ANDREW LEIGH, ACTING SHADOW TREASURER
CATHY O’TOOLE, LABOR MEMBER FOR HERBERT
WEDNESDAY, 13 JUNE 2018
SUBJECTS: Banking Royal Commission; Job cuts at the ATO.
CATHY O'TOOLE, MEMBER FOR HERBERT: It's really fantastic to have the Honourable Andrew Leigh here with me this morning. He's our acting Shadow Treasurer and our Shadow Assistant Treasurer. Andrew has been here talking to the people in this community about the devastation that they have experienced in terms of the activities of the banks. And with the Royal Commission into banking and finance this has been a very important opportunity for the people in our community to have their voices heard. So I'll hand over to Andrew.
ANDREW LEIGH, ACTING SHADOW TREASURER: Thanks very much, Cathy. It's great to be here with Cathy, a hard working local member fighting for the interests of Townsville. We've been engaged in two main issues over the last couple of days. The first is a banking forum, hearing some of the stories of how people have been personally affected by banking malfeasance. We know that Malcolm Turnbull fought for nearly two years against this Royal Commission into the banks which is now uncovering scandal after scandal. Following the Storm Financial collapse, the people of Townsville don't need any more reasons to see that a Royal Commission into the banks is critical. Labor's call has been vindicated, and more and more evidence is emerging from the Royal Commission.
Bill Shorten has written to Malcolm Turnbull calling on him to set out how we would make right the damage that has been done by the banks; how we ask financial institutions to step up and offer redress to people that have been hurt. We've seen the scandals affecting everything from kids’ bank accounts to dead people being charged for financial advice. The scandals literally run cradle to grave. Yet Malcolm Turnbull wants to take $17 billion out of Australian schools and give that money to Australian banks. We don't believe now is the time for a massive corporate tax cut. We believe the big banks need to be held accountable rather than getting a huge taxpayer funded hand-out at the expense of our schools. Every dollar of that banking tax cut will come from Australia's schools.
Second, we have been focused on the issue of job losses at the tax office. Malcolm Turnbull talks about multinational tax avoidance but he has slashed over 4000 jobs from the tax office. That means that the tax office has less ability to go after multinational tax dodging. Here in Townsville, a place that has major issues with unpaid superannuation, we've seen lots of job losses at the Australian Tax Office, the building just next to us here. At the Australian Tax Office in Townsville we've seen over a hundred jobs lost, including people who are working to reclaim lost super. So while Malcolm Turnbull talks about lost superannuation, his actions are doing exactly the opposite.
Here in Townsville, we've got a challenge with employment, with an unemployment rate of over 8 per cent. While Malcolm Turnbull talks a big game about jobs, in fact he is cutting jobs, cutting over a hundred jobs from the tax office — well paid jobs that are supporting families in the local community. For the sake of making sure the residents of Townsville have access to the quality tax advice that they need from the ATO, Malcolm Turnbull should stop the mindless job cuts at the tax office. For the sake of ensuring that we have strong employment, he needs to stop the mindless decimation of the public service. Nearly one in ten Australian public servants have lost their jobs since the Liberals and Nationals came to office. It's just not good enough. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: The banking forum last night in Townsville, what was the turn out like and what was some of the main concerns raised by locals here?
LEIGH: We had a strong turnout and many of the people there were raising concerns about their own personal dealings. The frustration that they've had for an overly legalistic process and getting redress. The caps on redress and what it does to them in their personal lives. We saw a real sense of the impact that being wrong done by the banks have on your marriage, your family, on the stress you experience in your lives. We can do a better job of melding up the legalistic processes that ensure that people are looked after when something is done to them that shouldn't have been done and those mental wellbeing services that ensure that as people are facing these incredibly stressful situations that we look after them through that process. Now it is completely different for the individual and the bank. The individual has everything on the line. For the bank, it's often just somebody pushing paper in an office who is not experiencing that personal stress and anguish. I know it's an issue that Cathy has been working on with many of her local constituents.
JOURNALIST: What were some of the questions raised by locals in particular?
LEIGH: There were questions raised about the importance of a redress scheme - making sure that we have a redress scheme that is appropriate to the harm that's been done. We've seen the succession of scandals; AMP having their head Craig Meller step down, ANZ admitting that one in twenty pieces of their advice weren't in the best interests of the client, the scandals around the NAB Introducer Program, scandal after scandal coming out from our big banks. We shouldn't be giving them a $17 billion tax cut. I've got to say, not a single person at last night's banking forum was putting their hand up to Cathy and me saying that ‘what we'd really love to see is the big banks pay less tax’.
