Government colluding with Banks on Royal Commission

18 April 2016


SUBJECT/S: Government colluding with the Banks; Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal; ABCC; Opinion Polls and Next Election

JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FINANCIAL SERVICES AND SUPERANNUATION: We're here in Canberra this morning because the Prime Minister of Australia is wasting tens of millions of dollars of taxpayer money trying to make the Australian people believe that the nation's only priority is the passage of anti-union legislation that began with Tony Abbott. The problem with this Prime Minister is he's got a ploy to get to a double dissolution, but not a plan for the economy. He's got a ploy to get himself through two days of Question Time, but no plan to get to the bottom of the scandals in our financial institutions which have created so many victims in this country. He's got a ploy to make Australians believe that he cares about things like Medicare, like the financial system, like our schools, when in reality he doesn't have a plan for any of those important issues.

We now learn that the Government is colluding with the big banks to try and prevent a Royal Commission into the financial sector. Australians would be disappointed but not entirely surprised to learn that Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison are colluding with the banks to try to prevent this country getting to the bottom of scandals in financial institutions, to deny victims their voice, to prevent people really finding out what has happened in recent years in our financial institutions. It says it all about this Government and about this Prime Minister that he would prefer to listen to the big banks than to listen to the voices of the Australian people.

Last night Malcolm Turnbull was asked point-blank whether his Treasurer had been talking with the banks, coming up with a strategy to avoid a Royal Commission. The Prime Minister said last night 'you'll have to ask the Treasurer'. Now, this says it all about the Prime Minister's slipperiness, about the Prime Minister's willingness to stand up for the big banks against the interests of the Australian people. He needs to clarify today just how much the Turnbull Government is in cahoots with our biggest financial institutions to deny victims their voice, to deny the Australian people getting to the bottom of these banking scandals.

We have a Prime Minister who will stand up for multinationals, but not stand up for Medicare. He needs to urgently clarify this situation: what conversations have happened with the big banks about the Royal Commission? He said last night 'you'll have to ask the Treasurer', pretending that he doesn't know anything about these conversations. The Prime Minister is either lying, or if he doesn't know what his Treasurer is up to, that relationship is even worse than we thought.

JOURNALIST: Why is Labor prepared to continue to support the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal whose latest ruling is potentially destroying the livelihoods of thousands of owner-operator truck drivers across the country?

CHALMERS: Well there's more than one side to that story and there are people on all sides of that conversation. People have different interpretations of the independent Tribunal's ruling. We do support the independent Tribunal. We think this is fundamentally about road safety. There is a link that has been established, independently, by experts, between remuneration for truck drivers and safety on our roads. We need to prevent people from cutting corners, from taking unnecessary risks -- whether it be with maintenance, whether it be with hours worked and the like.

Malcolm Turnbull has been in this Parliament for twelve years now and he hasn't said a peep about truck driver safety in that entire twelve years. So give me a break. All of these pic facs now with the hi-vis vests and all of this sort of thing, give me a break. He's been here for a dozen years, hasn't said a peep, hasn't cared at all about truck driver safety, and now he wants the Australian people to think that he cares. This is just what Malcolm Turnbull does. He says one thing, he does another. It says it all about him that when we are calling for all sides of this debate to sit down and to try and come to a measured, sensible solution, he would prefer to smash the independent Tribunal instead.

JOURNALIST: Would Labor be open to some kind of negotiation, for example, if the Tribunal was scrapped and funding was put into keeping truck drivers safe on Australian roads?

CHALMERS: Well the negotiation should happen before the independent Tribunal is scrapped. Bill Shorten and others have been saying for some time that what we'd support is for all the interested parties to get around the table, to see if there's a way through this issue, to listen to all the parties and to try and get to a sensible agreement. It says everything about this Government, the way Malcolm Turnbull is operating this Government, that he would prefer to smash an independent Tribunal than to listen to the people involved and to try and actually deliver an outcome rather than just talk about one.

JOURNALIST: Is the Opposition going to drag out the debate on the ABCC and the RSRT?

CHALMERS: Well we've said that we are ready for a vote on both of those issues. I think it is disappointing, and the Australian people will find it hard to believe, that with all of our challenges around the future of Medicare, funding of our schools, multinational tax, all of these things, the Prime Minister thinks that the nation's only priorities are two pieces of anti-union legislation. We think that the Parliament shouldn't have been recalled this week just to give Malcolm Turnbull an excuse to go to an election. He's got a ploy to go to a double D, but he doesn't have a plan to deliver the economic leadership that he promised.

You'd see in the opinion polls today, and anyone who spends time in their communities would know, that there is an overwhelming sense of colossal disappointment with this Prime Minister. This Prime Minister promised so much and has delivered so little. He is so out of touch that he will stand up for multinationals, but he won't stand up for Medicare. And when you spend seven or eight months, as he has, pretending you can be all things to all people, people will eventually work you out, and that's what we're seeing now. People have worked out that this Prime Minister will say one thing and do another. This Prime Minister pretends that he's all things to all people, he promised economic leadership, and instead all he has delivered is chaos and confusion and dysfunction.

JOURNALIST: Despite this, Bill Shorten is still trailing Malcolm Turnbull in the polls. Does this concern you?

CHALMERS: I'm very confident about our prospects at the election. We started this term of Parliament some way behind. The Government does have a big head start in terms of the number of seats that they hold currently, but I'm confident about Labor's prospects for one reason -- we've done the work. We've put the policies on the table. We are ready to govern. We've got more policy on the table, whether it be budget repair, plans for schools, renewable energy, the future of Medicare -- we've got all of these plans on the table and we're ready to govern. I think the Australian people realise that and they welcome that because the era of Abbott-Turnbull negativity is not what they are after. They want our positive plans for the future. The Australian people, when Malcolm Turnbull replaced Tony Abbott, thought that it would be the end of the mindless slogans, the union bashing, the obsessive negativity and the economic incompetence. Instead what they're realising now is it was just the beginning.

JOURNALIST: Just back to the trucking issue, do you acknowledge that there have been unintended consequences as a result of the Tribunal's ruling in that a lot of owner-drivers are missing out on work now, some have committed suicide and a lot are feeling the financial pinch of making truck repayments on loans for their trucks, with some worth up to a quarter of a million dollars?

CHALMERS: I've heard some of the reports that you've just referred to, and these are the sorts of issues that a Government that's any good would get people around the table to discuss. These are important issues. We don't dismiss lightly the claims made by anybody in the industry about the rulings of the independent Tribunal. That's why Bill and others, very sensibly, have said that we should get people around the table and try and see if there's a way through. It says it all about Malcolm Turnbull, when given a choice between building that consensus or smashing the independent Tribunal, he's going to smash the independent Tribunal. I think that's a very disappointing outcome.

JOURNALIST: Surely it's difficult, though, for Labor to claim that it, in good will, wants to get people around the table, when, on the other side of the fence, you're accusing some of these truckies of being drug addicts?

CHALMERS: I haven't seen anyone make that accusation.

JOURNALIST: Well there are claims that these drivers are using drugs in order to combat fatigue in order to do the long trips.

CHALMERS:  I've heard that accusation made in general, but I haven't heard any of our people making it. Thanks.