SATURDAY, 29 SEPTEMBER 2018
SUBJECTS: Banking Royal Commission interim report, the crisis in aged care, troop deployment, free trade.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you very much for being here today. My name is Andrew Leigh, the Shadow Assistant Treasurer. It was in April 2016 that Labor first called for a Banking Royal Commission. Scott Morrison opposed it, voted against it 26 times in the parliament, called it a populist whinge. And it took until November 2017 before the Government finally announced the Banking Royal Commission. If the government had followed Labor's lead, we wouldn't now be discussing the Interim Report of the Banking Royal Commission – we would be implementing the final report of the Banking Royal Commission. I want to commend the many victims who have come forward and told their stories to the banking Royal Commission. But because the Liberals delayed a Banking Royal Commission for more than 600 days, many of these victims were hurt who wouldn't have been hurt otherwise. If the government had acted when Labor called for a Banking Royal Commission, some of the egregious wrongdoing that we've seen wouldn't have occurred.
Now, this Banking Royal Commission is important to air the wrongdoing that's been occurring in the banking sector. The Royal Commissioner has said the problem lies in greed. We're never going to see greed in the banking sector tackled by a prime minister whose role model is Gordon Gekko. If you take a 'greed is good' philosophy to government, as the Liberals do, you're never going to be able to implement the reforms that are needed to tackle the wrongdoing in banking.
This royal commission is an important economic reform. The Royal Commissioner has gone to some of the fundamental issues within the sector, issues around vertical integration and conflicted remuneration. Labor's hope is that out of this will emerge a stronger banking sector. Finance is, after all, the lifeblood of the economy. We're committed to a royal commission implementation taskforce within Treasury under a Shorten Labor Government. We've said that if elected, Chris Bowen would report regularly to Parliament on the progress of implementing the royal commission's recommendations.
A Banking Royal Commission is not only about exposing wrongdoing - it's about strengthening the economic fundamentals of Australia. Again, Labor got the big economic call right and the Liberals got it wrong. Just as we saw during the global financial crisis, when the Liberals got the economic call wrong by voting against the second tranche of fiscal stimulus that helped save 200,000 jobs and tens of thousands of small businesses. Just as we saw in the past, when the Liberals opposed capital gains taxation and Medicare and universal superannuation. Labor has gotten the big economic calls right and Scott Morrison has gotten them wrong. It’s time Scott Morrison didn't just call on banks to apologize but apologized himself. Scott Morrison needs to apologize to the Australian people for standing in the way of this Banking Royal Commission, for delaying it in a way in which we've seen more victims hurt and a significant delay in the implementation of these important reforms.
Before I take questions, I want to go to two other issues. We saw snuck out yesterday in the hours following the release of Commissioner Hayne's interim report two sets of data. One had to do with the blow out in the waiting list for aged care home packages. That waiting list now stands at 121,000 - a significant increase just over the course of the last quarter. In fact, we've seen an increase of 13,000 people on the waiting list for home care packages and the government unable to tackle the aged care crisis we face in Australia. Indeed, in their budget they announced over four years just 14,000 new aged care placements. So again the Government has again been left flat-footed on aged care and they're trying to cover up for their ineptitude by sneaking out on late on a Friday important data around the blow out in the aged care waiting lists. Labour calls on the Morrison Government to do more to address the crisis in aged care. We support the royal commission, but we believe the government can act now on the crisis in aged care.
And we saw too snuck out late on Friday Australia’s emissions data, which showed that on a quarterly basis Australia's greenhouse gas emissions are now as high as they've been in eight years. As Australian emissions go up that means more damage to our greatest natural tourism asset: the Great Barrier Reef. Australian emissions directly increase the frequency and severity of extreme weather events like droughts and bushfires and floods. Rising Australian emissions are a direct result of the policies of the ATM Government, a government which has been so caught up in its infighting between its small-L liberal and its Tea Party factions that they have been unable to address the critical issue of climate change. While the rest of the world is acting on climate change, Australia's emissions are rising not falling as we've promised the international community. We need to do to do our part in tackling climate change. Because of the crisis and the infighting within the ATM Government, we have seen energy bills going up and emissions going up and the government is again attempting to cover up for its ineptitude by sneaking out these appalling emissions data late on a Friday. Happy to take your questions.
