SUBJECT/S: Labor’s plan for a banking Royal Commission; Census 2016; Michael Kirby’s comments on Turnbull’s plans for a plebiscite; CFA
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good afternoon everybody and welcome to Moonee Ponds in the heart of my electorate of Maribyrnong. I am joined today by my Shadow Minister for Consumer Affairs, Senator Sam Dastyari and we've been talking to small businesses in this community, talking to them about how the economy is going, how their customers are faring, how their business is going and what they think about the big banks refusing to pass on interest rate cuts. There is wide-spread frustration, anger and disappointment with the conduct of the four big banks. The small businesses I have been talking to here, and indeed right throughout Australia, are saying that our economy is fragile. What we need to see is more people willing to spend more, more businesses willing to borrow more money and take a chance on expanding their operations, more consumer confidence, community confidence. What has happened with the banks refusal to fully pass on the interest rate cuts of the independent Reserve Bank, is that small business is angry, frustrated and disappointed with the conduct of the big banks. And they are equally angry, frustrated and disappointed with Mr Turnbull's weak and pathetic actions in front of the banks’ arrogance. Mr Turnbull three months ago said that there was no problem to see here and that the regulator could handle it all. He has been feeling the pressure in the last week, but he has come up with a very poor second best option of a Parliamentary inquiry. Small businesses across Australia want to see the big banks pass on the full interest rate cut in the credit card interest rate reductions, in mortgages and elsewhere, because they are the lifeblood of the Australian economy, they know that customers need to be spending more. They don't understand why Mr Turnbull will give the big banks of Australia a $7.4 billion tax-cut, yet won't give them a Royal Commission, which I will. Sam?
SAM DASTYARI, SHADOW MINISTER FOR CONSUMER AFFAIRS: Thanks for that Bill. Look, this is not a victimless act. The decision by the banks to not pass on the interest rate cuts as we have seen them, impact directly on consumers and small businesses. There are hundreds and thousands and millions of victims out there of these decisions. And what we have seen from the Prime Minister frankly, is all bark and no bite. The Prime Minister's past week or so has been trying to talk tough, when it comes to real action to doing something about the appalling behaviour from our largest banks - what we simply have is another Parliamentary inquiry and this one is a Parliamentary-inquiry by a stacked Liberal-controlled committee. I mean, frankly, it is just not good enough and people like the businesses we met this morning have a right to be angry.
SHORTEN: Are there any questions about the need for a banking Royal Commission or any other matters?
JOURNALIST: I have a banking-related question. The banks are posting massive profits. What do you make of the idea of a banking industry profits tax to make them pay their fair share to the community?
SHORTEN: I think that the banks are very poorly advised to be pocketing billions of dollars in extra profit at a time when the Australian community is doing it tough. The independent Reserve Bank lowered the interest rate, not so banks could make an extra billion dollars to their bottom line, but so the mortgagees could feel less pressure, so there could be a reduction in the credit card interest rate, so that we could see businesses willing to borrow more money. The banks have been greedy and they've put their own interest ahead of the national interest.
The first step towards the banks learning that their conduct is out of step with community expectations isn't some slap on the wrist and long lecture from Mr Turnbull followed up by a large tax cut for the banks. What the banking industry in this country needs is a Royal Commission and I will give it to them - a Royal Commission. The problem we've got, and this goes to the heart of the matter of their profits, is that the banks have a remuneration system where the more profit they make, the more they improve their bottom line, then the bank executives make extra big profits and bonuses themselves. But the questions has to be asked, what is it about the remuneration reward executive fat cat bonus system in banks, which means these bankers own interest and the banks bottom line ahead of the national interest?
The first step we need to see is Mr Turnbull needs to agree to a banking Royal Commission. Labor will not give up pushing Mr Turnbull for a banking Royal Commission and I make a prediction that Mr Turnbull will eventually give in. He's already feeling the pressure, the banks humiliated him last week and the best he could come up with was an annual lunch and a committee and a chat with the banks, that's not good enough.
So I think the first step to reform in banking is a Royal Commission which would include an examination of the payment structures to the most senior executives which sees them rewarded for putting banks' profits ahead of community interest.
JOURNALIST: Outside of that though, do you support the idea of a new tax for banking profits? To target banking profits?
SHORTEN: Well, first thing’s first. Let's cross that bridge when we get to it and instead let's just get a banking Royal Commission under way. We want to see how widespread the scandals are in the banking sector. We want to understand what it is about the culture and business standards of banking which seems to trigger scandal after scandal after scandal. We want to see how well resourced the regulator is for dealing with these issues. There's no doubt in my mind that the banks fatally undermine their case against a Royal Commission last week when they chose to pocket some of the reduction in the official interest rate instead of getting the economy going. There is a culture in banking which puts the profits of banks, big profits, billions of dollars of profits ahead of the national interest and interests of mum and dad mortgagees, small businesses and people with large credit card interest rate debts.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, are you going to be putting your name on the Census tonight?
SHORTEN: Yes, I will be completing the Census as fully required. I just would say this to Australians about the Census, the Census is a very important bit of research. It allows this country to understand what's happening and to be able to perform more efficiently and effectively.
I am frustrated that this Government has bungled the Census so much that we now see these debates in the days before the Census about how long they should be keeping the data for. I respect people's privacy concerns, but people should remember that in 2011 some of this data was kept for a period of up to 18 months. What I ask Australians to do - the Census has been something we've been doing for 100 years. I think it's so close to being completed and so many tens of millions of dollars have already been spent on rolling out the Census. I ask people please not to make that effort a waste, but I do understand people's concerns.
