Parliamentary speeches

National Consumer Credit Protection Amendment (Supporting Economic Recovery) Bill 2020 - Second Reading

March 15, 2021

I'm very pleased to have the opportunity to make a contribution to the debate on this bill, the National Consumer Credit Protection Amendment (Supporting Economic Recovery) Bill 2020, and to support the second reading amendment moved by the member for Whitlam. I was also pleased to be present in the chamber for the contribution of the member for Dobell. It's always of interest to hear what the member for Dobell says, particularly when she brings to this place the experience and passion she had for her previous work. I think any members opposite who had regard to her contribution would be prompted by her reminding them, as she reminded all of us on this side of the House, that this is a debate about people. In particular, it's about the vulnerabilities that people can have. We have a government that talks a big game when it comes to mental health, an issue that we are all committed to advancing. But those words will continue to ring hollow if they are not matched by action, and this is an area where that action is required.

In this place and this building today, it's hard to be hopeful. This is a government that, throughout its time in office, has been bereft of a vision for Australia and for Australians. It has been obsessed with managing the tactical questions that come up from day to day. From time to time I convinced myself that that led to a dynamic that could on occasionally be positive—that members of this government would do the right thing when they had exhausted all other alternatives. We have seen that time and time again. Indeed, we saw that as they stumbled into calling the royal commission that ultimately led us to the propositions that we are debating right here and now. They got there in the end, dragged kicking and screaming, due to the advocacy not only of consumers, the bravery of advocates and the consistent advocacy of my parliamentary colleagues but of members within their ranks who thought that this was an issue that could not continue to be ignored.

Now, though, there appear to be no brave advocates within the ranks of the government or, indeed, amongst some of those on the crossbench who continue to vote with the government consistently despite having said they would approach issues on the basis of their conscience, a matter that the member for Whitlam outlined in respect of the member for Hughes and his background on this issue. But we have seen today in this place, in the most shocking manner, that this is a government that from time to time will fail to do the right thing even when it's staring them in the face. It will fail even to listen. It's a government that's not listening to the voices of Australian women. It's a government that won't enable debate on the most serious of issues in this place. It's a government that in this case seems to be thumbing its nose at the first recommendation of a royal commission it itself called.

The first recommendation, recommendation 1.1, of the Hayne royal commission explicitly recommended against amending the responsible lending framework, but this government—now that courageous voices are no longer found within its ranks when it comes to these issues—seems to be determined not to do what's right on the basis of ordinary Australians but to do the bidding of the banks in circumstances where it seems the banks have invented the problem that this part of this legislation is designed to solve. My colleagues have gone through the evidence, and the evidence is wanting. The evidence that is before us is that which has been presented by advocates and that which came before the royal commission.

I think we should reflect on the royal commission before any of us passes judgement on the bill before the House. There were 10,000 submissions to the royal commissions—10,000 difficult stories which those of us who have the capacity to respond to must respond to. We must not ignore their stories, as members of this government turned their backs on the voices of millions of Australian women today, but we must honour them and think about how we can do justice to a lending system that does the right thing by ordinary Australians—starting, of course, with the recommendations of the government's own royal commission. There were 10,000 stories. The member for Whitlam, the shadow minister, acknowledged this. Not all the most powerful stories were contained in the 10,000. There are more and, sadly, I'm very confident there will continue to be more. We have a chance to make that number smaller by doing the right thing and supporting the amendment proposed by the shadow minister.

Government members who, once again, don't seem to have had a lot to say in respect of this legislation should reflect on that when they come into this place shortly and vote on it. They should reflect on those 10,000 stories. They should ask themselves how many more they are interested in hearing and think about the words of the member for Dobell about the people that are at the core of this responsible lending regime and doing the right thing by them, rather than extending a licence to people who, quite frankly, in too many cases, don't warrant it. There were 10,000 stories, 68 days of hearings over nearly two years and 130 witnesses who bravely, in many cases, gave their evidence and told stories that were difficult to tell. That led to this first recommendation—all of these stories, all that evidence by one of Australia's most eminent jurists—to keep the responsible lending laws as they are. It shouldn't be a difficult proposition.

Indeed, when this report was handed down, the Treasurer, the member for Kooyong, promised to implement the recommendations. There's a whole other story about how he is going about implementing the breadth of those recommendations, and my colleagues the member for Fenner and the member for Whitlam have unfortunately had many opportunities to advise the House and the wider community on the utter lack of progress in attending to this responsibility—although I guess it's consistent with the sort of progress he has had more broadly in his role. But to simply ignore recommendation 1.1, to go in the face of it, is quite extraordinary, even by the standards of a tone deaf and visionless government.

