SUBJECTS: Banking Royal Commission interim report; ABC.

TANYA PLIBERSEK, ACTING LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Hello, good afternoon, sorry to keep you waiting, we’ve only just received the report so I'll make a few comments now about the Banking Royal Commission interim report.

Today's interim report is a damning account of shocking conduct in Australia's finance industry.
Too often, as the interim report says, behaviour driven by greed. I quote "the pursuit of short term profit at the expense of basic standards of honesty." It is an indictment of the behaviour that we have seen.
But if it was up to the Liberals the banks would still be behaving this way.

The interim report says and I quote "when misconduct was revealed it either went unpunished or the consequences did not meet the seriousness of what had been done. The conduct regulator, ASIC, rarely went to court to seek public denunciation of, and punishment for misconduct. The prudential regulator, APRA, never went to court."

So of course, Labor welcomes this interim report of the financial services Royal Commission. We thank the Commissioner and counsel assisting, and all of the staff of the Royal Commission for the work that they've done to date. 

Most importantly we thank the brave Australians who have come forward to tell their stories. Australians have been appalled by conduct in the financial sector that has been exposed by this Royal Commission. Conduct such as charging fees to dead customers, lying to regulators, shonky advice that has robbed Australians of their life savings, approving loans that customers could not possibly afford to repay, forcing farmers off the land and out of their homes, pressuring vulnerable Australians to buy insurance over the phone. 

Of course we've only just received the interim report of the Royal Commission, and we'll examine that report very closely.  

It was about two and a half years ago in April 2016, that Labor called for this Royal Commission to be established. The Liberals fought tooth and nail against the establishment of the Royal Commission for more than 600 days. They wanted to protect the banks. In fact they wanted to give the banks a $17 billion tax cut. 

Scott Morrison voted against this Royal Commission 26 times. Scott Morrison called it, and I quote "a reckless distraction," and I quote, “a QC's complaints desk,” and I quote, "a populist whinge." 
The Liberals have never taken this seriously. They were dragged kicking and screaming into holding a Royal Commission and they gave it an unreasonably short time frame. More than 9,000 submissions have been received by the Royal Commission but so far only 27 customers have had the chance to tell their stories publicly. 

Given this damning interim report, we believe that there is a strong case to consider extending the banking Royal Commission in order to hear from more victims, in more places, in more parts of Australia. 
Scott Morrison wanted to keep this shocking misconduct by the banks secret from the Australian public. This is the report that Scott Morrison never wanted. If it had been left up to Scott Morrison, banks would still be behaving this way. If it were up to him, the horrific stories would never have been told and the conduct would have continued. 

The Liberals have spent five years fighting for the top end of town. They delayed acting on the Royal Commission for 600 days. They voted against it 26 times. We know whose side they are really on. 
The Liberals can't be trusted to act on these findings and clean up the finance industry. They have always been, and always will be, on the side of the big banks. 

Today Labor is announcing that we'll crack down on the sickening rorts and rip offs that have been exposed through the Royal Commission. If elected a Shorten Labor Government will establish a Financial Services Royal Commission Implementation Taskforce to reform the culture of profit over people in the financial services sector.

The taskforce will be located within Treasury and work closely with the Attorney-General's Department, and will oversee implementation of reforms recommended by the Final Report of the Royal Commission to ensure that they are delivered swiftly and effectively. The taskforce of course, will work closely with victims and their advocates in recognition that the lived experience of the systemic misconduct in the banking sector should inform the response.

Under a Shorten Labor Government, Chris Bowen as Treasurer will report to the Parliament every six months on progress in implementation until the recommendations of the Royal Commission are fully implemented. Thank you, any questions.

JOURNALIST: So this taskforce, would it act on every single recommendation made by the Commission? 

PLIBERSEK: Well we’ve yet to see the recommendations. We have got an interim report now. We haven't seen the final report, but it would be surprising if the Royal Commission recommended - made recommendations that we were not able to support. Given what we have seen of the interim report, given the stories that have been told by victims of financial sector misconduct, we think it's very important to act swiftly and decisively to clean up this industry. 

JOURNALIST: How is it any different though to what the Government or any government would ordinarily do, like within Treasury, you look at the - 

PLIBERSEK: Well it's very different indeed. We have a Government right now that tried to stop this Royal Commission, that held out against it for 600 days, that voted against it 26 times. But it's not just their opposition to the Royal Commission. They've cut funding to ASIC. In the 2014 Budget and again in 2018, cut the resources to the organisation they were pointing to, as being the tough cop on the beat. The organisation that made a Royal Commission unnecessary according to the Government. On one hand they're saying we don't need a Royal Commission because we have got ASIC. On the other hand, they were cutting the resources and the staffing of that organisation. Now this is a Government that, at every opportunity has unwound or tried to unwind protections for consumers. If you look at when Labor was last in government, our Future of Financial Advice package of legislation, the FOFA reforms, when the Liberals were in Opposition they tried to block the FOFA reforms. When they became the Government, they tried to unwind those protections for consumers. It's not just the Royal Commission that they were opposed to. It was reform in the sector that protected consumers, and on top of that, they have reduced the resources available to the tough cop on the beat, that they kept pointing to. I don't think anybody could say that they have a record that would inspire confidence.

