ABC RN Drive (2)

03 August 2016


SUBJECT/S: Turnbull's weak stance on banks; Government's lack of economic leadership; Marriage Equality; Minor Parties in the Senate

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Dr Jim Chalmers is the Shadow Finance Minister, welcome to RN Drive.

JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FINANCE: Patricia, I'm looking forward to hearing about your struggles at the self checkout!

KARVELAS: It's quite a painful experience. Put it this way, no one sends me to the supermarket very often.

'Turnbull offering banks a pat on the back', that's what you've tweeted, but the banks don't think it's a 'pat on the back', they're not happy about it. How can you claim that they think it's a wonderful thing, or it's a pat on the back, which is a good thing, when in fact they're not very happy about Malcolm Turnbull's plan at all?

CHALMERS: What Malcolm Turnbull announced today was pathetic, and the Australian people will see it for what it is: a half-hearted, half-baked, half-arsed attempt by the Prime Minister to pretend that he cares about how the banks treat people in this country. What it boils down to, effectively, is that Malcolm Turnbull has invited the banks down to Canberra for a spot of afternoon tea, with a Liberal dominated committee, once a year. 

Labor has an alternative plan, which is to invite them to pop down for a Royal Commission, so the Australian people can get to the bottom of some of these issues that have been troubling our community when it comes to our financial system.

KARVELAS: The Prime Minister says that this will be better than a Royal Commission, because it's a permanent feature. Doesn't he have a point? If it's an annual occurrence, that the banks have to be accountable, and have to answer very difficult questions; isn't that actually more accountability than a one-off Royal Commission?

CHALMERS: I think that's laughable. I don't think that any objective observer would think that this is a stronger way to approach some of these issues, compared to a Royal Commission. I think Australians know that when Malcolm Turnbull tries to talk tough about the banks, his heart's not in it. I think the banks themselves know, for as long as Malcolm Turnbull is Prime Minister, they can pretty much carry on as they like. We saw again today the absurd lengths that he will go to, to try and avoid that Royal Commission into our financial system so that we can get to the bottom of these issues and start to rebuild confidence in the sector again.

KARVELAS: What would a Royal Commission achieve, that forcing banks to appear regularly before the House won't?

CHALMERS: Well, inviting them down for a spot of afternoon tea with the Liberal - 

KARVELAS:  But it's not afternoon tea. I've seen those Economics Committees; they're not afternoon tea.

CHALMERS: You're probably referring to the Senate Committees, which can get quite spirited. I've sat on the Economics Committee in the House; it's dominated by the Liberal Party, takes its directions from Scott Morrison, so I don't think it will be a particularly challenging ordeal for the banks to go through. We will do our best in the process to get to the bottom of some of these issues, but a Royal Commission is about addressing systemic, behavioural issues. It's about the adequacy of our laws. It's about the adequacy, powers and resourcing of our regulator. All of these things are far more substantial and far more important than the occasional appearance before a Liberal committee. 

KARVELAS: Aren't we just a bit Royal Commissioned-out here? Arguably, you end up getting blanket coverage on an issue, and then people switch off. This could be an annual inquisition into the state of banks. Couldn't it be more effective than just a one-off, intense look at them; then it's all over again?

CHALMERS: No. For all of the reasons I just identified, Patricia. I think you're making a good effort of trying to - 

KARVELAS: Well, I'm trying to put up the counter-argument to you.

CHALMERS: There is very little substance to this announcement today. It's pathetic. It's half-hearted. It's half-baked. We have a better alternative and the Australian community supports us on that.

KARVELAS: But the banking sector has questioned why its executives will be hauled before a Parliamentary Committee. They say no other businesses are forced to, and I quote, 'justify their commercial pricing decisions'; their noses are out of joint. They must feel like this has some power to make them accountable, or their noses wouldn't be out of joint, would they?

CHALMERS: There wouldn't be a banking executive in this country, Patricia, who wouldn't prefer, any day of the week, what Malcolm Turnbull is proposing, to what Labor is proposing. No matter what they say in the immediate aftermath of this announcement; they would of been popping the champagne corks when Malcolm Turnbull won the election, because they know, for as long as he is in that job, they can carry on as they have been, and as they like. There is no banking executive, who wouldn't prefer, this half-arsed announcement today, to a Royal Commission.

