FRIDAY, 26 OCTOBER 2018
SUBJECTS: Banking Royal Commission; Victorian state election; Liberal Government chaos and division, Morrison wanting to raise the pension age to 70.
SHIREEN MORRIS, LABOR CANDIDATE FOR DEAKIN: Welcome everyone my name is Shireen Morris, I'm the Labor candidate for the federal seat of Deakin. It's really great to be here in my electorate at the Civic Centre - the Whitehorse Centre in Nanawading, and I'd really like to welcome Bill Shorten the Leader of the Opposition, and Clare O'Neil the Shadow Minister for Financial Services. We've just been listening to some I have to say, really harrowing stories from bank victims and I really am so proud that Labor is taking this dead seriously. I'll hand over to Clare, thank you.
CLARE O’NEIL, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FINANCIAL SERVICES:: Thank you so much Shireen. We've just been here in Deakin this morning hearing from a roundtable of bank victims. We've heard this morning from a woman who was a victim of fraud, a victim of family violence who owned her own house in Port Melbourne. Today she lives in a rooming house. She's never done anything wrong. The bank repossessed her home and effectively left her homeless. She's had no recourse through the justice system - this happened 10 years ago. We heard from a man who lost his wife to cancer. When she was diagnosed with cancer he asked the bank for hardship policies, he was given three months. After that three months he had to contact the bank repeatedly to stop them from calling his dying wife. We heard from a young woman who was trapped in a domestic violence relationship, her violent partner was forcing her to take out loan after loan, after loan. She's found the courage and the guts to get herself out of that relationship but today she's 23 years old, she owes tens of thousands of dollars and no one is helping her out of this situation. She faces bankruptcy.
These are the people who are the public faces of what we have seen through this Banking Royal Commission, which is a culture of greed that has permeated big financial institutions around this country. Now we want these people to be at the centre of this process. The victims who are - have suffered so much at admitted misconduct by the banks. Now we would like Scott Morrison to give the Royal Commission more time so that these people can have their day in court. So that Australians can hear the stories that we heard this morning, and I think any Australian who hears that will understand that this is a system that must change. We've got banks out there who are abusing the justice system to ensure that people who've been wronged by them can't put themselves back on track. We've got a system where people who have been wronged by the bank have got no hope of ever being properly compensated for their claims.
Now Scott Morrison to date never wanted a Royal Commission. That's not a secret, he voted against it 26 times, he called it a 'populist whinge'. And when he did institute a Royal Commission he didn't give that Commission enough time. We've heard from just 27 victims through this process, more than 10,000 people have made submissions to the Royal Commission. We don't think that's good enough. We want the Royal Commission to be extended so these victims, who are entitled to participate in this policy process can properly have their say, and I'll hand over to Bill.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks Clare, good morning everybody. We've heard today from victims of the banks. We've heard from small businesses, we've heard from women trapped in domestic violent relationships. We've heard from victims whose wives have subsequently died of cancer. We've heard from people who were the victims of crime - and then again became the victims of crime, reinjured through the processes of careless, greedy, negligent banks.
I think Australia, and I think people in power, and regulators owe a big apology to the tens of thousands of victims of banking in Australia. I think that the banks should be ashamed of themselves. While some people have been getting very rich, the lives of tens of thousands of our fellow Australians have simply been ruined.
Now Clare O'Neil, our Shadow spokesperson has been spearheading a series of community forums to give voice to the victims, and in Shireen Morris our candidate in Deakin - we've just hosted one here in Whitehorse. It is an eye-opener. We think the Royal Commission is doing a good job and we're very grateful for the job they're doing, but the victims of banking are not isolated exceptions. They're our families, they're our neighbours, they're our small businesses, they're people in our community all around us. There is no doubt in my mind that there has been a culture of greed which has blinded banks and financial institutions to their ethical and moral obligations.
It was very disturbing hearing the stories we heard here, and as I've heard elsewhere. So we want the banks to change. I think this is the single biggest wake-up call that we've seen in Australian corporate history. The banking scandals unveiled in 2018 at the Royal Commission, are the single biggest wake-up call to Australian corporate life. The banks need to change, we'll see if they do. But for Labor what matters to us is not even the banks, it's the customers. It's the people who put their trust in the banking system.
Now we want to see Mr Morrison extend the Royal Commission. We know that he didn't want the Royal Commission. On 26 occasions the current Prime Minister when he was Treasurer voted against the Banking Royal Commission. The action of him rejecting the Banking Royal Commission 26 times speaks far louder than the words he now mouths. But I've got my doubts that this Government and this Prime Minister can be trusted to implement what comes out of the Royal Commission. They've always been on the side of the banks and I suspect that's where they'll find themselves again.