I think straight after this Census is completed, the Government needs to sit down with the Parliament and we need to talk about how long data should be kept for, what is the purpose that it's all being kept for. But in the meantime I'd ask people not to undermine the Census. Fill it in, it's the best way of Australia being able to map the most effective use of our resources and it's a snapshot, it's a mirror of the nation in 2016. Let's try and make it work even if the Government has done a terrible job in explaining it.
JOURNALIST: On that note, should there be more funding given to the ABS given that [inaudible]
SHORTEN: I think the first thing is there's been three different Liberal ministers in charge of the census, Alex Hawke, Kelly O'Dwyer and now they've put in Michael McCormack. I don't think any of these three have done a very good job with explaining the Census. We had none of these problems in 2011. I think the Liberal Government's been asleep at the wheel. At the last minute people are raising problems. I wouldn't just dismiss these concerns about privacy out of hand but I think on balance, the Census does a lot more good than harm.
I would ask Australians to complete the Census honestly and truthfully. It really does help the nation understand where we're at and make good long-term decisions. But as soon as this Census is completed, I think we need to have a good, long look at the whole process to make sure we're not asking for information we don't need and to again reassure ourselves that what information that is stored is stored securely.
But in the meantime, you know, gather around the kitchen table, the hotels, wherever people are tonight, and fill in the Census. It's a really useful tool to allow Australia to plan most effectively for its future.
JOURNALIST: More funding?
SHORTEN: Well, I think the first thing is the Government should have a good long look at the way it's used the existing funds before we start spending any new money. I do think the Government has done a very poor job in advocating for the Census. There's something a bit unusual when the Opposition's forced to do the Government's work to defend the Census but I will. I do think the Census is useful information. I'd encourage people to complete it. We've been doing the Census for the best part of 100 years and I would encourage Australians to do it. It's one of the best ways we have of understanding where this nation's at and where we've got to go.
JOURNALIST: How irresponsible is it that Australian politicians, Senators are taking this stand?
SHORTEN: Some of this information about the Census has been in the public domain for weeks and months. Perhaps there's a bit of grandstanding at five minutes to midnight so people notice you. At the end of the day though there are legitimate debates about making sure this information is securely stored. On balance, I will be filling out the Census tonight with my family. I think Australians should do that. It adds a lot more benefit to the nation than it causes harm. I would ask people to please, fill in the Census. But I've got to say, this Government, they can't do anything right at the moment and they haven't tried to sell this Census properly and that's of great frustration. We've had more problems with this Census under Malcolm Turnbull and the Liberals than we've had on previous Censuses and under previous governments.
JOURNALIST: Can I ask you on a different matter on gay marriage, former High Court Judge, Michael Kirby, he mentioned would be better if we do nothing rather than have a plebiscite. Do you agree with him?
SHORTEN: Michael Kirby, who's a respected former Judge of the High Court, has outlined today no less than ten reasons why the plebiscite is a bad idea. I agree with him that spending hundreds of millions of dollars on a taxpayer-funded opinion poll, which will give licence to a whole lot of hateful debate in the Australian community, is the second best option for marriage equality. Mr Turnbull's own right-wing do not even agree with voting for marriage equality, even if the plebiscite's conducted. I know that Mr Turnbull, in his heart of hearts, would rather just have a vote in the Parliament but he wasn't able to convince the right-wing of his party to go with the best option. I just resent the fact and regret the fact that Mr Turnbull's giving Australia a second best solution on marriage equality because he hasn't got the strength or the numbers to face down the right of his party. I would rather there be a vote in Parliament and that's what I'd be pushing for.
JOURNALIST: You mentioned it's the second best thing. Do you think Labor will oppose the plebiscite?
SHORTEN: We'll cross that bridge when we get to it. So far the Government hasn't outlined in detail their plans for the plebiscite. I do believe that the best option is to have a conscience vote in the Parliament, in this term of Parliament. Do we really need to spend $160 million or more funding the yes and no case on a plebiscite which is an opinion poll which won't bind the members of Mr Turnbull's party? It seems to me a giant spend of money, and again, if you read Justice Kirby's arguments he makes the case very clear. Whilst they've had to have the vote in other countries that's because that's what the laws of those countries require. We don't need to have a plebiscite. We can have a vote in Parliament.
JOURNALIST: On another matter, Mr Turnbull says he plans to have a special office within his office to deal with crossbenchers, what do you think that says about his Government?
SHORTEN: Well, I just think it shows that Mr Turnbull doesn't know how to talk to the crossbench himself and he needs a whole lot of minders to help him do it. If Mr Turnbull's providing extra resources for himself he should extend those same resources to the Opposition and to everyone else. I mean, Malcolm Turnbull should do his day job, put forward his laws, talk to the Opposition senators, talk to the crossbench senators, he should even talk to us about some of his proposals. I don't know if he needs to be spending more taxpayer money just to have a conversation with other politicians. That's what he's paid to do to begin with.
JOURNALIST: There are calls for an inquiry into the Fair Work Commissions handling of the CFA dispute, do you support that idea of an inquiry?
SHORTEN: Well first of all, with the CFA dispute, at its heart it is a state issue. We believe fundamentally that everyone in the argument is committed to the safety of Victorians. I'm sure that if people keep that in mind they will resolve this dispute sooner rather than later. In terms of the Federal Liberals trying to grandstand on the issue, you know, they want to have another attack on the independent umpire, the Fair Work Commission, I just wish Liberals would focus on the policy not the politics in matters.
Thanks you very much.