SUBJECT/S: Labor’s plan for a banking Royal Commission; Census 2016; 50th anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan; Independent Children’s Advocate
MIKE KELLY, MEMBER-ELECT FOR EDEN-MONARO: Good morning everyone. It's great to see you back here in Queanbeyan again and great to have with us, Bill Shorten and Katy Gallagher. Really important to make sure that as we develop our approaches and responses to issues like the way the banking industry operates in this country, that we have the perspective of small businesses and consumers. Bill and Katy have really made sure that they are out there listening to the people, listening to small businesses on those challenges. And certainly during the campaign I heard a lot from farmers and our consumers and small businesses about their dissatisfaction with the way financial and other services are being delivered in this country. So thank you for being here and listening to our community today Bill, and great to have you back in Eden-Monaro again.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks Mike and thanks Katy. It's great to be back in Eden-Monaro with a hard-working local representative and I congratulate Mike Kelly on his famous victory which means that Eden-Monaro is no longer a bellwether seat. Today, we've been talking with small business representatives. They, like the rest of the Australian community, are frustrated, angry and disappointed at the arrogance of the banks not passing on the 25 basis points, the interest rate cut of the independent Reserve Bank. The Reserve Bank of Australia did not lower the official interest rates lightly. In fact, we are at some of the lowest interest rates we've seen in living memory by the Reserve Bank. The Reserve Bank lowered the interest rates not so that big banks can help defray the costs of running their business, but so that we can get an anaemic economy revived again. Our Australian economy is in the doldrums, and what we need to see is people being willing to spend a bit more, being willing for businesses to borrow more, to get the economy going. I think it is a real shame that whoever advised the big banks not to simply pass through this important decision of monetary policy, this lever to get the Australian economy going, I think it is a real shame that some people within the big banks, the top end of town, decided to pocket some of those changes and keep it for themselves. We welcome the news that the Commonwealth Bank is recording excellent profits, but what we don't welcome is when the banks go in one direction, when the Australian people and small business, very importantly, want us to go in another direction. We want to see the economy revived again. There is no case being made by the banks for the reason why, whenever is there is a reduction in interest rates, even if they pass some of it through to mortgages and some through to depositors, you never see significant reductions in credit card interest rates. Deposits are relatively low return, but credit card interest rates are relatively high. And it's not good enough for the banks to ignore credit card holders, mortgagees and small businesses just in the pursuit of bigger and bigger, bloated bottom lines. So again, we call upon Mr Turnbull to do the right thing, to listen to the Australian people, to stop being arrogant, to stop running a protection racket for the banks, and to institute a Royal Commission into the banking and financial services sector. Mr Turnbull and the big banks probably think that because the election is over, they don't need to do anything. The truth of the matter couldn't be any further from that. What we want to see is an accountable banking sector improving its culture, being much more responsive to the wishes of the community, not to just the big bonuses which some at the top end of the banks receive for prioritising better bottom lines over all else.
Talking of arrogance, though, I think it's important that I just make some comments on the worst run Census in Australian history. I think there has been 17 Censuses conducted in the history of the Commonwealth and there is no question that this is the worst run Census Australia has ever seen. What we've seen is Australians commit millions of hours in good faith for filling out the Census and then find out that the Census has been so bungled that it can't even be processed. This is without a doubt not only the worst run Census in the history of Australia, but without a doubt one of the greatest IT bungles and stuff-ups that a Commonwealth Government has ever been associated with. It is humiliating when the Government asks millions of Australians to fill out the Census and the Government can't even get that task right. And today, what we've seen from the Government is that, "Trust us and it should be business as usual". How can Australians trust the Government when they can't even explain to them what's gone wrong, why it has gone wrong, how this has happened, how it will be fixed and what are the guarantees the Government can give towards the integrity of the Census? Now, I don't think this is a case of the Government just rushing to blame contractors or the ABS. The Government has only got one job when it comes to the Census, it is to conduct it and they can't even do that properly. We call upon the Government to explain to Australians most quickly what's gone wrong with this Census.
