CONSUMER ACTION LAW CENTRE, MELBOURNE
TUESDAY, 2 OCTOBER 2018
SUBJECT/S: Labor giving banking victims a voice; Labor’s promise to protect the independence of the ABC; Great Barrier Reef Foundation; Home Affairs Department; GST distribution; National Integrity Commission; tsunami in Sulawesi
CLARE O’NEIL, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FINANCIAL SERVICES: Good morning everyone. My name is Clare O'Neil and I am the Shadow Minister for Financial Services and it's wonderful to be here this morning with Bill Shorten at the Consumer Action Law Centre. Bill and I have just spent some time speaking with bank victims about what is going on in the Royal Commission. Scott Morrison never wanted this Royal Commission to happen. He voted against it 26 times, he denied we needed a Royal Commission for 600 days and when he was finally dragged kicking and screaming to call the Royal Commission he didn't give the Royal Commission enough time.
One of the implications of that, is that the Royal Commission hasn't had the opportunity to meet with a lot of bank victims. More than 9,000 people made submissions to the Royal Commission, just 27 have had the opportunity to tell their stories in public. I know as a politician and I know I speak for Bill here, that we learn a huge amount from people who are the victims of some kind of public policy breakdown. So today, Bill has asked me to travel around Australia to speak to bank victims about what has happened to them but importantly, what they think we can do to make banking in Australia more fair. I'll hand over to Bill.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks Clare, it is good to be back from school holidays. First of all, I just want to acknowledge here at the Consumer Legal Centre, we have just been meeting with victims of absolutely disgusting, unethical banking practices. This Banking Royal Commission has done Australia a favour. This is a once in a generation chance to finally straighten out our banks and financial institutions, to stop the systemic rip-off of Australians. Labor called for this Royal Commission more than two years ago. We said two years ago there is a pathology in the banking and financial services sector in Australia which will not be cured until there is a Royal Commission.
The new Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, voted 26 times against a Banking Royal Commission. He attacked me personally for daring to raise the issue that our banks should not just be profitable, they should be ethical. 26 times, Scott Morrison voted against having a Royal Commission, over 600 days. We finally got the Banking Royal Commission due to the pressure of the Australian people. I must commend the Royal Commission and all of the staff who are working there, they are doing an amazing job. I think everyone, no matter what they thought they might uncover, has been shocked by the systemic and cynical exploitation of people where we have seen profits being put ahead of people in Australia.
Labor is now saying that we need to extend the length of this Royal Commission. It has been great, the Royal Commission's case studies have been really well targeted and very good at highlighting a range of the issues. 27 victims have had the chance to tell their story and that has been a good thing. But there are literally thousands of victims who feel frustrated that they are not getting their chance to explain what happened to them. I understand that explaining how you got ripped off doesn't put you back in the position that you should have been in before you got ripped off. But a crucial part of making sure that never again do we have to see ethics sacrificed on the altar of profit, we must see this Royal Commission extended.
What I have also asked Clare O'Neil to do, our spokesperson, is to go and talk to the various victims to make sure that we fully understand the range of the stories. We have been doing that, but I think it is important that we keep the focus on making sure that the victims don't get forgotten. Specifically, what we also want to do is use this to inform what we are looking at in terms of policy contributions, to the Royal Commission in their phase when they are looking for policy ideas and reforms.
But to return to where we started, we think that the banking sector in Australia has got a lot of explaining to do. One of the core factors in the banking's problems at the heart of the matter, is the bonus and remunerations system. For too long it seems that the banks and those who run the banks have put getting big bonuses ahead of their integrity. The crazy thing in Australia for the last number of years is that if you steal from a bank, you go to jail, but if a bank steals from you, the top end get a bonus. This is unacceptable. I might get Clare to talk a little bit more about the process and let's take some questions.
O’NEIL: Thanks, Bill. So as Bill has mentioned, today Labor is announcing that because Scott Morrison will not extend the Royal Commission and not provide more victims with their opportunity to have their say about bank misconduct, Labor will be conducting our own consultation process. So this week we will be here in Melbourne this morning, in Adelaide tomorrow and then in Geelong on Friday and we'll release a timetable of where we will be travelling over the next number of weeks. Initially we will be inviting people to tell us about what happened to them and we'll be talking to them about some of the questions that the Commissioner asked in his interim report released on Friday. My hope is that those forums, if they're successful, will continue through to the end of the year so we can let bank victims have the say in this process that we believe they have a right to.
SHORTEN: Great. Are there any questions on this or any other matters?
JOURNALIST: Will information gleaned from these regional roundtables actually have any bearing on the final report in the Royal Commission?
