Ross Greenwood speaks to Greens Senator Peter Whish-Wilson about why he’s supporting Senator Barry O’Sullivan’s banking commission of inquiry bill
Introduction: Has the banking inquiry got the green light?
Ross Greenwood: Welcome back to Money News, ride around the country. I told you this. Plenty of issues taking up a time in the Senate right now. There was the passage of the same-sex marriage bill today, that passed. There’s also the issue of the proposed banking inquiry. Now, as I told earlier on, there has been an alliance between the Greens and the Nationals today. The Greens will back the Nationals proposed bank inquiry with amendments that have gone through.
Now, this is quite clearly against the wishes of the government. In fact, let’s just pick up what Scott Morrison, the treasurer, told us about the royal commission just early a week or so ago.
Scott Morrison: We’re taking the action on the banks right now. What the royal commission, I understand, they think will achieve is I’m not sure. Because at the end of the day, no one gets compensated. People might have their case referred to on chapter 23 after 18 months of some hearing, where the only people who’ve got paid, the lawyers. But their case hasn’t been settled and so it doesn’t actually give an outcome for for anyone or change anything.
What we’re doing is changing things right now and those measures are going through the parliament. I don’t think anyone can accuse me or the Prime Minister of being soft on the Bank’s. We’ve seen all the evidence to the contrary of that this week– this year, I should say.
Ross Greenwood: No problem, sir. That is Scott Morrison there talking about why he thinks a royal commission is not needed. Let’s now go to somebody else, the chairman of the financial system inquiry, David Murray. Who did advocate stronger penalties against financial institutions when they have done the wrong thing, but he doesn’t believe there should be a commission of inquiry or royal commission.
David Murray: There are things that go wrong in every business, in every industry all the time and we have a system of law to deal with that. All I’m saying is, it’s not the stuff of royal commissions. It’s is not fundamentally necessary. That begs the question, what is the real reason for doing this? Particularly in the external world, in– outside Australia, people will question what is fundamentally wrong in Australia that requires these form of inquiry.
Ross Greenwood: That there is David Murray. Let’s go now to the Greens treasury spokesman, who is Peter Whish-Wilson. Now, bear in mind that Senatro Whish-Wilson and his colleagues in the Senate for the Greens have sided with the Nationals and the proposed bank inquiry. It will be one of the very rare occasions. Although, it does happen, but it’s not often, that they would come together on an issue as strongly as this. Many thanks to your time, Peter.
Interview with: Peter Whish-Walsh, Senator, Greens
Peter Whish-Wilson: Good day, Ross. How are you?
Ross Greenwood: Good, Will. Thank you. Just explain, the Greens and the Nationals, as I said, don’t agree on many things, but this is one thing you agree with them on, why is that?
Peter Whish-Wilson: It is, Ross, because over the last five years, I’ve worked closely with the National Senate, on a number of inquiries into financial misconduct. In fact, probably six or seven inquiries that I have been involved with and we’ve all come to the same conclusions. You’ve got to understand why the Senate– in fact, the Senate economics committee, which is it’s got a lot of resources, a lot of power, came to the point where we felt we couldn’t deal with some of the issues and the evidence before us.
We literally, didn’t have the personnel and the people and the expertise. Now, we did have the powers to control weaknesses, to offering immunity, to freeze documents and search premises, all these things that the royal commission had. Actually, I came to the logical conclusion that we needed a royal commission to get to the bottom of some of financial scandals that we, as a committee, took evidence on.
Ross Greenwood: Okay. Given the fact that currently got inquiries as it got inquiries into to the banks, is legal cases going on? Scott Morrison says, “Look, by the time we get through a royal commission, commission of the inquiry, we may very well already have solved many the problems, that the people may have got their compensation and the royal commission or commission of inquiry cannot order compensation for individuals. That would be a fundamental problem if you go get a resolution for this people’s issues much earlier.”
Peter Whish-Wilson: Yes. Look, there’s a couple of important issues there, Ross. Firstly, is to fix the systemic issues. It comes the other way, do you believe there are systemic issues? Then this thing is going to continue into the future. The second thing is, I’m still getting people contacting my office, even coming into my office in Canberra. They still haven’t been compensated for the things like the Forestry Management Investment scam catastrophe that occurred. Finished four or five years and the wind-ups.
The reason they’re not getting compensated is because, no one’s dig into that financial misconduct. They go to the banks and the banks go, “Well, we’ve done nothing wrong. Look, I’m sorry. Here’s the door. We’ll give you 5 Cents and a Dollar compensation.” Those are things we actually want to dig into it and find out why they haven’t been properly investigated. There’s certainly an element of us wanting to get some justice here.
Ross Greenwood: Here’s the other thing also, Peter, in regards to that. Is it more a case that you wish to go deeper into the cases and the situations that we already know about? Financial planning scandals, issues in regards to contracts and life insurance companies and policies. Also, say for example, even the old strike situation or is there a feeling that there are other scandals sitting inside banks that have not yet come to the surface.
Peter Whish-Wilson: There’s certainly is. We believe that there are other scandals that haven’t come to light. Now, I can tell you from my personal experience that, because the Senate can offer immunity to whistle blowers, that people haven’t come forward, that’s definitely a possibility. I think the bigger picture here is that– and this is something great, mid-crafty, outgoing, outspoken, in his last Senate estimates a few weeks ago, before they handed the baton over.
