Bill's Transcripts

Press Conference: Melbourne






Subjects: Commonwealth Bank Scandal; Tony Abbott’s Unfair Budget; Asylum Seekers; New Senate.


BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good afternoon, everyone. It's great to be here talking about a number of matters, including the Commonwealth Bank's response, the comments about global multinational tax and the services sector indexed today.

In terms of the Commonwealth Bank announcement, Labor welcomes today's announcement as an overdue step in the right direction. It does, however, falls short of what's needed to protect consumers in Australia. The onus should not be on consumers to have to come forward and take the efforts to identify their own losses. The bank should be working with consumers, with people it has provided advice to ensure that these people know their rights.

This is a scandal of shocking proportions. Thousands of people have lost their money for no other reason than they trusted the advice and the institution that provided the advice. The Commonwealth Bank should, rather than simply rely on consumers coming forward, contact all of the people that it has provided financial advice to. That way, the Commonwealth Bank can avoid being accused of relying on consumers simply giving up and not pursuing their rights.

But there is a bigger task here as well than just falling to the Commonwealth Bank. The Federal Government needs to reconsider watering down protections for consumers in the provision of financial advice. Prime Minister Tony Abbott has said today that ‘what we need are protections for mum and dad investors’. I couldn't agree more. But if Mr Abbott thinks that mum and dad investors need more protections, why on earth is his Government watering down protections for consumers of financial advice in this country? What will it take for the Abbott Government to be on the side of ordinary people and consumers of financial advice, and the good people in the financial planning industry, rather than taking the side of institutions and vested interests who have manifestly failed consumers when it comes to the debacle at the Commonwealth Bank?

But it's not only financial advice where this government needs to stand up. At long last we are seeing the first alleged reports of the Commonwealth Government, the Abbott Government, taking on the very unfair issue of ensuring that multinationals operating in Australia pay their fair share of tax. The Government's first choice since it got elected and in the Budget was to give a leave pass to multinationals who pay little to no tax, but yet charge disability pensioners, working families, ordinary people, charging them more taxes and less benefits. This Government has got its priorities all wrong. It should not be as a first priority slugging pensioners and battlers and ordinary families, and it should follow Labor's lead and tackle global multinationals who are not paying their fair share of tax. No-one believes it is fair that a giant mining company like Glencore pays practically no tax in Australia, yet you have a small business in the high street paying more tax. No-one thinks it's fair when you have large multinationals operating in Australia and other jurisdictions, paying little tax in Australia, yet you've got pensioners and battlers paying the higher part of the burden of this unfair budget. I invite my colleague Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen to say a few words on these matters and also talk about the services index today.

CHRIS BOWEN, SHADOW TREASURER: Thank you very much, Bill. Of course the most important thing the Federal Government can do, as Bill said, going forward is ensure proper protections for consumers in financial advice. It's beyond belief that against all the evidence and against recent events, Mathias Cormann and the Government are proceeding, continuing to proceed down this road, watering down Labor's well balanced, well designed protections for consumers in financial advice. Now, Mathias Cormann is determined to engage in a dodgy and tricky process to reach a bad outcome. He secretly got the Governor-General to approve regulations without announcing them, and my message to Mathias Cormann today is very, very clear. On the first sitting day of the Parliament of the Senate, Mathias Cormann should table in the Senate, his regulations. As soon as that occurs, Labor will move to disallow them. We will fight his proposals, but he should stop the dodgy process. He shouldn't be sitting on these regulations, he should let the Parliament deal with it immediately. As soon as he tables them, we will deal with it and we will move disallowance of his watering down of important consumer protections.

In relation to multinational tax, as Bill said, we welcome any back down by the Government dragged kicking and screaming to deal with this issue, but we will look closely at the detail. We give fair warning to the Government. If this is just a re-heating of previous announcements and previous policies and they don't correct the $1 billion gift to multinationals which they provided in their mid-year economic forecast, then we will hold them to account for that. We will look closer at the detail presumably the Treasurer is announcing today, but we will abide by our principles and values which tell us that multinationals operating in action should pay their fair share of tax.

Just briefly, I will deal with one other matter as Bill flagged. We've seen for a time that this is an unfair budget. We have also said it is bad for the economy. We are seeing more evidence of this today. The fourth consecutive retraction in the services sector has been reported today. This goes directly to the hit on consumer and business confidence that we've seen because of Joe Hockey's rhetoric and Joe Hockey's actions. The Australian Industry Group made it clear that the public perception of the Federal Budget is dampening consumer confidence. We've said that all along. Australia’s services sector is vital to our economy & the fact that we're seeing the fourth consecutive contraction in the services sector today just shows what a bad budget this is for the economy. Also announced a short time ago, retail turnover fell 0.5% in May. Here in Victoria, down 1.1%. This again goes to the impact on people's confidence, consumers and business confidence of this Budget. When Joe Hockey talks about a budget emergency, really what he has done is create a budget emergency for states and families and has ensured that consumer confidence has collapsed right across the country. Tony Abbott promised adrenaline rush. Well, some adrenaline, some rush. It's time for the treasurer to realise that it's not only unfair, but fundamentally bad for our economy.

