20 April 2016


SUBJECT: Banks & Financial Services Royal Commission 

BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: We see some reports today that Mr Turnbull is still trying to avoid holding a Royal Commission into the banking sector. Anything less than a Royal Commission is covering up for the banks and it's doing the bidding of the big banks. The only people who will be happy with an announcement of less than a Royal Commission are the big banks of Australia who don't want the spotlight of a Royal Commission, a widespread ranging look at their activities, their ethics and their culture. 

JOURNALIST: The Government has given some ground, though. How does that look for them? They've responded to Labor's calls for a Royal Commission. It's responding to the Opposition's demands. 

SHORTEN: I think that for most of the time Mr Turnbull's been Prime Minister it's been Labor setting the national agenda, and on the Royal Commission into the banking and financial services industry nothing less than a Royal Commission will satisfy millions of Australians who want the highest possible standards from our banking sector. 

JOURNALIST: You said the spotlight, does that mean the core advantage of having a Royal Commission is that you get to put these bank bosses in the dock and ask them humiliating questions? 

SHORTEN: No, what it's about is making sure the entire banking sector is healthy. What we see, is we see scandal after individual scandal and they just keep coming and coming. And the last 12 months really has been the straw that breaks the proverbial camel's back, hasn't it? When you’ve got a bank selling life insurance products, people buy them in good faith and then you find out  that people in the bank are actively organising to deny legitimate claims for people in extreme hardship, well, that is just ridiculous and it's a disgrace. And then you've ASIC investigating serious allegations of rate rigging. Australians want to make sure that this scandal and these ethical challenges and problems are not widespread and the banking industry needs to have a good look at itself and the best way to do it is through a Royal Commission. 

JOURNALIST: ASIC was subject to cuts and efficiency dividends when Labor was in Government. How much is that responsible for these current problems and did you argue against that when you were in Government? 

SHORTEN: Well, first of all, if you want to talk about cuts to ASIC, the gold medal winner of cuts to ASIC is the current Liberal Government. They took, from this tough cop on the beat, $120 million, $120 million. Now ASIC has been trying to do the best it can but you can't expect the regulator to investigate itself and to have that widespread look that only a Royal Commission can provide. People have to ask themselves if Mr Turnbull doesn't announce a Royal Commission into banking today, who benefits and who will be cheering? I'll tell you who will be cheering, it'll be the banking industry, one or two more questions then I’ll go. 

JOURNALIST: Did you argue against the cuts to ASIC when you were in Government? 

SHORTEN: Come on, let's be straight here, there was an efficiency dividend across government, this is a matter of record. But what the Government's trying to do here is blame everyone else. When will Mr Morrison and Mr Turnbull put their hand up and concede they've been in charge of Australia as Cabinet Ministers for the last three years? It's about time they matured and took responsibility for their own decisions on their own watch. 

I'm going to answer that first question if that's ok. They should take responsibility for the last three years. This is a Government who in my opinion seems to miss being in opposition where they can just blame Labor for everything. The real problem here, though, isn't just the cuts to ASIC. The real problem here is Mr Turnbull has a test today: is he on the side of customers, consumers, the vast majority of Australians who do support a Royal Commission into banks, or will he simply be doing the bidding of the banks and try and stare down the calls for a Royal Commission? We read the reports over the weekend, you've got the Treasurer of Australia ringing up to check with the banks of Australia, 'is it alright to have an investigation into the banks?' Nothing less than a Royal Commission will satisfy the need for Australians to have highest possible confidence in our banking industry. Last question. 

JOURNALIST: Superannuation, there are some suggestions that the Government is looking at changes to super and targeting the bigger end of town, also multinational tax. 

SHORTEN: There they go again, the Government chasing after the Labor agenda. Labor is the party who has led the debate in this country, in the last year and beyond, to make multinationals pay their fair share. We are sick of large companies dodging their tax in Australia by parking their money in overseas tax havens or in other countries. It is ridiculous that a nurse or a carpenter or a firefighter in Australia pays a higher proportionate rate of tax on their income than tech giants and other companies. Now we see the Government playing catch-up and what they're going to do is look at the unsustainably high concessions in superannuation and multinationals. We think that they are the right issues to pursue. But if you really want to make multinationals pay their fair share, if you really want to tackle the top end of town in terms of some of their tax concessions, who do you trust to do that? A Liberal Party dragged kicking and screaming, and on the way kicking and screaming towards investigations into the banking sector, or do you go with the Labor Party who put people first? 

Thank you, everyone. I'll speak to you all tomorrow.