SHORTEN: I will get Clare to supplement this answer but I think that there is big benefit to be gained from listening to the experience of victims. The people we just spoke to then, one is an aged care work, another is a small business person whose parents got into financial difficulties, another person is somebody receiving unsolicited personal loans. These are all real people. They are people who absolutely are committed to paying their debts and when they enter into financial arrangements, honouring them. What we see here is that when people experience shocks in life, it could be the death of a parent as happened to the small businessmen, it could be the aged care worker who is a casual becoming sick or having an injury but not being able to keep their job. All of a sudden what then happens is that the banks don't care about that. Sure, they might have hardship payments for a couple of weeks, but that doesn't really cut it. So what I find and what Clare finds and what Labor finds, is that when you listen to the real people, you listen to everyday people talking about what has happened, that helps you understand that we have got to actually make sure that we don't miss this once in a generation opportunity to reform our financial services. Strong banks and strong financial services are crucial to our economy of course they are, to the flow of credit, to fulfilling people's dreams and hopes. But I do not accept the only business model of the banking sector has to be one where ethics and integrity get sacrificed in favour of bonuses and profit. So I think we will get a lot of good ideas.
O’NEIL: We believe that ordinary stories have to be a part of this process, and the people who have been victims of bank misconduct have a right to participate in this debate, but they're also part of the solution to this debate. So as we go around the country talking to bank victims, we'll be asking them to tell their stories but we'll also be talking to them about the questions that Commissioner Hayne has asked in his interim report released on Friday. Commissioner Hayne is going to hear from the bank CEOs when he meets with them in November about key questions, for example, what obligations does a lender owe to a borrower. We want to hear the views from ordinary Australians when it comes to these questions and these are some of the things we will be talking about in the bank roundtables.
JOURNALIST: If the Banking Royal Commissioner already knows he can extend the Banking Royal Commission, is Labor politicising the commission by continually asking for it to be extended?
SHORTEN: Hang on a second, if Labor hadn't called for the Royal Commission, we wouldn't have one. If Mr Morrison had his way we still wouldn't have one. Like it or not, the banking system and the way it has treated its victims is political. Politics is about who has got the power and the problem is in the banking sector, the banks and the CEOs, the boys getting the big bonuses, they've had all the power. Consumers have had no power, that's political. So we make no apology for calling for the Royal Commission, we didn't give up for 600 days and we got the Royal Commission. Mr Morrison voted against it 26 times, he attacked me, made fun of me for calling for a Banking Royal Commission. Well, he's not laughing now. What's worse than that, is that you've still got victims who want to tell their story.
One of the questions I get when I travel around Australia is, how come no one from the banks has gone to jail? When you see all of this theft, when you see the systemic looting of Australians consumers. Just as someone said to me before in the session we were in, if you steal from a bank you go to jail but if a bank steals from you, they get a promotion and a bonus and a big car.
JOURNALIST: Just on the ABC a former member of the independent panel, the independent nomination panel for the board questioned whether any of the current board members are qualified, he says they should be basically sacked. Considering the questions over their role in the saga over the last little while do you think there should be a clear-out of the entire ABC board as a fresh start?
SHORTEN: Yeah I think probably that the board does have questions to answer. I also think Minister Fifield does, that guy has got more lives than a cat - you know, nothing ever sticks to this fella.
You know, the reality is that he's the Communication Minister where you've got the Chairman's miraculously telepathically, apparently, understanding the wishes of the Government and wants to see journalists sacked. You know, spare me. As if the Chairman wasn't getting pressure from the Government to lean on the ABC. And as for the board, you know I think the Government needs to hang its head in shame. You don't have an independent process and then totally ignore it for every director, and how much did these board directors know what’s going on? Were they really just mushrooms kept in the dark where apparently it was just the Chairman and the Managing Director at war with each other? I don't know what these directors were doing. I think that we've got to depoliticise board appointments to the ABC. We'll have more to say about that process.
In the meantime how about the current Prime Minister warning the ABC that if they don't do something he will. What is it the Liberals don't get about ABC independence? They interfere with the choice of directors they cut the funding of the ABC, they appoint their mates and that doesn't work out and then they just blame the ABC for everything that is going wrong. This is a failure of governance, it's a failure of politics, it's a failure of the Government.
This is why we should have a National Integrity Commission. I do not know why Mr Morrison is opposing setting up an anti-corruption commission nationally because I think that would provide reassurance to Australians that the political system is not broken.
JOURNALIST: So do you think, just to be clear, that the board has questions to answer over its role or should they all depart their posts?
SHORTEN: What did they know and when did they know it? Are we really assuming that Justin Milne was a sort of a lone wolf operating here and just issuing edicts to Michelle Guthrie? Like really, what's the job of the board? Are they just there for a digestive biscuit and a cup of tea? What is their job?
How is it that we've got a world where the Government doesn't take responsibility for the people it's appointed, they say it's not our fault. The board directors say it's not our fault there was an argument going on someone else. You know what most Australians think, if they conducted themselves like the Government or the directors - be it the banks or the ABC - they'd lose their jobs. But apparently, there's one rule for everyday Australians and another rule for the lucky few who are well connected.
JOURNALIST: If you win government, are you committed to keeping this government's Home Affairs Department arrangements in place?