SHORTEN: Thanks Chris, are there any questions?

JOURNALIST: Do you think there should be a Royal Commission into the allegations surrounding the Commonwealth Bank?

SHORTEN: First of all, we think that the Commonwealth Bank's actions are an overdue step in the right direction.  But we also believe fundamentally that the Commonwealth Bank should not be perceived as relying upon consumers having given up, shrugging their shoulders saying, "There is no point trying to chase the money we lost". So the Commonwealth Bank needs to proactively put the resources into chasing up the people they gave advice to and letting them know what the Commonwealth Bank is prepared to do. It is not enough to say, "Well, we're here. We're the bank. People who feel hard done by can come and find us." The Commonwealth Bank needs to chase up the people they gave advice to.

Secondly, the Government needs to respond as a matter of urgency, as to what it will do. We don’t think the matter should rest here. Whether or not a Royal Commission is the right vehicle is still to be seen.  We need to see what the Government's responses are, but again to reiterate what Chris has just said, it is a complete joke that the Abbott Government and Senator Cormann, at the very time when the shocking details of the problems at the Commonwealth Bank are in full light of day, that this government is saying "We will water down protection for consumers". To the Abbott Government: how many victims of financial advice do you need, before you will actually stand up for the victims and the consumers against the vested interests?

JOURNALIST: The system that we are using to compensate is to compensate people back to a similar to what they were in. A low-risk fund, which is can be less than some invested. Do you think it's greedy that they've failed to basically bring people back to square and that process under mines their credibility?

SHORTEN: I think on the plus side, the bank has finally recognised it needs to change its processes and that, I understand, has begun to happen.  But on the debit side, what is needed here is the Commonwealth Bank to not just do the minimum necessary but to have perceived to have managed the problem, but to do the best possible practice that it can do to once again lift confidence in its brand. Some observers will say, "Well, it's done enough, and therefore no more needs to be done." But if I was one of the thousands of people who received advice from the Commonwealth Bank, I'm not sure I would be satisfied with the bank saying, "Well, it's in your court to see what you will do to follow up on the matter." So the Commonwealth Bank needs to proactively, I believe, do more than it is.

But this is an issue not just about the Commonwealth Bank, this is an issue about our Federal Government. The Senate inquiry has come down and demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that there have been omissions and failings in the financial system and the standard advice and the regulation around it was insufficient for the behaviour of individual whose have ripped off others. So what is now needed is for this government not to water down protections for consumers. What is needed for this government is to at least - if they don't care themselves, that's one thing, but at least for the sake of the thousands of people who have been hard done-by, at so that doesn't happen again, that this Government actually learns the lessons. So I still believe that this Government stands judged poorly because of watering down financial protections at the very time when the whole of Australia knows the financial protections in the provision of professional advice need to be better, not worse.

JOURNALIST: Mr Bowen, there is some suggestion that you offered support to the Government for a Royal Commission. Is that correct?

BOWEN: What we did was write to the Government, I wrote to the Treasurer early this week and encouraged the Treasurer and Finance Minister to respond expeditiously to the Senate inquiry, not to delay the response and made it very clear to the Government that we felt this needed to be dealt with as a matter of some urgency. Now, as Bill said, only governments can call Royal Commissions, Oppositions can't call Royal Commissions. What we have said is that these options need to be on the table as the Government's response has been inadequate. Now Mathias Cormann has said he found a 6-page report saying there shouldn't be a Royal Commission persuasive from a Liberal senator. He ignored the 500-page report based on 500 submissions which took 12 months to write and the Liberal senator didn't turn up for the key hearings, and hasn't spoken to the victims of the Commonwealth Bank. I mean, this is disgraceful. So what we are saying in a very calibrated and careful way is that all options need to be on the table. A Royal Commission should not be excluded from the options. We wait to see the Government's response, but want to see it very soon.

JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, can I ask you about superannuation? What did you think about the call from the Association of Superannuation Funds to limit contributions into the funds at $2.5m to curtail the tax brackets being available?

SHORTEN: Superannuation is one of the three pillars of retirement income policy in this country, along with encouraging private savings and a robust Age Pension. Now, this is a Government who has shown every desire to wreck retirement incomes in Australia. First of all, they're lowering the rate of increase to the pensions so it is effectively a cut in real terms, so that undermines that pillar and when it comes to superannuation, the Government is freezing increases in superannuation, so 9.5% is where they are capping superannuation increases at. That means that a lot of people in their 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s will have smaller superannuation account balances when they retire, so that's another cross. So when we also see them putting new taxes on 3.5 million low-income Australians, this is a Government who is determined to wreck the retirement income prospects for Australians. By the same token, when it comes to the top end where very few people have millions and millions and millions of dollars in superannuation, this is a government that is giving them a tax cut. We note ASFA's position. Labor had a policy before the last election which is if you have a certain amount in your superannuation that is generating an income of more than $100,000 a year, you should pay a modest tax. We think that the ASFA position is food for thought, it isn’t our policy. There is no doubt that this is a Government who if you have a lot of money, they will look after you, and if you don't have a lot of money, then you're on your own.

