PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA
MONDAY, 2 DECEMBER 2019
SUBJECTS: Westpac; Deloitte; the Morrison Government dodging scrutiny; George Christensen; Ken Wyatt.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR TREASURY AND CHARITIES: Good morning. My name is Andrew Leigh, the Shadow Assistant Minister for Treasury and Deputy Chair of the House of Representatives Economics Committee. Starting at 8am this morning, the House Economics Committee will be hearing from APRA, the prudential regulator.
APRA has said that it has initiated its own inquiry into the Westpac scandal, in which we saw 23 million money laundering breaches. Labor will be seeking answers from APRA as to this investigation, and how they are exploring some of the critical issues around this Westpac breach. We need to make sure this breach never happens again. In particular, we need to learn the systematic lessons out of one Australia's worst money laundering scandals. I'm concerned by the fact that there have been reports that the compliance officer who reported the breach has been moved aside, and I'll be asking questions about how APRA is investigating that aspect of the story and also how whistleblowers are handled more broadly. This comes on top of the House Economic Committee hearings last Friday, in which Citibank appeared before the committee. Citibank has acknowledged they were the bank that was responsible for the vast majority of the 23 million transactions. It was money sent by Citibank, received by Westpac. And so in the House Economics Committee, we explored Citibank’s views as to this money laundering scandal, and how they are ensuring that they improve their processes around money transfer.
But the key body that the House Economics Committee should be hearing from is Westpac. Westpac came before us a few weeks ago, just before this scandal broke. We haven't had a chance to quiz Westpac directly about what they are doing to ensure that this money laundering scandal never occurs again. You'd expect that there'd be bipartisan support for bringing Westpac before the House Economics Committee. You’d expect that after Hayne report was handed down, no parliamentarian would be standing between a big bank and proper scrutiny. And yet the Liberals are at it again. They're up to their old tricks, just as in 2016 they've blocked a banking royal commission for 18 months. Now some of them have had the good grace to admit that they got that wrong. Malcolm Turnbull, Barnaby Joyce are among those Liberals who said ‘we screwed up in 2016 when we stood between the big banks and proper scrutiny’. Not the Morrison Government.
The Morrison Government is very happy today to prevent Westpac facing parliamentary scrutiny, coming up with all manner of dog-ate-my-homework excuses for not calling Westpac before the House Economics Committee. They say it's going to be a show trial, they say it'll prejudice the court case - missing the fact that this is the judge-only trial in the federal court and it is entirely appropriate for parliamentarians to ask probing questions about Westpac’s handling of this issue and how we can ensure it never occurs again. If this argument were a reason for not bringing Westpac before the House Economics Committee, it would have been an argument against the whole banking royal commission. The Liberals might well have said ‘we can’t have a banking royal commission until every case against every bank has been completed’. It is extraordinary that the Morrison Government would fight parliamentary scrutiny for big banks. I’m calling on them today to change their tune.
We've also seen Deloitte handing down a report today which has confirmed that Australia's economic problems are home grown. It's given the lie to the claim that it’s purely international problems that are causing the weakness in the domestic economy. Deloitte has made absolutely clear that there are domestic economic problems that need to be handled. They pointed again to the fact that wages are growing woefully while profits are growing powerfully. They've indicated very clearly that far from the world causing only problems for the Australian economy, indeed the iron ore price – a factor entirely outside the control of the government - has given the budget more benefit than had been expected at budget time.
So it’s time for the government to take action. It's the longest gap now between a budget and a budget update. They should have already updated the budget for the challenging economic circumstances - new car sales down, retail sales down, wages in the doldrums, productivity problems, GDP per capita flatlining. We need a government that is willing to put place in initiatives such as accelerated depreciation, bringing forward infrastructure investment and rising Newstart. As Anthony Albanese, Jim Chalmers, Katy Gallagher and the rest of the economic team have been making clear, this government has been a government of snooze rather than a government of action. The Prime Minister's favourite metaphor is pulling the doona over your head, but his government has been asleep for the key challenges for the Australian economy. They’ve been asleep when it comes to productivity. Asleep when it comes to wages. Asleep when it comes to dealing with climate change. And when it’s a matter of scrutiny - whether that’s scrutiny for the big banks, scrutiny for George Christensen, scrutiny for Ken Wyatt – they pull the covers over. They say there’s nothing thing to see here. A doona is the best metaphor for the Morrison Government that anyone can come up. They’re either asleep or pulling the covers over. They are not a government that is up to the challenges that Australians face. They’re not a government that is up to the challenges that are presenting themselves to the economy today. Happy to take any questions.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.