ABC News Radio

30 November 2017




SUBJECT/S: Turnbull getting permission from banks for a Royal Commission; Sam Dastyari


GLEN BARTHOLOMEW: This Royal Commission will have a year to report back, and will be focused on how banks and other financial institutions have dealt with misconduct, looking at the culture behind the recent problems we've heard so much about. Watching on today, perhaps a little bemused, is the Shadow Minister for Finance, Labor's Jim Chalmers, who joins us now. Good morning.




BARTHOLOMEW: Not bad. What's your reaction to this news?


CHALMERS: As you said, Malcolm Turnbull has spent two years resisting Labor's calls for a Royal Commission into the banks.  As recently as 48 hours ago he said definitively they weren't going to establish one. I think it says everything about his values and his priorities that he only ever agreed to our proposal for a Royal Commission when the banks told him that he could. We had people right around the country, we had small businesses, we had whistle blowers all saying we needed a Royal Commission. He ignored them, but when the big banks wrote him a letter, he folded on the same day.


BARTHOLOMEW: They're suggesting it was completely independent to the banks call for a Royal Commission. Scott Morrison suggesting the first the banks would have known about their intentions was at that press conference.


CHALMERS: I think that's laughable. When it comes to matters like this, I don't think Malcolm Turnbull or Scott Morrison actually want to get to the bottom of these issues in the interests of the Australian people. I think it's a political management exercise that reflects their form when it comes to looking after the big end of town. They always side with the big end of town over ordinary people, ordinary small business owners, and whistle blowers around the country and I think people will see today's announcement in that light.


BARTHOLOMEW: How confident are you it's going to cover the ground it needs to cover. It's all obviously a bit of debate in recent days about the terms of reference of any inquiry and whether it would do the job. Both the Treasurer and the Prime Minister today were very quick to try to reassure the sector of what this inquiry is and what it isn't, I think were their words. It all rests on the terms of reference, does it not?


CHALMERS: We'll cast a very careful eye over the terms of reference when they're released, and when we have the opportunity to go through them in some detail. I think like the rest of the Australian community, we're deeply sceptical that Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison actually want to get to the bottom of these issues in the interests of the Australian people. We think that this is largely an exercise in political management. I think a lot of people would be sceptical when it comes to the Prime Minister's motives when it comes to this. I think Australians have every right to be cynical about the announcement as well. So we will represent the Australian people as we always have in this conversation.


BARTHOLOMEW: That is convention, is it not, that you get a say?


CHALMERS: We'll have our input, and obviously via Bill Shorten and Chris Bowen and Katy Gallagher and others, our Shadow Cabinet; we'll all have an interest in how the Royal Commission is set up. I think people will be cynical about the Prime Minister's motives, so it's our job really to cast over a careful eye over the terms of reference.


BARTHOLOMEW: What do you make of the explanation from the Prime Minister that he has to do this to restore some economic certainty, or restore some faith in the sector?


CHALMERS: We've been saying for two years that we need to get to the bottom of these issues and restore confidence in the sector. We want a strong banking sector in this country. We want it to be strong on the basis of how it treats people. We want it to be ethical. We want business practices to be above board. We've been saying that for some time. Malcolm Turnbull has said it today because the banks gave him permission to with that little permission slip that they wrote him. His heart's not in it obviously. He's doing this for all the wrong reasons, but we will play a constructive role in making sure it works because it's been our policy for two years now.


BARTHOLOMEW: You view obviously is that he's been forced to do this because he's lost control of some of his backbench numbers, that they were going to make it happen anyway?


CHALMERS: Partly that, Glen. That's definitely part of the story. But I think also his general inclination is to do what the top end of town wants. He got a permission slip from the big banks this morning and he acted immediately. For two years, when ordinary battlers in this country and whistle blowers and small businesses have been pleading with him, crying out for a Royal Commission, he has ignored that completely. But within a couple of hours of getting a letter from the big banks, he rolls over. I think that speaks volumes about his character. I think it speaks volumes about his motivation.


BARTHOLOMEW: Why have the big four banks rolled over? Are you surprised that they now say that this measure's now in the nation's interest?


CHALMERS: I think they saw what everyone else could - that Labor's campaign for two years was going to be successful. That there was an internal political problem in the Liberal and National parties, and so they acted. But I think really that our interest and our focus isn't on the banks' letter. It's that in writing it, Malcolm Turnbull rolled over on a banking Royal Commission, despite the fact that 48 hours ago he said there was no way they were going to have one. That speaks volumes about him.


BARTHOLOMEW: Labor's focus has been forced to be elsewhere in the last 24 hours as well. Sam Dastyari has resigned as the Opposition's Deputy Whip in the Senate. The Government still says he should resign from the Parliament as a whole. They say his position's untenable. Here's what Attorney-General Senator George Brandis had to say in the Senate a short time ago:


What Senator Dastyari has just announced is, I'm sorry to say, not the end of the matter. And whatever human sympathy one may feel for Senator Dastyari, who I must say I like personally, we are - all of us in this chamber and in this Parliament - accountable for our conduct. And the conduct of Senator Dastyari that has been disclosed in the last two days by the ABC and Fairfax and other media outlets falls so far short of the expectations of people who serve in this Parliament that it is a scandal.


Is he right, Jim Chalmers? Should Sam Dastyari step down entirely?


CHALMERS: I think Bill has made Sam Dastyari accountable by asking him to resign from those senior Labor positions in the Senate.


BARTHOLOMEW: But he's done that before and been brought back.


CHALMERS: I know it's not a decision that Bill took lightly. It is a big decision to ask for Sam's resignation from those positions. I think as Sam has said, and as Bill has said, Sam's handling of these matters showed a lack of judgement. He never had classified information to share with anyone, but I think regardless, he didn't handle it well. That's what Sam has said. That's what Bill's said. I think Sam should continue as a Senator and learn from that experience.


BARTHOLOMEW: Let's see if that occurs. Jim Chalmers, thanks for joining us. The Shadow Minister for Finance, Labor's Jim Chalmers joining us there.