Bill's Transcripts

Press Conference: Sydney


SUBJECT/S: Labor’s Senate Inquiry; FoFA; Asylum Seekers; Tony Abbott’s Unfair Budget; Whaling; Renewable Energy Target.

[inaudible] of weak financial protection laws for consumers. We have seen that at the Commonwealth Bank people have lost millions, substantial parts of their lifesavings. People have had their lives up-ended. We’ve seen at the Commonwealth Bank advisers deliberately neglecting their duty, where personal interest of planners has been placed ahead of the best interests of clients. There was forgery, and dishonest concealment of material facts. Clients did lose substantial amounts of their livelihood and savings. There was unethical behaviour, there was dishonest behaviour, there was grievous breach of trust by financial advisers to their customers. What occurred at the Commonwealth Bank is scandalous. It is a scandal of shocking proportions, it should not be allowed to happen again. I am not convinced that we’ve gotten to the bottom of what happened here. I am not convinced that the bank is doing everything it can to support its victims. Worse still, I am not convinced that the Government is doing anything to indeed prevent this happening again to thousands of other Australians.


It is unbelievable that the Abbott Government is watering down protections for consumers of financial services after a string of disasters from Westpoint, Trio, Storm Financial, Timber Corp and now the Commonwealth Bank. This isn’t just about the Commonwealth Bank. It's about the investments and savings and confidence that consumers can have in the provision of financial advice. It's about recognising that there are good financial planners trying to do their very best for their customers yet their reputation is being tarnished by the actions of some. The Opposition is extremely concerned that the Abbott Government, despite this overwhelming wall of evidence, are still trying to water down laws to protect consumers. This is what the new inquiry that Labor is proposing will look at. The new inquiry will be asked to consider amongst other matters, the actions of the Commonwealth Bank including its executives during this misconduct. Why financial advisers who were known to be behaving unethically were in fact promoted within the bank. The performance of the Australian Securities and Investments Commission in terms of its initial investigation and whether stronger laws are necessary, and the implication of the financial advice watering down proposed by the Abbott Government upon the financial services sector including moves to reduce consumer protections in light of what happened at the Commonwealth Bank. I might ask Chris Bowen to make some further discussion of these matters and then our Shadow Spokesperson for Financial Services, Bernie Ripoll.


CHRIS BOWEN, SHADOW TREASURER: Thanks very much Bill, I’ll briefly deal with two matters. As Bill has said the Labor Party is taking an initiative today that the Government just won't take. The case for a further inquiry into these matters is very strong. Now a parliamentary inquiry is the best that the Labor Party can do from Opposition to get these matter’s dealt with. The Government has other powers at their disposal that they’re just refusing to use. Now the Government says the best place to have these matters examined is the financial services inquiry. That is a cop-out. It is a cheap cop-out. There are three reasons the financial services inquiry is the wrong place. Firstly, the terms of reference are very different. It's about the structure of the financial services industry, about very different matters. Secondly submissions have closed. The Government says people can go to the financial services inquiry but submissions have closed. And thirdly, objectively, on any objective or reasonable test, the chair of the financial services inquiry is a former chief executive of the Commonwealth Bank. Even on issues of perception, that is not an appropriate place to have these matters examined. So the Labor Party will work with other parties in the Senate to ensure that victims of the Commonwealth Bank's scandal and other scandals can have their say on what should happen next. What should happen going forward and how the Government and others should deal with this mess.

Secondly, as Bill referred to, the Government is insisting on proceeding with a watering down of financial advice laws put in place by the previous Labor Government. And this incompetent farce continues. Mathias Cormann a little while ago, a couple of weeks ago, secretly promulgated new regulations, didn't issue a press release, sent them to the Governor-General, didn't face media comments about it. Now he's required to table them before the Senate which he refuses to do. Yesterday, the Labor Party did his job for him and sought leave to table the regulations before the Senate and the Government refused that leave. The Government refusing leave to see their own regulations tabled. Now Arthur Sinodinos started a dodgy process to get to a bad outcome and Mathias Cormann is continuing that dodgy process. Mathias Cormann must table the regulations by next week, but the Labor Party will continue to seek to table the regulations because the financial planning industry deserves certainty. The Senate will vote on these regulations, Mathias Cormann can run but he can't hide. If they don't vote on them this week they’ll vote on them next week. It's better for industry to have the certainty of them voting on them this week and it's better for the victims of financial scandals to know that they have the peace of mind that the Government's outrageous attempt to water down the future of financial advice laws has been defeated on the floor of the Senate, which we will seek to do. We’ll seek to do it this week, ideally, or we’ll seek to do it next week if we have too but we will do it and we will ensure that victims of financial scandals and consumers of financial products can have the peace of mind to know that their interests are protected by strong financial advice laws. Thanks Bernie.