JOURNALIST: Just on that, you said it was a damning indictment on banks. But it looks pretty bad for the regulators too doesn't it, ASIC and APRA?

PLIBERSEK: It does. I think - I mean as I say, we have only just received the report, we'll read the details of the report over coming days. But I think the Commissioner pointed to two major issues here. The first major issue is that you've got a whole sector driven by greed without due regard to the needs of consumers in the sector. The second major problem is that both APRA and ASIC appear not to have acted on reports in a way that would protect consumers as a class from this bad behaviour. I think both of those issues need to be taken up by future reforms, to make sure that consumers interests are protected, and to make sure that when systemic poor behaviour is uncovered, like we've seen, that actually the regulators take proper action to fix it.

JOURNALIST: And does that just come down to money or is it a cultural thing do you think?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I think we need to read the interim report to fully understand the weaknesses here. Certainly having budget cuts and staffing cuts is a problem. But I think others would point to a close relationship between the regulators and parts of the industry as a potential issue as well.

JOURNALIST: Just a couple of other things, the Commissioner sort of, seems to be pointing to the fact that perhaps we don't need a lot more law in this regard because the law is already there. You know it's in black and white, that you can't do these things to consumers. It does seem like an enforcement thing really doesn't it?

PLIBERSEK:Yeah I think it's a very good point to make, that if the laws were properly enforced, if the regulators had both the resources and the culture to pursue poor behaviour then we may have seen different outcomes in recent years, and that's certainly something we'll consider as we read the report.

JOURNALIST:  What do you think about the time that this report was released, a Friday arvo, going into a long weekend?

PLIBERSEK: Oh look I'll let, I'll let you be the judge of that. I mean the Commissioner did have a final date of the 30 September by which to report. Look I'm not going to comment, I think people can speculate for themselves. 

JOURNALIST: Just on time frame you spoke about the need perhaps for more time for the Commissioners. Is that not something the Commissioner can just ask for, if they need more time can't they just do that?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think our message is not to the Royal Commission, it's to the Government, that if the Commissioner asks for more time it ought to be granted. If there is a broader view that the Commissioner has not been able to hear from enough individuals, it hasn't been able to travel to areas where there are affected people who would like to make a statement in person, the Commission should be able to do that.

JOURNALIST: Is there a risk that if the banks face too much regulation and other action, credit could dry up and hurt families and businesses?

PLIBERSEK: I think this is the response that gets trotted out every time there is a demand for the sector to behave according to the law. Parts of the banking or financial services sector say well if we're forced to behave according to the law then credit will dry up for individuals and businesses. I don't think that that is a legitimate complaint or a legitimate concern. The very least we should expect is for the sector as a whole to abide by existing laws, and to perhaps go a bit beyond that and put the interests of their consumers at the centre of their decision making. I think it's a false and very convenient claim for them to make, that if they're forced to do the right thing then credit will dry up. We've heard it before, I don’t credit it.

JOURNALIST: Just on the ABC. Do you support the appointment of Dr Kirsten Ferguson as the interim Chair?

PLIBERSEK: Look I don’t think it's for us to make particular pronouncements about the appointment of the interim Chair. I certainly hope the Government have done their due diligence and that she is able to provide leadership at a very difficult time. Leadership that respects and defends the integrity and independence of the ABC. I think the larger question is whether the Government can be confident of the remaining Board members staying on given there seems to be increasing evidence that the Board members knew a lot about the issues that have caused Justin Milne to resign before actually taking any action themselves, and have only really taken action on Justin Milne when there's been a media controversy around the suggestions of political interference in the ABC. So I think other Board members really do need to examine whether they have fully discharged their responsibilities to protect and defend the ABC or whether in fact they've been voluntarily or involuntarily complicit in the Government's political interference. 

JOURNALIST: And just quickly, where has Bill Shorten been during such a big week of politics?

PLIBERSEK: I think he’s being a dad looking after his kids during the school holidays actually. He's allowed to have a week of leave. He's a normal person with family responsibilities, and I'm not really sure whether, you know, what the implication is. He's allowed to have leave and he's particularly allowed to be a dad every now and again. We know the toll that politics takes on family life. Good on him. Good on him for actually being around. Thanks.