JOURNALIST: What's the Labor Government going to do now?
LEIGH: Labor when last in office following the Storm Financial collapse, we put in place the Future of Financial Advice reforms which said that financial advisers should act in the best interests of their client. We were really surprised in 2013 when the LNP sought to wind those back - to say that no longer would financial advisers have to abide by the best interest duty. Labor managed to stop the LNP from wounding back the best interest test and we want now to make sure that there is a proper redress scheme in place and that we have quick action dealing with the recommendations of the Royal Commission. If Malcolm Turnbull has listened to Labor and the Australian people, we would now be acting on the recommendations of the Royal Commission, rather than being partway through it.
JOURNALIST: Do you think some of the issue is that maybe people don’t know where to go or don’t know where to turn when they have been hard done by the banks?
LEIGH: There’s a huge issue of loss of information. What was great about working on this with Cathy O’Toole is being able to then connect up some of the attendees with the services that are available. People just aren’t aware of them, of being able to reach out and get that legal help and the advice that they need in those times of struggle. We do need to make sure that our banking system is the world’s best, because when the banking system gets into trouble, that’s not just another part of the economy. The financial system is the life blood of the economy, marrying up borrowers with savers. We need to make sure it’s working as good as possible.
JOURNALIST: On the ATO cuts, are you expecting more cuts?
LEIGH: When you’ve got the LNP in charge, you’re always worried about more cuts. You’ve seen this under Campbell Newman, you’ve seen this under Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull: deep job cuts. I might get Cathy just to say a few more words about the impact that that’s had on the local community.
O’TOOLE: We actually are really devastated about these latest 10 job cuts, because Townsville has the highest unpaid or underpaid superannuation in the state. It’s at $53.1 million and it’s over 22 and a half thousand people. This is completely unacceptable for this community and to take away the jobs that would be focused on ensuring that that does not happen is simply unconscionable. I cannot believe that Malcolm Turnbull thinks that it is the right thing to give $17 billion to banks in a tax cut when he’s not supporting every day families, working families, to ensure that their superannuation is paid. That is wages theft and he should be addressing it, not working against it. So here at the Tax Office, I speak with the workers quite regularly - they are very concerned. They are very concerned about the privatisation and outsourcing of their jobs. They are very concerned that outsourcing and privatisation is not fair to the workers who come in, because they are not trained to do the job that they need to and that has a direct impact on the people in this community and that is simply not good enough.
JOURNALIST: Cathy, just on job losses, we’ve heard overnight and recently there’s been quite a significant number of jobs lost at Adani headquarters here in Townsville. What’s your reaction to that?
O’TOOLE: I think any job loss in Townsville is a tragedy for this community. It is really, really unfortunate. That is something that Adani will need to deal with, that is a decision that they have made, but when we had a promise of 10,000 jobs and in such a very short time we’ve only now seen job cuts, that doesn’t go over well in our community. It is not helpful for the people of this community. I’m very sad to see those jobs go.
JOURNALIST: Cathy, after being at the banking forum last night, are there any personal steps that you’ll be taking?
O’TOOLE: Yes, there are a number of people who were at the forum who will come and have further conversation with me, talk with me about where they need to go. I was really surprised, in some ways and not in others, to see how people are so unaware of the services that are available in our community. But what I will say to you is these people need legal assistance and I urge the Turnbull Government to think about adequately funding our community legal services, because that’s where most of these people get their support. The demand on the Townsville community legal service here is just overwhelming and the funding is simply not matching demand. So I will do my very best to direct people into the right services, so they get the help that they need. The other thing that was very very evident was the enormous mental health stress that this has put on people. This is completely unacceptable. We are talking about marriage break ups, we are talking about people having nervous breakdowns. This is unacceptable, so I’ll be assisting people with access to those services where I can as well.
LEIGH: No more questions?
JOURNALIST: Just on jobs here, will Labor restore those jobs if you win the next election?
LEIGH: We’ve got a strong plan to improve employment in the public sector. We’ll obviously have more to say about the details of that, but judge us on our record. In Labor’s last term in office, the public service numbers grew as the Australian population grew because we recognise that much of the good work being done by public servants involves supporting local communities. As the Australian population grows, we need more people in the Tax Office, in Centrelink, on the front line of our Customs services. The cuts to the public service have not only meant fewer jobs, but they have also been a direct cause of things like the Census debacle, the problems with the Tax Office website going down, the increased wait times that people are facing on Centrelink.
You cut the public service, you get worse public services. It’s as simple as that.
Authorised by Noah Carroll ALP Canberra