BERNIE RIPOLL, SHADOW MINISTER FOR SHADOW MINISTER FOR FINANCIAL SERVICES & SUPERANNUATION: Thanks Chris, thanks Bill. It's clear from all the evidence that we have before us, whether it's the collapse of Storm Financial through to Trio and Westpoint and a whole range of other collapses and now the incredible revelations that we’ve seen through the actions of the Commonwealth Bank. It's clear that we need good, strong decent consumer protections in financial advice and if anything what the Government, the Abbott Government should be doing is strengthening and looking at improving FoFA laws, consumer protection laws,  not weakening them and completely wrecking them. We’ve seen a Government that acts in secrecy, they began this process through the Christmas period. And have had a shoddy process all the way through to right now. Not even wanting to table their own regulations, their own changes. The Labor Party’s made its position clear. We will always stand beside consumers. We’ve seen too many individuals lose their lifesavings. Too many people have their lives devastated by some very bad and dodgy processes in financial advice.  We want to resolve these matters and give certainty back to the sector that deserves it. There are many very good financial planners and advisers out there, it’s a great industry and what we need is the certainty to go forward and the Government should stop hiding on this, should stop running away. They should just get on with tabling their regulations, allow the Senate to do its elected job and give certainty back to the sector. Thank you.


SHORTEN: Thanks, are there any questions?


JOURNALIST: Mathias Cormann says that you gave union linked funds special exceptions and special favours with the FoFA legislation, how do you react to those comments?


SHORTEN: This is Senator Cormann seeking to blame everyone else, making up stories. He’s just wrong and if the Finance Minister wants to have a debate about financial advice and watering down the laws which he’s proposing, just bring the laws to Parliament and have the debate rather than hide them.


JOURNALIST: Are you saying that you have the support in the Senate for your new inquiry from the crossbenches?


SHORTEN: I think there is widespread concern in the community about watering down protections for consumers when they receive financial advice. We’ll have to see what other Senators wish to do but there is widespread concern I believe not just in Labor, not just in other Senators but I suspect in parts of the Liberal Party too, who know that there is no case being made except to help the big banks to water down protections for consumers.


JOURNALIST: How much confidence do you have in the Commonwealth Bank's victim compensation scheme?


SHORTEN: I've been explicit. I think they're not doing enough. A system which requires the victims to find the bank, rather than the bank going out and contacting its clients, or former clients or current clients, the Commonwealth Bank's not doing enough. The Commonwealth Bank says they can't identify everyone who might have received this dodgy advice. I ask ordinary Australians: if the Commonwealth Bank had overpaid you in your bank accounts, do you think they could find you?


JOURNALIST: Just changing the subject for a moment Mr Shorten, do you agree with the Prime Minister that attempted suicides on Christmas Island shouldn't sway Government policy?


SHORTEN: I am not sure why Tony Abbott said these words. First of all, Tony Abbott needs to come clean and tell us what is really going on rather than cloaking everything they do in this area in a shroud of secrecy and not telling the people the truth. But what I would also say to Tony Abbott is these people are in Australian care, you mightn't wish this was so, but these people are human beings in the care of Australia and the care of the Australian Government. It is not good enough to wash your hands of the safety of human beings in the manner in which he is doing. I think that Tony Abbott needs to spell out what are the safeguards they're putting in place to ensure that people in our care are treated safely, with decency and some degree of humanity.


JOURNALIST: Why shouldn't it change Government policy, that these people are trying to harm themselves?


SHORTEN: First of all we need to get to the bottom of the facts here. What has really happened? All we have is records in the media and Mr Abbott's utterances. As an Australian, I cannot accept from this Government that it can simply wash its hands of the safety of people in our care. I get that Mr Abbott doesn't want these people to be in the care of the Australian Government, we are signatory to international conventions, they are in the care of Australia and the Australian Government, it is not enough to wash their hands, the Government to wash its hands of the safety of people in the care of the Australian Government.


JOURNALIST: You say that they're in care of the Australian Government, so should the policy be directed by these people who are attempting self-harm (inaudible)?


SHORTEN: No, the policy should be based upon our international obligations, based upon also our duty of care to ensure that people are safe. Treating people and making sure they are safe, it's a fundamental driver and it shouldn't need the Leader of the Opposition to spell out to the Prime Minister of Australia to ensure that people are safe.


JOURNALIST: Do any of these revelations make you rethink Labor's policy on offshore detention?


SHORTEN: We do believe in regional processing, we do believe in deterring people smugglers. I don't believe that anything that Labor stands for justifies Tony Abbott who is the Prime Minister washing his hands of the safety of people in the care of the Australian Government. That is not the Australian way to wash our hands of the safety of other people.


JOURNALIST: Do you accept that the Prime Minister has so far stopped the boats?