Now, Labor is not going to be too political about this. We think the Census is an important tool to ensure that the nation can plan properly for the future. It is a snapshot of the nation, it tells us how we've progressed and it tells us where we need to do better. Labor wants to see this Census conducted properly, but it is an indisputable fact that if the Government can't tell Australians what's gone wrong and how it's happened and how they are going to fix it, how can Australians trust this Government? This is an incompetent exercise. If they were handing out gold medals at Rio for incompetence, this Government would be on the winner's podium, absolutely. We call upon the Government to reconsider storing the data for four years, the personal information, and perhaps go back to the 18 months because that has been a legitimate concern about privacy. We seek that the Government obviously delay, as they've said, until the end of September so that people have time to be satisfied that the process is secure. We certainly agree that there shouldn't be any sort of rush to fine people, there should be a moratorium on fines. But most importantly, we think that the Senate needs to inquire into how this has happened and how can we make sure this doesn't happen again. It is important that the ABS itself has an independent inquiry at arm's-length to understand what's gone wrong. And I think it's also really important that the Government realise the extent of this humiliating bungle. It is important when governments ask the citizens to trust the Government with personal information, that that is done professionally and competently. It breaks my heart as a former minister in charge of the Census previously, to see that when we embark on this national exercise, to see such a lackadaisical approach from a Government and we've even see the poor old assistant Minister blaming other people, saying he has been in there for three weeks, what would he know. The buck stops with the Treasurer and the Prime Minister. They need to explain how this important exercise has been so comprehensively mismanaged in such incompetent style.
We're happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: What do you think about some of the language around the Census in the fallout and trying not to call it an attack. Do you think the Government needs to be a lot more honest about what has happened?
SHORTEN: Listen, there is no doubt that this Census has been a complete Turnbull train wreck. I think that the only thing which will satisfy the Australian people is the truth. It is not a matter of trying to avoid blame or allocate blame, but we need to know what's gone wrong. This has been an exercise which is five years in the preparation, presumably. It would be predictable, I would have thought, that when you've got millions of people going online at one point in one day in a year that the Government would be prepared to absorb all that information. Last night we saw theories, from foreign hackers to now we just find out it might not have been a hacking of the actual system, but rather devices put in place which would stop people being able to enter the system. The Government needs to come clean - is it the contractors, is it the ABS, or of course, is it the Government itself? They've had three ministers in charge of the Census in the last 12 months. Clearly none of them have been greatly interested in the task. This hasn't been well enough explained. I support the Census, I support people providing information, but you do it on the basis that the reasons for storing this information are clear. This Government has not made the case for extending the period of keeping information, details of people, from previous 18-month period, which didn't seem to excite the same controversy, to now four years. And now we've seen that - we had the Minister in the last few days rubbish the critics of the Census and say it's “much ado about nothing” and then of course last night, we see an event which has caused frustration for millions of Australians who enter in good faith the process of complying with the Census. I'm concerned that this damages community confidence in the Census. It has taken us 100 years to build confidence in the Census. It has taken Malcolm Turnbull one Tuesday night to see this bungle undermine confidence in government institutions.
JOURNALIST: You stress the need not to be political about this. One of your backbenchers has called for Michael McCormack to resign. Is she, to use the Olympic phrase, jumping the gun a little bit?