JOURNALIST: So does that mean you're favourably to consider it or embrace it?

SHORTEN: It's early days for us to start talking about our tax policies – we’ll work on them. Labor is fundamentally committed to increasing superannuation. But it’s fair to say that our priority is for the 95-98% of Australians who don't have enough in their superannuation for their retirement yet, rather than worrying about the 1 or 2% who are already well off.  But this is a Government which is cutting pensions, putting new taxes on low-income earners superannuation and freezing superannuation, so this is a dangerous government when it comes to the retirement dreams of millions of Australians.

JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, can I ask you about the reporting of new union corruption claims. Is that a worry for you and is it time for the Victorian Labor party in particularly, to distance itself from the CFMEU & is this damaging Daniel Andrews’ chances of winning the election in November?

SHORTEN:  Well, I won't comment about State Labor matters, I will leave that to Daniel Andrews.  But let me say with the Royal Commission as I've said on previous occasions: everyone knows that Tony Abbott's Royal Commission into trade unions has commenced. I won't be providing a running commentary on every day's evidence or leaks about what future evidence may be.  But I have said in the past, this Royal Commission will be a platform for people to settle scores, there will be lots of evidence, some of it will be right, some will be wrong, and it really wouldn't be appropriate for me to be commenting on every day - to give a running commentary everyday.

JOURNALIST: Are you concerned that a lot of information is leaking from the royal commission before being put to it?

SHORTEN: Again, I will just refer to the previous answer. That will be for the Royal Commission to how it handles the evidence and processes and procedures. It is a platform for people to settle old scores. I won't be making a running commentary on the ins and outs of each piece of evidence as it gets reported in each format.

JOURNALIST: Can Daniel Andrews win the State Election?

SHORTEN: I believe Daniel Andrews can win the next State election. I think it will be a tight contest, but when you look at the issues that matter to Victorians, which is good schools, good hospitals, good infrastructure, that State Labor will have competitive policies at that election.

JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, what do you make of reports that Tamil asylum seekers have been handed back to the Navy of Sri Lanka?

SHORTEN: I think regardless of anyone's politics in this country, the conduct of the Immigration Minister to go into hiding this week when Australians want to know what's happening on their borders is disgraceful. I could not have imagined a set of circumstances previously where you would have a Commonwealth Minister who is happy to be around when the news is good by his definition, but when there is controversy just simply won't answer up to Australians what's happening. It is a disgrace that we do not know what is going on.

JOURNALIST: If it is true, do you think that it is something the Australian Navy should be engaged in?

I do not know what is the fact and what is fiction when it comes to this Government’s protection of our borders’ security. Only one person can tell us what is going on and that is Scott Morrison. I think it is a disgrace that this Minister isn’t doing his day-job and tell Australians what is going on. It has gone on for days and days. When you get more information from the media than the Government, I think this an outrage.

JOURNALIST: Would Labor ever consider handing Tamil refugees over to the Sri Lanka Government or Navy?

SHORTEN: I think we're two hypotheticals away from the issue now to say if this happened and if Labor was in power, what would Labor do. At this stage what Australians need, what all Australians need is for Scott Morrison to stop hiding and tell Australians the truth.

JOURNALIST: Tony Abbott has said that he is confident that Australia is acting within its international obligations; do you have the same confidence?

SHORTEN: Well, Tony Abbott knows what's going on and the rest of Australia don't. Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison should stop treating Australians like mushrooms and just tell us what is going on.

JOURNALIST: Why do you think George Brandis has been put in charge of negotiating with the crossbenchers?

SHORTEN: Well, I have heard that George Brandis and Eric Abetz will lead a charm offensive with the crossbenchers; with those two, it's all offensive and no charm.

JOURNALIST: Tony Abbott has said that he can see a friendship developing with Ricky Muir, is Labor reaching out to those crossbenchers at all?

SHORTEN: First of all, we haven't done what the Coalition has done and started insulting the whole of the crossbench. We will do what is in the best interests of Australia. We will be consistent with our policies. We will continue to oppose this rotten, unfair budget. We will take our positions for Australians not to pay more at the petrol bowser, not paying a GP tax. We will do what is in the national interest. I am sure the good will of those on the crossbench will listen carefully to what we have to say.

JOURNALIST: Can I ask a question for the colleague in WA, why are you not attending the WA State Labor Conference this weekend & are you snubbing them for the second year in a row?

SHORTEN: I wasn’t the leader last year. I'm in New Zealand at the same time as the Perth conference is and I look forward to visiting WA many times in the remainder of this year.

Thanks, everyone.