I think it's worth going back to where this story began, before the royal commission, when the Rudd government—a government with a sense of the possibilities for Australia and a sense of the responsibilities of national government—introduced these obligations as part of reforms to credit law to establish a nationally consistent framework, the credit act. This sets out responsible lending obligations—those obligations which require lenders to assess whether a credit product is unsuitable for the customer before that product is to be provided to them. There's an argument that's been put forward, although not with any vigour, in this place, in Australia's parliament, that these obligations are causing constraints to credit supply. That's not something that there's any particular evidence for, and there's a broader debate to have about that. But what we're seeing here is a government that is allergic to the evidence and indifferent to the views of those who are speaking on behalf of those most directly affected. I touched before on those 10,000 submissions to the royal commission. Some weight has to be attached to a response of that nature, some weight must be attached to the 130 witnesses and some weight has to be attached, surely, to the findings of the commission. This is a government, however, that won't listen to the voices of ordinary Australians and won't listen to the experts.

The consumer groups have expressed in the strongest possible terms their opposition to the reforms—the reforms contained, of course, in the first schedule of the bill which is before the House. I should also note—and this is not something that I'm particularly going to direct my remarks towards—that very serious concerns have also been expressed by these groups that the reforms put forward which go to protections in respect of payday lending don't go far enough. Again, this has been one of those other issues where members of the present government have failed to understand what is happening in communities. They've failed to understand exploitation. They've failed to listen and have only been dragged to it kicking and screaming. I think it is incumbent on them to reflect on whether they have gone far enough in this regard.

I think members opposite could also, as well as having regard to the royal commission and to the voices of ordinary Australians, have regard to the submission of their own Department of the Treasury to the Hayne royal commission, which suggested, again, that responsible lending laws enhanced rather than detracted from macroeconomic outcomes. You'd think that the Treasurer would be mindful of this sort of advice from his own department when he comes into this place puffed up, telling his version of a good news story. But, in this regard, as in so many other aspects of his performance in this role, he is only interested in a version of the truth that suits his purposes, and generally they are the purposes of the day, not the long-term vision for recovery that Australia so desperately needs and not, indeed, the vision for recovery that I have noted that the secretary-general elect of the OECD seems very keen on. If only he had been keen on those sorts of reforms and that sort of agenda when he was the finance minister for Australia, when he set our country on precisely the opposite agenda! So perhaps former Minister Cormann, Secretary-General Elect Cormann, can have a chat to his former cabinet colleagues about the right way forward, about a green recovery and a green transformation. How ironic that someone as responsible as he could make that argument!

Mr Stephen Jones interjecting

Thank you, member for Whitlam. That was where I was going. This man—the man who talks now as the representative of an organisation that has been determined to convince its members about the necessity of a path towards inclusive growth—is the same person who proudly described low wages as a deliberate design feature of the architecture he was proud to hold in place. I hope the new Mathias Cormann speaks to his former colleagues and advises them to reconsider.

Again, when we think about the issues that we're concerned about here, they can't be divorced from the wider economic agenda, or lack thereof, of this government and, in particular, its agenda. At a time when wage growth is at record lows and when our economy is more dependent than ever on consumption, the plan is to drive people who may be vulnerable further into debt, rather than to increase their spending power through labour market reforms that are actually good for working people. It's quite extraordinary to see the priorities that this government puts forward. For these reasons, I'm very proud to stand with the member for Whitlam and support his second reading amendment. In fact, it's very difficult to understand how any responsible member of this place could argue with that proposition, although, only a couple of hours ago, we saw members opposite deny even the prospect of debate on the most straightforward motion—responding to, without a hint of criticism, the movement and the moment that is Australian women demanding action and equality.

This, I think, is a matter that is less all-embracing but equally straightforward. Why wouldn't members opposite stand up for respecting the findings of Commissioner Hayne? Why would they want to weaken Australia's credit laws and deny the purpose for which they have been enacted? And, instead of looking after mates, why won't they focus on passing legislation and on engaging more broadly in actions that will support an economic recovery for all Australians—the people that the member for Dobell was speaking about, the people I represent, and the people who are expressing their concerns in my electorate and in electorates right around the country about the human impact of these changes, should they be enacted?

There is a choice facing Australians, just as there is a choice facing members opposite. They can take a step back. They can reconsider this. They can look at the work that has been done for them by Commissioner Hayne and honour the contributions of the thousands of Australians who have bravely told their stories. They can reflect on their responsibility to those Australians and to their former colleagues. I think of Senator Williams. I wonder what he's thinking right now. It was almost his life's work to have that royal commission established, and I'm sure he would have been proud to see its recommendations. But, as soon as he's no longer in the other place, we see those recommendations discarded. I ask members opposite to think about that when they cast their vote on this matter. Deputy Speaker, I draw your attention to the state of the House.