SHORTEN: What I accept is that he's successfully implementing Labor's policies in terms of regional resettlement. But today's controversy is fuelled by two things - we are getting reports about threats of self-harm, and the Prime Minister basically saying he is going to wash his hands of these matters. Also we have this ongoing confusion on the high seas where we've got 150 people being maintained by Australia on ships somewhere in the high seas and the High Court has got to sort this matter out. The Abbott Government should take the Australian people into its trust.


JOURNALIST: How do you think this will (inaudible) us on a world stage?


SHORTEN: What concerns me is the safety of human beings and the safety of people. That is the first issue. Like you and the media, we only know what we get reported through the media. I think Tony Abbott just needs to tell us what is exactly going on.


JOURNALIST: Could I also ask you about George Christensen's comments likening comparing the climate change debate to science fiction film plots and alarmist claims, more comedy than frightening. What do you make of those comments?


SHORTEN: I don't know if it's more frightening or comedy that you have got Liberal MPs denying the science of climate change. We know that the anti-climate, people who don't believe in climate change have taken over the Liberal Party. This is yet again another example of it. What is particularly amazing about these uninformed comments by a Government backbencher is that his electorate borders parts of the Barrier Reef. What more evidence do you need to see the harmful effects of climate change than the damage being done to the Barrier Reef?


JOURNALIST: Can we just go back to boats for a second, I think the punters deserve some clarity. Are you saying you believe the Abbott Government is successfully implementing Labor's regional offshore processing arrangement? Do you think that had Labor continued in Government, that with the same set of policies that you put to the election, that you would also have stopped the boats?


SHORTEN: There's plenty of hypotheticals there. The buck stops with Tony Abbott. What we see today is Tony Abbott washing his hands of the safety of the people in Australian care. That is the issue.


JOURNALIST: Yes, or no, do you accept that he's stopped the boats coming to Australia?


SHORTEN: I believe what is happening with Australia's border policies at the moment is that we're seeing the successful implementation of Labor's regional resettlement program and regional processing offshore.


JOURNALIST: Turn backs has nothing to do with that successful arrangement?


SHORTEN: You are asking me to comment on a lot of matters which the Australian Government doesn't choose to take the Australian people in their confidence on.


JOURNALIST: Do you think that is partly why the boats have stopped?


SHORTEN: I think that when it comes to being honest with the Australian people that is always a good policy.


JOURNALIST: There are some are people who are worried about Labor's position on this from both sides of the spectrum, and there are others out there on social media particularly saying that the High Court has become the actual Opposition when it comes to asylum seekers. How do you feel about that, from the Opposition party?
SHORTEN: There’s a separation of powers in our Constitution and in our legal system. The High Court’s doing its job, I’m not going to start second guessing that. What I do know today is that we’ve got a Prime Minister who is washing his hands of ensuring that people in the care of the Australian Government are safe, and that is the issue I think he is overreaching on.

JOURNALIST: Tony Abbott has reiterated Australia's opposition to whaling in light of Shinzo Abe’s comments. What did you make of the Japanese Prime Minister's comments about whaling for research purposes?


SHORTEN: I was very disappointed by Prime Minister Abe's comments yesterday. The international umpire, the International Court of Justice, has made a clear decision about whaling in the southern oceans. We would expect Japan to respect the International Court’s decision. Furthermore, in light of the reported strength of the relationship between Australia and Japan, it's reasonable to expect the Australian Government would raise this matter with Prime Minister Abe as I and our Foreign Affairs Spokesperson did yesterday when we met with Prime Minister Abe.


JOURNALIST: The green energy sector is saying about $50 billion worth of investment is on the line or on hold at the moment depending the outcome of the Renewable Energy Target and what might happen with that. Is that a worrying concern for the future of that sector in Australia?


SHORTEN: I’m going to make some comments on that and then invite our Shadow Treasurer to make some further comments. But first of all this Abbott Government is creating uncertainty which is jeopardising investment of several billion dollars and thousands of jobs. The Abbott Government's job is not to undermine business confidence in this country. They are doing it in renewable energy and they’ve done it indeed ever since their unfair Budget was brought down. Consumer confidence has gone backwards, spending in the high street on retail throughout Australia has stalled. This is yet again another example of renewable energy, that the Government will put politics ahead of business confidence and certainty. I might ask my colleague Chris to say a few more words.


BOWEN: I think, very briefly because Bill has outlined the problem here, Tony Abbott is dealing with things he doesn't understand. And I think we saw that play out last week when Tony Abbott made comments about the renewable energy sector and the impact of the Renewable Energy Target on investment. The renewable energy industry came out very quickly off the blocks and said the Prime Minister of Australia has got it wrong, he doesn't understand what he is dealing with here. He’s playing with important policies. He is playing politics with important policies and he is undermining and threatening important investments which will create jobs and growth in the future.

SHORTEN: Thanks everyone.