REPORTER: If I can take you back to the Banking Royal Commission, we heard from some of the victims of banking saying that they want to see more customers coming before the commission. What do you make of some of those calls?
LEIGH: We certainly believe it's important for victims of the scandals from the Banking Royal Commission to have their voices better heard. Labor has strongly argued for the rights of victims to be respected and for their voices to come forward. The Liberals though have always been on the wrong side of the debate. They opposed the future of financial advice reforms under the Labor Government, which required financial advisors to act in the best interest of their customers. It is extraordinary that Scott Morrison has carried the can for financial advisers who are not acting in the best interests of their clients. Even more extraordinary is that Scott Morrison supported the 2014 budget, which ripped $120 million out of ASIC, the watchdog who’s supposed to be going after the banks. So we want to hear those victims’ voices heard. We believe that Australians deserve a government that's standing on the side of victims of banking scandals, not always on the side of the big banks.
REPORTER: If the Royal Commission was to be extended, how much time do you think it would need?
LEIGH: We’ll wait and see what the Royal Commission believes that it needs. We certainly think that it's vital that those victim's voices are heard. Clare O'Neill, Bill Shorten, Tanya Plibersek, Chris Bowen have been out there directly listening to the stories of banking victims and making sure that we're engaging with those victims groups. The harm that's been done is egregious and it should it should have been stopped well before now, but when you've got a government that’s running a protection racket for the banks, then victims get hurt. And if the government had acted earlier on the Royal Commission, fewer victims would now be coming before it.
REPORTER: Do you think Commissioner Hayne’s interim report was tough enough? Are you disappointed that there were no recommendations?
LEIGH: I think it’s appropriate for an interim report to flag up a series of the issues that will be tackled and it goes importantly to some of those economic issues around vertical integration and conflicted remuneration.
REPORTER: Just on another matter, do you think that there needs to be more of a focus on Australian troops in Afghanistan?
LEIGH: A focus in what regard?
REPORTER: Should more troops be deployed to the Middle East?
LEIGH: Look, I’ll leave that to Richard Marles and to Penny Wong to comment on specifically.
REPORTER: On a monetary focus then, do you think that a $200 million investment in our military is over the top or do you think that a Labor Government would spend more on national security troops overseas?
LEIGH: We've said very clearly that we support a spending 2 per cent of GDP on defence. We've been strongly supportive of Australian troops. Amanda Rishworth as Shadow Minister for Veterans Affairs has also spoken about the importance of improved mental health support for our returning troops. Labor engages in a bipartisan manner in backing our troops and under Labor you saw record high defence spending as a share of national income.
REPORTER: Back to the Royal Commission, the interim report is quite critical of ASIC. If a Labor Government is elected, what are you going to do to shake up the regulator [inaudible]
LEIGH: We'll see what specific recommendations come forward with regard to ASIC. But it's pretty rich when you hear Liberals attacking ASIC with one breath and then ripping money out of ASIC with the next-
REPORTER: You mentioned $120 million. Will Labor put that money back into ASIC?
LEIGH: We certainly believe that ASIC needs to be appropriately funded. We were shocked when the government in 2014 took this sort of Gordon Gekko ‘greed is good’ approach to the banking sector. They took that money out, significant cuts to ASIC, following their opposition to the future of financial advice reforms. They had to be dragged kicking and screaming into a position where they're willing to look into the significant wrongdoing that's occurring in the banks.
REPORTER: But will Labor put that money back into ASIC?
LEIGH: Labor believes that ASIC needs to be appropriately funded. Under Labor, you will see stronger regulators, a fair approach to the banks. Labor will always stand on the side of egalitarianism and fairness. We’ll stand on the side of banking victims while the Liberals’ first instinct is always to look after the top end of town. Don't forget – in that period when they were opposing a banking royal commission from April 2016 to November 2017, they were also fighting for a $17 million tax cut for the banks. That's the Liberals’ priority.
