PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA
THURSDAY, 10 AUGUST 2017
SUBJECTS: Labor’s Access to Justice for small business legislation passes the Senate; Morrison runs from banks Royal Commission; Godwin Grech MkII.
CHRIS BOWEN, SHADOW TREASURER: Thanks for coming, ladies and gentlemen. We have a few issues to cover this morning. Firstly the Labor party is very pleased that the Senate has passed our access to justice policy. This is a policy which gives small business a chance to get a fair go in court against big business. The Labor party believes in proper policy development and leading the way in the policy debate. And as the government is paralysed like kangaroos in the headlights – unable to deal with marriage equality, unable to deal with energy prices - Labor continues to lead the policy debate. We’re doing so on equality in the tax system through our very substantial announcements and doing so when it comes to small business and competition policy as well. I congratulate Andrew and Katy Gallagher on seeing the Senate adopt Labor’s policy and we call the government to recognise good policy and recognise the will of the Senate and adopt this good policy in the House of Representatives as well. In a moment I’ll ask Andrew to add to those remarks.
There are two other issues I want to cover before I open it up to questions. Earlier this week in the parliament, the Treasurer said all options were on the table when it came to banking misconduct. Today, he took the biggest and best option off the table. The policy couldn’t last from Monday to Thursday, when the Treasurer ruled out a Royal Commission into the banks. I think the Australian people understand that the banking sector needs a Royal Commission. How much more evidence does the government need? How much more evidence does this Treasurer need, a Treasurer hopelessly out of his depth. The fact of the matter is the banking and financial system in Australia needs a Royal Commission and it appears only Labor will deliver one. Unfortunately, that means Australia will have to wait longer for it, until we’re in government, but we’ve been very clear on our policy. The Liberal Party has slipped around on this issue, the Treasurer saying all options are on the table and this morning taking the biggest and best option off the table.
Finally, earlier today, the Prime Minister and the Minister for Workplace Relations held a press conference. At that press conference, some remarkable things were said. Some very regrettable things were said. Now this was a desperate, shrill and grubby attack on behalf of Malcolm Turnbull and Michaelia Cash on the Leader of the Opposition. For the Prime Minister and for Minister Cash to say these things in relation to Government legislation, in relation to the Leader of the Opposition was remarkable.
This was Malcolm Turnbull’s updated Godwin Grech moment.
It was a grubby and desperate attempt to divert attention from the government’s failing agenda, the fact that the government is flailing around on marriage equality. The fact that the Government has no answer on energy prices, the fact that the Government is squibbing on a banking Royal Commission. They go the low road and attack Australia’s alternative Prime Minister in this fashion says a whole lot more about Malcolm Turnbull than it does about Bill Shorten. Malcolm Turnbull should apologise to Bill Shorten and do so before Question Time. For him to launch this attack shows that he is simply more than willing to engage in grubby politics. Let me remind Malcolm Turnbull that the government in which he was a member spent $50 million of taxpayers money on a Royal Commission into trade unions which made not on adverse finding against Bill Shorten. If he wants to go down this road, he can. Labor chooses to lead the policy debate and go the high road. Malcolm Turnbull chooses to go the low road. He should hang his head in shame. His comments this morning at the press conference were un-prime ministerial, unbecoming and not befitting the office he holds. He should reflect on his approach to the office he holds. He should reflect that he is the Prime Minister for all Australians. He has a job to do, a big job to do. Australia faces big challenges and opportunities and the Prime Minster is failing those challenges and opportunities. Instead he engages in a personal smear against a man who devoted his working life to improving the working conditions of Australians. Well I think Australians are seeing through Malcolm Turnbull’s disgusting smear campaign against Bill Shorten and as I said, it says more about Malcolm Turnbull that it does about Bill Shorten and Malcolm Turnbull is the one who has serious questions to answer about his conduct at that press conference earlier today.
I’m going to ask Andrew to add to my remarks and then we’ll take your questions.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Thanks very much, Chris. At the last election, Labor took forward a policy to provide access to justice for small businesses. It’s part of our concern that too many Australian markets are concentrated, that in more than half of Australian industries, the big four have a disproportionate market share. Access to justice provides an avenue through which a small business can challenge anti-competitive conduct by the big end of town. It allows a small business at the start of the case to go to the federal court to apply for a "no adverse costs" order, meaning that if they lose the action, then they won’t be bankrupted by the other side’s legal fees. It doesn’t allow vexatious cases to go ahead, but where an action is in the public interest - where it can help boost competition and assist consumers - then these no adverse cost orders can be critical. Meaning that if they lose the action then they won't be bankrupted by the other side’s legal fees. It doesn't allow vexation cases to go ahead but where an action is in the public interest, where it can help boost competition and assist consumers, then these no adverse costs orders can be critical.
