel dumping conference in Belgium. At 9am Australia wasn't sending a Minister, we were sending two officials, now it's 11:40 and Karen Andrews is going to go. The Government's changed its mind, what's your opinion on this?
SHORTEN: The Government doesn't care about the future of steel jobs, they've just been caught out not attending global action on steel dumping. Right across the world, first-world nations are coping with the fact that their steel industries are under great pressure. We've seen massive restructuring in the British steel industry, the north American steel mills have been under pressure for some time in terms of dumping. I've written to Mr Turnbull on several occasions, even in the time that he's been Prime Minister, saying, please, our steel industry is crucial, can you do something to stand up for steel jobs? Now, as you correctly observe in your question, the only reason the Turnbull Government is showing any political interest in a global conference to take action to protect steel workers' jobs, to protect the small businesses in the steel industry is because he's caught out by the media and by the Opposition. Let's be really clear what drivers this Government, it's not good policy, it's not Australian jobs, it's whether or not they can get away under the radar with doing nothing and the only reason they're sending some Liberal politician to Brussels, or wherever this conference is being held, is because they've been embarrassed and shamed into the steel jobs. I mean Christopher Pyne should frankly resign. He's been out there making ludicrous statements, he swings like a pendulum, you know, from do nothing to saying “we've got to put Australian steel on the front of our submarines”, which mightn't actually be, technically, be the right steel to put on our submarines. The guy is not, you know, he's not across his brief, and in the meantime steel workers from the Illawarra to Western Sydney to Hastings outside of Melbourne to Whyalla, right through Australia, steel fabricators, they know the truth of the matter, they've got a Government who doesn't care about steel jobs.
JOURNALIST: In regards to the trucking tribunal, if it's so important, why is Labor then entertaining the idea of delaying the levy that was handed down last week, and just on another issue, regarding ASIC, the Government cut $120 million over 4 years, will a future Labor Government bring back the $120 million in full?
SHORTEN: First of all, Mr Turnbull interprets compromise as weakness because he doesn't understand the transport industry. I won't bore you to tears with the order, but the issue is there's two basic areas where this minimum wage order applies to. One is for the distribution supermarket sector, the other is long distance. Labor sees the case that if there's real angst in the community amongst customers and some of the long distance trucking companies, well it's always sensible to see if there can be compromise. Mr Turnbull of course, he's is not interested in compromise, he's just trying to engage in some sort of hard hat, high vis-wearing jacket sort of macho contest to show somehow he's interested in some people who earn their living through the transport industry. In the long distance order, perhaps the case can be made, and I believe industry players and the union are willing to look at how you can have a longer implementation of the order around long distance, but why on earth is Mr Turnbull so keen to make it, to not have the minimum, a minimum wages order for supermarkets. Coles and Woolworths over the years have been accused by the people who provide services to them of perhaps not paying sufficient, and now Mr Turnbull wants to give these large organisations a holiday in terms of paying minimum safe rates of pay. So what I've proposed is compromise. A good leader doesn't just demand that you get rid of an independent tribunal in a kneejerk reaction, a good leader gets into the facts, but how would Mr Turnbull really know about this topic if you've never paid any attention to it, if you're not really interested in minimum wages, if you haven't ever looked at the link between low wages and road safety? I guess you can say what Mr Turnbull says, or you can take the Labor approach. You look at the industry submissions, you look at the evidence, you look at the legitimate concerns about the roll out of a minimum wages order, you look at all the evidence. That's the Labor way, common sense, middle ground. Mr Turnbull's taking an extreme position because he hasn't followed the issues. He's just chasing votes in one sector and he's not really got a long-term plan for the logistics industry in Australia. The second question was about ASIC?
JOURNALIST: About ASIC, a $120 million cut from the Coalition, will Labor reinstate that in full?
SHORTEN: Well we're certainly interested to see what repair work the Government makes. Every day it's a different set of smoke signals from this Government isn't it about what they're doing on banking. We're keen to see the Government make some repair to what they've done to ASIC. We haven't got a final position in terms of any of the budget because we haven't seen their final Budget, but there's no doubt that we need to provide more resources for the regulator, but just providing resources for the regulator isn't enough. You've got to have a widespread examination. Can we improve the ethics and culture in the banking sector? Can we make sure the regulator has got all the, sort of, capacity that it needs to do the job properly? Can we make sure that we understand how widespread the problems are? That's what Labor wants. Last question.
JOURNALIST: Malcolm Turnbull's heading to China tomorrow. What's your message? Do you hope that he has some stern words to say about the South China Sea? What message would you like him to take over there?
SHORTEN: I Hope Mr Turnbull's trade mission's successful. You only get one China in the lifetime of any nation. It's important we make that relationship work. So I wish him well. In terms of the foreign policy matters, I think Mr Turnbull needs to be resolute in our support for international forums to resolve maritime border disputes. I also hope he speaks up for the Australian steel industry, but I wish him well and hope the mission's successful and further builds on the good ties we already have with China in trade. Thanks.
JOURNALIST: One more.
SHORTEN: I did say last question. Thanks.