SHORTEN: I just predict that the Government will make sure that they don't blame - the Turnbull Government doesn't own a mirror. They never look in the mirror and see who is at fault. I think that the real problem here is that you have Government Ministers quick to blame everyone else. I don't want to see this being a witch-hunt of conscientious public servants in the ABS, or indeed, just trying to blame some nameless contractor. Whilst there’s no doubt explanations from all involved, when does the Turnbull Government actually put up its hand and own its own mistakes? We saw their rush to the Northern Territory Royal Commission, well-intentioned but bungled in implementation. We've seen the petty partisan games around the nomination of former Prime Minister Rudd for the UN. And we've seen their complete inability to do anything about the banks just treating the Government of Australia as an irrelevancy with the way they handle their interest rates, and now we see the Census. They can't do the basics at all well, and there's genuine frustration in the community. Most people in the community are willing to do the Census. Families gather around the kitchen table, they fill it in, it's a snapshot of the nation. You’ve got a few people who are perennially suspicious of the Census, but most people embark on it in good faith, but when you have this sort of bungle, it really frustrates Australians at the quality of the Government they've got. So I want to see, and you know, whether or not it's the assistant Minister or the Treasurer or the Prime Minister, it won't be good enough if these people who are paid to lead the country simply say it's someone else's fault. This is an incompetent Government and every week we see new bungles coming from this incompetent Government.
JOURNALIST: By calling for the period that names and addresses are stored to be reduced from four years to 18 months, are you saying you have concerns about people's privacy?
SHORTEN: Well, I'm saying that there's been concerns expressed, and you know as well as I do that we haven't seen the case explained. When you want to change things and you are asking to store lots of information for longer periods of time, the onus really is on the people seeking to make the change to make the case for the change. The Census should be a really excellent experience for the Australian people. It's been a family tradition really, where it doesn't matter whether you are on an oil rig or in a hotel or around the family home, filling in the Census is something which generations of Australians have done and we've done it with confidence. I cannot believe how incompetent this Government is that they can't even do the Census properly. It really is gold class incompetence.
JOURNALIST: Michael McCormack said this morning he is frustrated and apologised for this error but it's better to be safe than sorry, do you not agree that they shut the system down to prevent any of that information being jeopardised? And could I just ask a second question about Long Tan and the anniversary next week, given that many haven't been recognised for their service, do you think the Government should right that wrong?
SHORTEN: I will just answer the second question first. It is coming up to the 50th anniversary of one of Australia's bloodiest conflicts since the second World War. I'm talking about the Battle of Long Tan. It was a remarkable feat of heroism and military skill. 17 Australian diggers were killed in that battle, others were injured, but when you look at the scale of the battle, when you study the records of both the North Vietnamese and of course the Australian Army at the time, it was a most gruelling and remarkable battle.
The 50th anniversary is next week. I'm looking forward to commemorating the sacrifice of those young Australian diggers in the Vietnam War and the Battle of Long Tan. There has been an ongoing debate or controversy, depending on your point of view, that we haven't sufficiently honoured the diggers, and there are also New Zealand soldiers present at that engagement. I do think we should increase the recognition of Australian soldiers and their New Zealand compatriots in that terrible battle. There's been an independent process, but I do hope that that independent process does give greater recognition to the heroes and veterans of Long Tan and to the families, of course, of those who never came home.
In terms of Michael McCormack's explanation that this was all just the Australian Bureau of Statistics' exercising caution about what was happening, I really hope that the Liberal and National Government don't hide behind some middle-level ABS public servants and blame them for everything.
This Census has not been well managed by the Government. They've had three different ministers. Unarguably, unarguably it's been the worst conducted Census in the history of Federation. Unarguably millions of Australians were frustrated, having spent family time completing the Census that it wasn't able to be processed. Unarguably, there's questions to answer about hardware, about protocols, so I hope that this Government is not so weak and pathetic that they just blame some public servant who's not able to defend themselves. What is this Government paid to do? What is their day job if every problem that happens is someone else's fault?
JOURNALIST: How far do you want the Senate inquiry to go? And also is it appropriate, was it appropriate, for the ABS to come out at three o'clock yesterday to say that everything was OK when there were a series of attacks beforehand?