He basically said, “The culture hasn’t changed in the Australian Banking sector and it’s the culture that’s the problem.” Unless you actually give it a good shake up– it’s not just about getting to the bottom of compensation or whether the people should be given compensation. This is actually about what we can do to change the culture in the financial services industry. It’s not just banking, it’s across the board. We believe that a well-resourced commission that has decent amount of funding, so we can get good people to delve into the detail.
The example you just mentioned there, Ross, was– let’s look at some of the financial scandals that we’ve looked into. Now, what we did in parliament is these inquiries, that Scott Morrison keeps referring to, where we get platitudes. Like a dog and pony show, where the CEOs come in and tell us, “Everything’s fine.” We’ve never got the correspondence or had anyone look at the details of the middle management that we’re overseeing, some of these operations.
They will do what’s called, ‘Enforceable undertakings.’ Now, I don’t have the resources. I can tell you, because we’ve had inquiries into, but I don’t have the resource to get to the bottom of some of these schemes either. In the end, they have to do these enforceable undertakings, where they work critical operation for over period of time to dig in the box.
Ross Greenwood: Okay.
Peter Whish-Wilson: [cross talk] don’t do this again.
Ross Greenwood: Given the fact where you see the parliament right now sitting, where you see the Greens, where you see others the Nationals, where you see others inside the parliament, where you see John Alexander out of the house of representatives, what likelihood do you think there is that this commission of inquiry will get through the parliament?
Peter Whish-Wilson: I’m optimistic this time around, because it maybe– and maybe this is unaware, but the parliament for the commission of inquiry, which is essentially is a royal commission that reports to parliament, riding the executive, was a Greens idea. We got to bill up in the Senate, which I put up say, five months ago and that passed the Senate. With the support of Senator Williams, who I worked with on these Senate inquiries.
It got support of and of course, labor and it’s been sitting in the lower house now for four months. While we had the conversations with George Christensen and other Nationals members, they’ve never had the numbers to put it to a vote.
This time around, because it’s a Nationals’ bill, although they have incorporated a lot of the things the Greens want to see and other stakeholders. I’m optimistic that, because it’s their own bill, that will get behind it and will actually get it up.
Ross Greenwood: Okay. Can I just go to a separate subject, if that’s okay? Same-sex marriage bill, passes through the Senate, the third reading today. But I do note also that the former prime minister Tony Abbot, who was quite clearly against the same-sex marriage bill and also the voting was in opponents, that– but he did say, that once the people had spoken, he would acknowledge that. Here’s just a little what Tony Abbott today said on my colleague, Ben Fordham’s program a little earlier today.
Tony Abott: Given that Bill Shorten and Malcolm Turnbull said that freedom of religion was very, very important to them in the course of the same-sex marriage debate. It’s very disappointing that Shorten didn’t give his own members the freedom of conscience on the floor of the Senate and it’s disappointing that the government hasn’t done more to try to ensure that freedom of religion is protected, as the same time as same-sex marriage is passed.
I know we’ve got this radic inquiry and that’s the step in the right direction, but it’s a real pity that the radic inquiry wasn’t before of the same-sex plebiscite.
Ross Greenwood: That is the former Prime Minister Tony Abbott on the day when the same-sex marriage bill has passed through the Senate. Do you believe that the former prime minister has a right? That the government has not done enough to ensure the freedom of religion in Australia?
Peter Whish-Wilson: Now, look, I don’t– and this issue, I’ve just heard it bouncing of the walls all week here in the Senate. We believe that the bill that we voted on today that passed the Senate head got the balance right. It does have the religious freedom enshrined in it. We put up our own amendments to actually withdraw and improve the bill, which got voted down. We had some hard working Senators, like the ex-prime minister putting up their own, then– which also got voted down. In the end, I can say to you tonight Ross that, in the end, there was some pretty fierce and robust debate around those religious freedoms and those amendments and a number of conservatives voted for the bill. At the end of the day, they voted for the amendments, the amendments didn’t get up.
I was really surprised when the final– third reading I went through, that that the number of people there were on the ‘Yes’ side of the chamber, which I really didn’t expect to see, because back home in their electorates, whether it’s or whatever it is. A larger number of liberal voters voted for the ‘Yes’ and many of the voters did.
A number of their electorates– 71 out of 72 it might be. I’m scratching from memory the figure, but 71 out of 72 liberal electorates voted for ‘Yes.’ Good on them for putting up their arguments. There is a conscience vote regardless of what Tony Abott says of four Labor Senators crossing the floor and voting against the bill today. I saw Labor Senators voting for, it. There’s definitely, a conscience vote.
At the end of the day, the politics being what it is, they’re not going to be out there representing their stakeholders and their special interests, the people they associate with, but I believe a larger number than you’ll expect will vote ‘Yes’, at the end of the day. Because the people have spoken.
Ross Greenwood: Yes. Peter Whish-Wilson and Greens Treasurer spokesman, we appreciate your time in the program this evening.
Peter Whish-Wilson: Yes, thanks for having me on, Ross. See you.
Interviewed Sharid Jain, S&P Global Ratings titled ” What impact will a Royal Commission have on the banks? .”