Speeches

Matters of Public Importance - Banking Royal Commission

February 12, 2019

This afternoon I'd like to tell the House a tale of two royal commissions. Both of these royal commissions illustrate woeful behaviour with respect to the government and how they respond to pleas and situations from the community that they were elected to govern.

Some years back, the government launched the multimillion dollar witch-hunt that was the trade union royal commission. They salivated at the prospect of casting a bad light on the character of the Leader of the Opposition and a former Prime Minister, which they could not do because there was not a case to be had. They jumped up and down with glee at the prospect of dragging the wonderful trade union movement through the mud, wrecking the reputation of tens of thousands of wonderful men and women who work tirelessly for the benefit of their union members, for justice and for a fair go. Again it amounted to virtually nothing, other than the commissioner being asked to recuse himself because of his links to the Liberal Party.

I'm proud to say that since then the trade union movement has grown from strength to strength. The coalition don't care about a fair go. They don't like organisations that fight for pay rises for low-paid workers, for safety regulations on work sites, for decent superannuation, for paid domestic violence leave or parental leave and for penalty rates, and against exploitation of workers, wage theft, casualisation and insecure work, because they only care about bigger profits for their big business mates and protecting their bad, unethical, hurtful practices.

That brings me to the second royal commission I'd like to talk about today, the banking royal commission. This time there was no salivating. There was no jumping up at the prospect of the outcomes. There was knuckle biting and there was gnashing of teeth. This time they had to be dragged there kicking and screaming because this time it was their mates in the firing line, the big banks. They voted dozens of times against it. Notwithstanding some of the heartfelt comments made today by a couple of members opposite, there's no denying that they had to be dragged here kicking and screaming. They didn't listen to the desperate pleas of the people in whose interests they were elected to govern and who were victims of the unethical behaviour of the banks. This time it was only done when their friends pretty much dictated to them the terms of the royal commission. It was the banks themselves that forced them here.

Australians will not forget this. We on this side supported the banking royal commission. We demanded it. We wanted it to happen because we knew it wasn't a witch-hunt or a ramped-up political stunt. This was necessary. Everyday people were fed up with the greed, excesses and arrogance of the big banks and were hurting from the mistreatment, unethical practices and, as we now know, potentially downright criminal actions of the banks. Australians had had enough.

We've known for a long time about the excesses of the banks. Calls for a royal commission into the culture of banking are not new. As far back as 1935, in the wake of the devastating Depression, a royal commission was called by then Prime Minister Lyons. One modest member of the commission was JB Chifley, a great Labor man, who entered a six-page dissenting report scathing of the banks. He concluded that they could not be trusted and that only nationalising the banks would cure them of all ills. There's no call for that today, and I'm not suggesting that occur, but it is very sad that it seems very little has happened since 1935 to rein in the banks.

We have a scathing report today, however, by the commissioner—a damning indictment on the behaviour of the banks and a litany of devastating stories of people's lives being badly affected to the point of destruction. The government responds with a promise to take action. Take action? What sort of action? Will it be positive action or negative action? Will it fix it or make it worse? We know that they will scale back or reject at least a dozen of the royal commission recommendations. We know they cannot be trusted to respond fully to this report and this commission.

You compare that with their response to the trade union royal commission where barely nothing of substance eventuated, where the Director of Public Prosecutions was embarrassed into withdrawing charges that had no substance against good people, like John Lomax, who had their reputations completely sullied when all charges had to be withdrawn because the case fell apart. You compare that with the banking royal commission. This wasn't a sham like the trade union royal commission; this was real. Real stories, real tragedies, real people and real need for change. Labor will act on the royal commission. We will make sure we legislate change and we will make sure we make a difference for everyday people's lives.

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