Labor just wants to say to all the victims of the banks: we hear you, and sure maybe things should have been done a long time ago, but for the last two years we've stood up for the victims, and again today we're putting a submission into the Royal Commission just drawing attention to our knowledge, and the experience we hear and the voices of hundreds of Australians, representing tens of thousands of Australians who have just been ripped off by the banks. The banks should be ashamed of themselves. And again we hear this statement which I hear all around Australia - in Australia, if you steal from the banks you go to jail, but if the banks steal from you, they get a bonus and a promotion and a bigger profit. This has got to change forever.
Happy to take questions on the Banking Royal Commission or indeed other matters.
JOURNALIST: Bill, so much of this stuff that we've heard in the Royal Commission has been appalling, but entirely legal and within the contracts that people have signed when they have taken out loans and stuff like that. I mean can you legislate to change culture?
SHORTEN: Well I think there are things you can do. First of all, some of the conduct we've heard is illegal.
SHORTEN: And you shouldn't have to pass a law to say don't charge dead people for services that they're not getting. We've heard today things which are simply just wrong and illegal. But you're right, some things are allowed within the law but they're just exploiting people. We've had a gentleman there who's wanted to have a delay on his mortgage payments because his wife had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. I mean how do you pass a law telling banks not to behave like bullies? But I do think one thing we can do to change the culture is to change the remuneration system. Or put in plain English, people shouldn't be getting bonuses in order to rip people off. I think the priorities and the rewards in the system are all wrong. I think it would be very healthy of people who have been in charge of banks and the boards to hand back some of their remuneration they've made over the last few years. That doesn't put people back in the position they were in, but if the boards of banks and CEOs were to hand back some of the bonus payments they've received, whilst they were in charge of banks, whilst they were exploiting ordinary Aussies, it doesn't change where the people - their victims are, but it would be a good down payment. It's not enough for banks to come to parliament and say sorry. They've got to show that they mean their apology. So I think that some of the senior executives, who've made a lot of money as a result, in part of business models which exploit the misery of ordinary Aussies over the last few years, should consider handing back some of the money they've made. Then at least - that's that suggestion, but I might invite Clare to speak further about the important issue.
O'NEIL:Just to reiterate two really quick things. A lot of the people sitting in this room that we heard from today, they haven't done anything wrong. They haven't defaulted on a loan, they haven't broken a law. In many instances it's the bank that has done the wrong thing. But instead of making good, instead of apologising and compensating the people who've been so badly hurt, the banks tie these people up in years of litigation, effectively denying them access to the law to get justice. Now that just cannot continue. I want to pick up though on Bill's point about remuneration. One of the most important things we see here is that there is a culture of greed that has permeated our banks, and that in part is a result of the fact that everyone from the CEO right down to the bank teller in the bank branch, is being incentivised to get people to take out more and more loans. Now that just has to end. We can't have a group of companies working in this country, that through greed, are ripping people off in the way that we've heard today. So it just has to change.
JOURNALIST: So do you think, what do you think the banks are going to say to you wanting to strip them of their bonuses. Isn't that an incentive for them to do well?
SHORTEN: I think that the banks need to show the leadership. Why do we live in a world where the banks have to be told to do the right thing? When are they going to wake up and smell the roses so to speak. I get that the bank leaders are sorry. I get they now all regret their opposition to Labor's call for banking Royal Commission, but the banks have got their man in Canberra, he's the current Prime Minister. No, so I do think that banks should lead by example. We'll see the recommendations of the Royal Commission. We'll certainly work with what we think makes sense arising out of it, but in the meantime if it's been the profit motive which has driven a culture of greed, and if it's been money and profits which has been what has got the senior bank executives out of bed every morning, then I guess they should pay where it hurts the most, by what hits their priority, their own money.
JOURNALIST: What's your plan -
SHORTEN: I might just get Clare to add to that.
O'NEIL: Thank you. Just building on on Bill's comments there. The banks have told us that they want to change their perception in the community. They've admitted to doing the wrong thing and they've all come to Canberra and done their mea culpa. Well now is the moment for them to make good. We've got a room full of people here in Whitehorse who've been hurt terribly by things that they have done. They represent thousands of people around the country who have been hurt by bank misconduct. So we say to the bank CEOs, it's terrific that you say you want to do things differently. Now is your opportunity to show us that that commitment is real by making sure that these bank victims are properly compensated for what has happened to them.
JOURNALIST: For Bill and Clare. For the regulators, in one of the most recent rounds ANZ used bank tellers to sell superannuation. They knew it was illegal, everyone from the Chief Risk Officer down knew it was wrong. They did it, they accrued $6.3 billion, which they've kept. ASIC took them to task for it and agreed they stop doing it and they'd pay a fine. The fine was $1.25 million. What do you do about a regulator that is satisfied with a $1 million fine for a $3.5 billion profit?