KARVELAS: And you've got all your beverages in mind? Tea parties, champagne corks - you just want to go to a party, Jim Chalmers.

CHALMERS: It's that time of the day.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Yes, it is actually, you're right. Dr Jim Chalmers is my guest on RN Drive; he is the Shadow Finance Minister. It's been reported today by the Australian Financial Review, that the Tax White Paper unit within Treasury will be closed down within weeks, despite a Tax White Paper not being produced. What's your take on this?

CHALMERS: It's another symbol of the stop-start, stop-start approach that the Government has had to economic management; under Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey and now under Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison. They've got a slogan for the economy, but they don't have a plan. They've basically made a mess of Malcolm Turnbull's main promise: which was that he would provide economic leadership in this country. I think what we've gone from, is that Abbott and Hockey were hopeless when it came to managing the economy, and now Turnbull and Morrison are now pointless when it comes to managing the economy. They have that slogan, but they have nothing behind it. 

KARVELAS: Just to some issues, before I let you go. As you know, Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten had a meeting today. They discussed Indigenous recognition and marriage equality. Mr Shorten says, that he will consult his colleagues on whether a plebiscite should be held. I thought this was quite a significant change in language by Bill Shorten; that he did say it's now going to be discussed with colleagues about whether there might be a different approach. Do you think the approach should change?

CHALMERS: I saw that interview. I think he makes a good point, quite strongly as well, that our first priority is to get the Parliament to decide on this very, very important issue. We prefer a Parliamentary outcome to a plebiscite, for very good reasons which we have gone through before, including the divisive nature of a plebiscite, the costs of a plebiscite - all kinds of things. All of our effort is going into that Parliamentary vote. We want a quick and progressive resolution. We think that the LGBTI community has waited too long for this change to be made. All that Bill was saying today, and quite reasonably in my view is that we'll cross that bridge if we come to it.

KARVELAS: So, what you mean is if you fail with your attempt to get it through the Parliament?

CHALMERS: Yes our first priority is a Parliamentary resolution, which is certainly my priority and what I would stick my hand up for. If that' not possible and we get to the point where we have to decide on a plebiscite; how we go about that in the Parliament, then obviously there would be a conversation about that. Our priority is for a quick and progressive resolution in the Parliament. The Australian people send us there to make a decision about issues like this. I'm really keen to put my hand up for marriage equality and a lot of my colleagues are as well. We shouldn't waste $160 million on a plebiscite that some of the members of the Liberal Party said they would ignore anyway. 

KARVELAS: So, you would only do it as a last ditch option, if all else fails? Do you think it would be worth spending the money if it's the only way to do it?

CHALMERS: I think it's just common sense to say that if we can't get a Parliamentary resolution, and then it comes to us to see whether or not there is another way; if it is the only remaining way on the table, then what Bill has said today, is there would be a conversation about that. I think that's a pretty reasonable thing to say.

KARVELAS: Finally on the Senate. The Senate results were also a big topic of conversation today. One Nation has managed to get four senators. Nick Xenophon with three. Derryn Hinch. David Leyonhjelm is back and a few other interesting developments. It's going to be a very interesting three years, is it not?

CHALMERS: It is. The changes to the voting system in the Senate and the double dissolution election were supposed to clean out some of these sorts of voices from the Senate, in Malcolm Turnbull's view, and, not for the first time, and unfortunately probably not for the last time, he has got this one horribly wrong. He has let Hanson back into the door, with four senators for One Nation.

KARVELAS: Doesn't that mean that a significant number of Australians support their ideas? Don't we need to start engaging with that; if they've managed to get four senators?

CHALMERS: Absolutely, we do need to engage with people who are sufficiently disillusioned to be prepared to vote for Pauline Hanson and her Senate candidates. I think that's a good point. It does reflect on the other parties' ability to convince people of their policies and principles, when we get results like this. We certainly take the challenge very seriously; in trying to win back some of the disillusioned and disaffected voters in this country. I know in my own electorate and right around the country that it's a task for all of us, but one we take very seriously in the Labor Party.

KARVELAS: Jim Chalmers, thanks for joining me.

CHALMERS: Thanks Patricia.

KARVELAS: That's Dr Jim Chalmers; he is the federal Shadow Finance Minister.