REPORTER: What about when it comes to strengthening financial services laws? Would you look at, for example, ideas like banning commission for general insurance?
LEIGH: We’re certainly open to recommendations that improve the integrity of the financial sector. This isn't just another part of the economy. This is a sector of the economy that is vital for businesses right across Australia. We know, Labor will scrutinize carefully the recommendations coming out of the Royal Commission. We're certainly alive to ways in which we can make the insurance and financial sector stronger and make sure that we get a better deal for Australian consumers.
REPORTER: On the home care package, we’ve seen the numbers on the wait list grow but also [inaudible] is that unsettling?
LEIGH: Is it what, sorry?
REPORTER: Is the time that they’re on that wait list too long?
LEIGH: Yes. I was speaking to one of my constituents this week who is one of 121,000 people waiting for a home care package. To hear her story, to hear her voice choking up as she spoke to me about the frustration of being told that with her health conditions she was eligible but then in the next breath told that she couldn't get a package. That's just one of so many stories across Australia. Many of the people waiting for care packages are suffering from dementia. Australia wouldn't be in the situation that the ATM Government has put us in, in which older Australians are eligible for a package but are not getting one because the numbers on wait lists have blown out — and, as you say, the time on the wait list has blown out too.
REPORTER: There’s uncertainty in the South Pacific, in the Asia Pacific region, around national security and terrorism. Do you think we should be focussing our troops more on the Asia Pacific rather than the Middle East?
LEIGH: Issues of troop deployment always turn on particular events that are occurring around the world. I think the best thing we can do for improving stability in our region is to make sure we have a strong aid program. We now have aid at its lowest level in history, going down to almost 0.2 per cent of national income. We've seen $11 billion cut out of the aid program and much of that has come from our region. Security experts repeatedly remind us that it's not possible for troops to solve every problem of insecurity. The great lesson of RAMSI, the Solomon Islands intervention, was that marriage of foreign aid and troops on the ground providing policing support - all of those things together provide greater stability. We’re in the region with a number of fragile states and without a decent aid program, we risk the prospect of further state breakdown in the region.
REPORTER: From an economic perspective of trade, what impact, what do you think the significance is of the international rules based order and how important is it to Australia?
LEIGH: The international rules based order’s absolutely vital for a medium sized trade exposed economy like Australia. Trade is twice as important as a share of Australia's national income as it is to the United States. Smaller countries naturally specialize more and benefit from trading with the rest of the world. Much of Australia's prosperity has come through trade, a theme that I explored in a book called Choosing Openness last year. So I’m deeply concerned about the prospect of a looming trade war between China and the United States and the fact that the Coalition doesn't seem to be stepping up to make a case for rules by international trading order in the way in which Australia did through our spearheading the Cairns Group in the 1980s, the APEC leaders meetings, working to bring home the Uruguay Round of trade talks – this sort of engaged internationalism has been the hallmark of Labor trade policy. But at the moment the Coalition seemed to be too much sitting on the sidelines and letting a trade war emerge.
REPORTER: Just on the Banking Royal Commission, a lot of people are saying that the penalties are not great enough to stop this [inaudible] from repeating. Can Labor commit to strengthening penalties in banking and financial services?
LEIGH: We'll make sure that we scrutinize the recommendations that come out of the Royal Commission carefully. Certainly the issue of penalties may well be among that. Labor has strengthened penalties in other areas – it was a Labor Government that criminalized cartel conduct, it was Labor that called for the increase in the penalties for ripping off consumers. We've called for increased penalties for firms that engage in anti-competitive conduct. We need to make sure that penalties are more than a cost of doing business, that the penalties are appropriate to the crime and that they act to deter rather than simply serve as a slap on the wrist.
No other questions? Thanks everyone.
Authorised by Noah Carroll, ALP, Canberra.