SHORTEN: Well, I hope the Senate inquiry looks at all the matters. I think it should be an inquiry which leaves nothing unquestioned. In terms of the ABS' conduct yesterday, that's for the ABS to answer and for the Government to explain. I must say though, in talking about the Census, we want the Census to succeed. I would say to Australians who are frustrated and say the whole thing's just a joke or worse, we do want to see this Census succeed. Very few countries in the world do the enumerated Census where we ask every citizen to participate. I'd hate to see that opportunity lost because this bungling Government has lost the confidence of Australian people, but I do think if the Government want to rebuild the confidence in this very important Census process, no cover-up, I do think they need to fairly speedily satisfy millions of Australians and say how did it happen, what happened and why, and can they give guarantees that the bungles aren't going to be repeated with people further participating in this process?
JOURNALIST: Just on the banks. You've said the banks need to explain themselves when it comes to interest rates. Today, Ian Narev has said he has to balance the interests of term-depositors and those who benefit from higher interest rates, with people with home loans - who benefit from lower interest rates, do you accept that explanation?
SHORTEN: I accept he represents a sectional interest, and I accept that the bank thinks it's a great thing that they've made billions of dollars of profit. But I'm not running the Commonwealth Bank and nor do I seek to. I represent the wishes and views of millions of Australians, many of whom are not shareholders of Commonwealth Bank or receive the sort of large bonuses that senior executives of the Commonwealth Bank receive. It is deeply dissatisfying that when the Reserve Bank exercises one of the few levers that modern governments have in a globalised economic environment, that is monetary policy, that when the Reserve Bank decides to make, reduce the interest rate to historic lows, it is deeply unsatisfying that the banks don't pass all of that through to generate that economic momentum. I cannot see the logic of banks trying to redress their own cost margins, when in fact, what we need is the Australian economy to get out of the doldrums it's in. If I have to make a choice between keeping Ian Narev and the board of the Commonwealth Bank happy or keeping the Australian people and the Australian economy improving, I will choose the Australian people and the Australian economy every time. I just wish Mr Turnbull would do the same thing. Mr Turnbull, on the back of massive profits for banks, wants to give them a massive tax cut and at the same time he won't give them a Royal Commission which a lot of Australians are now saying is long overdue into the banks and financial services industry.
JOURNALIST: You mentioned privacy concerns, did you list your name and address last night?
JOURNALIST: Did you wish you hadn't?
SHORTEN: We had the discussion in my home, but once we decide that Governments can't be trusted with anything at all, well then the bunglers have won. I'm not going to give up on the ability of this country to do things just because you've got an incompetent Government who can't do the basics right. The Census has been around since 1911, it's been at the fulcrum of some of the big history of this nation. If you remember, before 1967, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders weren't even counted in the Census. No, the Census is an important tool. Many nations in the world don't do the enumerated Census where we actually ask every individual citizen to give us a snapshot of their information, but I am frustrated as someone who actually supports the Census, to watch this current circus where, you know, we're being assured that everything's alright and clearly everything is not alright. And as someone who goes out and explains to Australians the value of this sort of data, and understanding where we've been, where we are, and where we're going as a nation, to watch this B-grade attempt at trying to carry out the basics of a Census is greatly frustrating. And there are a lot of Australians who took time out last night to do this, to cooperate with their Government, and then what we've got is Mr Turnbull's Government just can't even reciprocate the trust that they're displaying. It's greatly frustrating. Last question.
JOURNALIST: On Nauru, there's obviously fresh leaks and allegations of abuse, the Greens are calling for a Royal Commission. Do you support another inquiry at all?
SHORTEN: Well, I think that the first thing that we need to do is for the Turnbull Government to carry out Labor's policy of putting in place an Independent Children's Advocate. It is really, really disturbing that there have been all of these files, not that they've been released, but what they contain. And if we're going to have offshore detention, it has to be conducted in the safest possible way. Just because people are indirectly in the care of Australia doesn't absolve Australia of ensuring that people are safe. And so these files, I think, again point to the immediate need for an Independent Children's Advocate. This Government is addicted to secrecy. Transparency is the best way, I believe, to ensure that people in our care have been properly maintained and Australian standards are being upheld and not undermined in these centres. Thank you, everybody.