I want to pay tribute to Katy Gallagher, Labor’s Shadow Small Business spokesperson and her predecessor Michelle Rowland for the work we’ve done together on developing this policy. We took it to the 2016 election and the Senate just voted for it, voted resoundingly for it by 36 to 22. The Senate has upheld Labor’s Access To Justice policy. That result has since been welcomed by the small business ombudsman Kate Carnell who said that this is an important step in providing a more level playing field for small business.
So the choice now for Malcolm Turnbull is simple: does he want to stand on the side of multinationals and monopolies or does he want to support Australian small businesses? 93% per cent of Australian businesses are small businesses, Labor stands up for them with our Access to Justice policy. The Senate today has stood up for Australian small business but will Malcolm Turnbull have the gumption to bring the vote on in the House? Will he be willing to bring the Access to Justice Bill to the House as he should to allow members like George Christiansen to decide whether they want to back small space business or whether they just want to support the status quo and the big end of town. This Bill must now be returned to the House so the House can vote on it and so for the sake of Australian small businesses, they can get the Access to Justice policy that will help level the playing field in Australia.
Happy to take your questions
BOWEN: Over to you folks.
JOURNALIST: Talking about George Christensen, has the Labor Party spoken to George since the allegations from Austrac around the CBA have come to light seeing as you're using those as another reason to go forward with a Royal Commission?
BOWEN: The honest answer to that Shane is I have not, I am unaware if anybody else has.
JOURNALIST: Are you open, are you going to?
BOWEN: Well George Christiansen has previously supported, said he has supported a Royal Commission. He hasn't voted that way. We would hope that he would vote in keeping with what he has publicly said which is to take the opportunity to vote in the House of Representatives for a Royal Commission into the banks.
BOWEN: Well unfortunately no Nationals Senator voted for our very good piece of legislation. They talk a big talk in their hometowns about supporting small business but they don't vote that way in Canberra. Now if a Member of the Lower House I want to show more gumption than the National Party Senators did, we would welcome that
JOURNALIST: Do you have a view on Ian Narev and his position as CEO of the CBA?
BOWEN: Well as either Treasurer or alternative Treasurer you don't choose bank chief executives. What are you do is you move the policy levers and the policy lever that the Treasurer has available is a Royal Commission. Now bank chief executives are chosen by the board, and ultimately, the shareholders. What we can do is set the policy settings. Now we’ve made some very strong comments about the Commonwealth Bank behaviour here as you would expect, as we should. But ultimately Mr Narev’s position is a matter between him and the board.
JOURNALIST: Just back to your comments on Bill Shorten and the union leaders. Do you think that the Prime Minister should have also mentioned that (inaudible).
BOWEN: Well I think the Prime Minister, as I said, undertook a grubby, shrill and desperate smear campaign. And I thought it was particularly galling. On a day in which the Leader of the Liberal Party in Australia’s second biggest state in the Commonwealth is involved in a scandal, for the Prime Minister to be talking about secret payments, I mean give me a break. I mean ‘look over here’ says Malcolm Turnbull ‘don’t worry about the Leader of my party in Australia’s second biggest state by population, the alternative Premier of Victoria.’ And we’ve seen in the media, links to this building through employees of federal Liberal MPs. And the Prime Minister wipes his hands of that.
Instead he engages in a misleading, dishonest, and an inaccurate attack on Bill Shorten, a man who was subject to a Royal Commission at the cost of $50 million of tax payers money, at the behest of the Liberal Party with no adverse findings. And Malcolm Turnbull chooses today when his own party is engulfed in this scandal and crisis, to try and launch a diversionary attack on the Leader of the Opposition. Well as I said, people are going to see through that, and Malcolm Turnbull is the one who needs to take a good long look in the mirror and ask himself, were his comments and behaviour fitting for the great office he holds.
JOURNALIST: What’s the difference between your Access to Justice and the effects test that was passed by the Lower House?
BOWEN: Well the effects test is ineffective, the effects test has unintended consequences which will see actually less competition. The Access for Justice regime is a carefully designed and properly calibrated policy which actually gets small business before the courts to make their case. The effects test will not make it any easier for small business to get before the courts. You talk to small business who say ‘we can’t afford to take on the big guys, we can’t afford the risk of having costs awarded against us and other things’. The Access to Justice regime deals with that, the effects test does not.
Okay, thanks very much.