SHORTEN: Well I think we've got a challenge. The banks are so big that the fines they get are the equivalent of corporate speeding tickets, it doesn't really change much does it. And so the regulators I think, have found this Royal Commission to be highly, highly embarrassing - as they should. Having said that though, it does go back to the banks. I mean, the fact of the matter is the system's broken when it comes to the ethical protection of consumers and customers. There's a legal system in Australia which means that the banks with the deepest pockets and the best lawyers can simply by a legal war of attrition, exhaust the unhappy individual victims of banking. So that's a problem.
But another problem that you've identified is that banks are no longer just banks, they're cross-selling their products in wealth management and other areas. I've already put on the table the idea that a bank is responsible under its corporations law to its shareholders, but a superannuation fund trustee is responsible for the best interests of the superannuation fund member. There is an inherent conflict of interest. I do think that the banks need to consider, and they shouldn't wait till we're told by a Royal Commission, that what they need to do is put the administration, or the trusteeship of superannuation, out of the hands of the bank and have independent organisations act as trustees. So you can avoid that conflict of cross-selling.
The other thing I just want to say to Australians about people who work in banks. I don't blame the bank tellers. You know, they're the front line but they're the ones who have had their jobs cut. They're the ones who have a lot of their meagre wages - are paid by at risk, in other words having to sell products and achieve these goals. No, the people I hold responsible for the scandals of banking are much higher up the food chain than the poor old mum or dad who work as bank tellers in our banks.
JOURNALIST: Just to the state election that's coming up, Labor has actually lost two candidates in the last two days. What do you make of that? Are you concerned?
SHORTEN: Well, I think Daniel Andrews has got the better policy offering for Victorians. If we want to look at who's lost candidates, Mr Morrison's lost the candidate for Chisholm in the next neighbouring electorate here. They've got a problem at the federal Liberal level keeping women candidates. You've got the Liberal Member of Parliament for Gilmore, which is on the South Coast in NSW, she's gone. You've got Jane Prentice in the inner city, inner Brisbane seat of Ryan. So yes, I think Dan Andrews has got the better policy offerings for Victorians, but I think if you want to look at a loss of candidates and instability, my observation is that Scott Morrison's divided and unstable government are the gold standard for losing candidates.
JOURNALIST: But do you think there's concerns about the quality of candidates who are getting picked up. One of them, Peter Lockwood is being investigated for assault and he allegedly called someone the "c" word at a council meeting.
SHORTEN: I don't know anything about that. I'm running for Prime Minister not for Premier. But I think when you go to the issue beyond the personalities, when you go to the issues of polices in Victoria, Dan Andrews is reviving the great vision for Melbourne of the suburban rail loop. Now that's something which hasn't been dealt with since Federation, an outer circle railway - congestion busting. And when he presents himself to the voters on the last Saturday in November, he can say he's a bloke who actually gets on with things. Have a look at the level crossings. He promised he'd do them, they've done 27 or 29 completed level crossings now and there's a program to do more. Dan Andrews is in touch with the everyday needs of Victorians in my opinion.
JOURNALIST: Just one for my Canberra colleagues. Nigel Scullion was apparently told about Mr Abbott's role as an envoy through media speculation. Is that how government is meant to work?
SHORTEN: Listen, this government lurches from one crisis, to daily division the next day, into leaks. What we've got is a situation - Mr Morrison's control of his government is on such shaky grounds he's basically had to buy off every unhappy person in the government. So he sent Mr Turnbull to be an envoy to Bali. He's got Mr Abbott as an envoy to get Aboriginal kids to go to school. We've got poor old Barnaby Joyce wandering around the bush as the envoy for drought. I mean these jobs don't really exist in the Australian Constitution, this is just patch up. And so we had the situation where the Aboriginal Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion wasn't aware that Tony Abbott was going to be working for him.
But I think even more disturbingly than this sort of disunity, the Foreign Minister was only told 48 hours before a decision, to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem - the Australian Embassy. No Foreign Affairs officer, no Defence official was consulted before the decision was made, and we've got a government who notified the Indonesian Government by text about this development. This is a government who is very unstable and we see that in their decisions every day. I mean, we've seen a leak today where someone in the government is undermining the Prime Minister saying that when Scott Morrison was Treasurer, he was the one urging Mr Turnbull to lift the retirement age to 70. You know, I've got one simple question for Mr Morrison today. When you were Treasurer, did you urge the Government to increase the retirement age to 70? Now it's not a complicated question. It doesn't need a complicated answer. It's just yes or no. Does Mr Morrison have the ticker to answer this question?