SHORTEN: What we will do is we will take a bipartisan view on national security. We're the Opposition, we're not going to interfere with the Government's administrative arrangments from opposition on Home Affairs. If the system is working then of course we'll keep it. If the security agencies say that we need to look at improvements, then of course we will.
JOURNALIST: Some in your party say that Peter Dutton has too much power in this portfolio, are they wrong?
SHORTEN: Well I think the major concern my party has is that Peter Dutton is the Minister. Peter Dutton doesn't fill most Australians with any confidence, does he? I mean he's still got a cloud over his constitutional eligibility.
I think the problem in some of the debates is that the Liberal Government always politicise national security, they're always trying to find a way to wedge Labor or they're always finding a way to pick on a minority group. I think the problem sometimes in our structures is that you have Liberal Ministers in charge of them.
JOURNALIST: If you were in office would you have merged these departments?
SHORTEN: Well, we didn't win the last election, so it's a bit like saying what would I have done - would I have backed the winner of the races on Saturday - last Saturday, I don't know.
The point about it is, in all seriousness, we're not into change for change's sake. And I just want to say to Australians who are frustrated with the political system as it currently is, I get you, I understand that. What I can promise is if we get elected we're not just going to rip up everything that the Liberals have done just because they were the Liberals and we're the new broom.
When it comes to implementing Labor values, well then we're not for compromising. That's why we're going to prioritise properly funding our schools and health. That's why we want to see wages move again in this country. So, you know, where it's Labor policy we'll stick to that but where there is something which is working we're not just into change for change's sake.
JOURNALIST: The agencies involved were pretty clearly opposed to it and a lot of, kind of, external specialists said it was not a good move. Do you think if you keep those arrangments you'll face some issues from your friendly colleagues in the left wing of the party?
SHORTEN: No Fergus, what I will do is just rely on the advice of the experts at all times, that's the way we will govern. We'll listen to the experts, and of course people try and say there's disunity on the Labor side - I'm not having a bar of that. If you want to look for disunity 101 go and have a look at the current government.
Listen, just before I close this press conference, this is the first time I've been up publicly, since the terrible tsunami in Sulawesi. I'd just say this: Indonesia is our nearest neighbour, when your neighbour has a crisis, a very serious crisis, neighbor's help neighbours.
So I just want to extend Labor's sympathy. I understand the death toll is now up to somewhere near 12,000. I was speaking to the Indonesian Ambassador this morning and certainly, I think we should be prepared to provide medicine and food which is immediately available to eat, antibiotics because I think the recovery there, there's a lot of urgent problems going on.
JOURNALIST: Can I just ask an ABC question. If you form Government can you commit to not ignoring the independent nomination panel advice?
SHORTEN: Yeah, I can commit to not ignoring the advice of the independent panel. And let's go to a deeper issue here, I think Australians are frustrated this government seems to be an old mates club and I think their ignoring the independent panel on so many directors of the ABC - well the chickens have come home to roost, haven't they?
But again, the bigger issue at the ABC is that the Liberals seem to be at war with the ABC. We're not interested in merging the ABC and SBS, we've already said that we will reverse the $83.7 million worth of cuts to the ABC.
The public broadcaster is accountable to the people of Australia, not to a political party and we want to end the political interference of conservatives in the ABC.
I did say last question, but one more.
JOURNALIST: On the GST, will Labor block changes to the GST if the sort of a 'no State worse off guarantee' isn’t in legislation?
SHORTEN: Well let's see the legislation. Labor's approach on the GST is that West Australia has been unfairly treated, but what we also want to make sure that is that no state is worse off.
Labor has led the debate on improving the GST outcomes for Western Australia and we've also then said that the floor of 75 cents should be legislated. Now the Government's appropriately picked that up, but I just say to the Government, let's not play any silly games here.
I don't want to see Tasmania, Queensland, any of the other states - Northern Territory - disadvantaged because the Government is trying to chase a few votes in Western Australia. We are able to resolve making sure that no state gets unfairly treated in GST distribution but it shouldn't be at the price of any other state.
JOURNALIST: Sorry Mr Shorten, just one more here. Do you have a response for Scott Morrison when he says the buck stops with him in regards to the Great Barrier Reef grant?
SHORTEN: Well it probably should stop with him, shouldn't it? I mean the real challenge here is that people turned up, a private charitable foundation, turned up to a half-hour meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Frydenberg, Prime Minister Morrison and former Prime Minister Turnbull.
At the end of half-an-hour they walk out with a promised $444 million. That is remarkable, it's just absurd. The people who went for the meeting didn't expect to get that sort of largesse but now it's emerged that Prime Minister Morrison - not only had there been no due diligence adequately done on $440 million - but Prime Minister Morrison was the architect of shoveling the money out of the door in record time.
If you're someone eligible for the old age pension and you wait for nine months to get the aged pension, you'd be shaking your head. If you are a widow of a veteran trying to sort out your health care payments, waiting for a payment from the Government, you'd love to get this sort of service but yet again, the real problem with the Liberals is that they only govern for some people, and their special friends, and not everybody else.