Ross Greenwood speaks to Senator John ‘Wacka’ Williams about the royal commission into banking misconduct and the superannuation industry which commenced today in Melbourne.
Introduction: Big Banks under the spotlight
Ross Greenwood: The banking Royal Commission into the misconduct into the banking and also the financial services and superannuation industry commenced today in Melbourne. Now, the royal commissioner is Kenneth Hein, who is the former High Court Justice. Well, what he’s basically said today is that people who have either way in whistleblowers need to be protected, but not only that, if a person has come to a financial agreement with a bank over the past five years and as a part of that settlement there has been a secrecy agreement, what Kenneth Hein today said is that that secrecy agreement will not stand up in front of his royal commission. In other words a person who’s signed a secrecy agreement can come before the Royal Commission, can tell their story with no fear of legal redemption from the bank. Now listen to this.
Kenneth Hein: By confidentiality or non disparagement clause in an agreement will not act as a reasonable excuse against production in answer to a notice to produce or summoned. It would not be a reasonable excuse not to answer a question in a hearing. It seems to me to follow that answering all summons would not amount to a breach.
Ross Greenwood: There you go. Opposed to the signing a secrecy agreement can appear and can be summoned to appear before this Royal Commission. That was something that was very much a question mark previously or the man who was right in the middle of both of these big stories of the day, one the deputy prime minister, and number two this banking Royal Commission is senator John Weicker Williams. Of course, a senator from New South Wales, of New South Wales in title, a man who very much has been a supporter of the deputy prime minister, has been a man who was called consistently and persistently for this Royal Commission to happen. Many thanks for your time as always Weicker.
Interview with: John Williams, Senator, The Nationals
John Williams: Pleasure to be with you Ross as always.
Ross Greenwood: The deputy prime minister is in a difficult position. Is his position untenable at this point in time?
John Williams: Certainly not, Ross, no. I think, Barnaby, he’s a good fighter and he’ll fight his way out of this. Look, he’s done some things that people are not happy with in his personal life, but when it comes to bubbling politics, I think Barnaby can match with any of them and I think he’s there. People judge him on the job he does, he’s politician, as a politician for his people and for raising the stride and I think he’ll come out on top.
Ross Greenwood: You know and I know as well that politics is about the look. Is the current situation of Barnaby Joyce finds himself a good look for him in the eyes of the people of Australia?
John Williams: Well, there have been headlines up, unfair not to see Ross, but neither Barnaby’s confidence is building. I was with him yesterday in Amsterdam airport. Yesterday we talked on the way down the plane. He’s had a tough time, his wife has had a tough time, his kids have had a tough time, it’s been a period of time that I’m sure that I would like to get out and forget about when it happened in hurry but when it comes to the party and the way the party is in Australia I think he’ll do a good job into the future.
Ross Greenwood: Can I just ask another question because it would seem to me that Bill Shorten had lost significant political fire particularly in the north of Queensland, in regional areas, also in New South Wales by really sitting on the fence in regards to the Adani coal mine which would bring significant jobs to very sensitive political electorates in Northern Queensland and even through other parts of the country as well. Given the fact now that the deputy prime minister has got this current situation over his hands, is it is a point now where they’ve got a why up if you like, the two situations and trying to work out where they’re going to put this report?
John Williams: Tough one, isn’t it?
Ross Greenwood: Yes.
John Williams: With Bill Shorten, he’s just jammed between the grains in Melbourne and the coastal coal mine in the Adani coal mine up there in Queensland and say you’ll have to make a decision one way or another there, Ross, and it’s amazing around the world, they’re going to use that to clean a more efficient coal in Australia by less productive coal out of Indonesia or China. That’s a question Bill Shorten is to answer, but here the politics is boring, it’s been a pretty interesting week or two, Ross.
Ross Greenwood: Sure has been. Well, I know you’re on the way out so you can speak your mind fairly freely at this stage about these matters, take me to the royal commission today of course the very first day of the Royal Commissioner Kenneth Hein talking about the secrecy agreements some people might have signed, they can still come before his commission and give that information up. Do you believe that this royal commission is a political solution for the government or is it set to achieve something more meaningful?
John Williams: I want to say something more meaningful and a lot of pressure to bring this Royal Commission on but I’m still worried. I’m worried that those dates of settlement with the finance institutions have signed that confidentiality clause. Can they come forward? Remember commissioner Hein said in a pre-round here just a few minutes ago notice to produce they’re free to come forward or summons that have as a commissioner forced to produce or to summons if he hasn’t heard the story. This worries me. So when I contact the Royal Commissioner last week, the message was this, “At this stage of inquiry, we would not want individuals to provide information that they maybe in breach of legal obligations by voluntarily providing such information.” Last week it was a no, today I will read what it says here. The commissioner said in his opening statement that any institution that seeks legal redress against a member of the public or whistleblower for providing information to the commission would result in the exercise of those compulsory pairs and the closest attention not only to the law of that conduct, but also to the motives of the institution trying to prevent the commission from having the information. He’s done a turnaround here, but Ross, I’m still not convinced that people are safe from being sued if they sign those confidentiality agreements and they come forward. that’s my worry.
Ross Greenwood: It will be interesting all cycles. We might even gauge reaction, get annoyed at the four major banks and just ask them whether they will sue people who have signed secrecy contracts with them as part of their settlements.
John Williams: The four banks already said they won’t. They have come out Thursday and all the three banks that they wouldn’t and there’s more coming. We just need to say, well done big banks to saying right I can just spill your guts to say what you wanted, we’re not going to sue you but we need the other institutions, the life insurance companies, the superannuation funds. We need that everyone come out and say that Ross I said people can come forward without fear or favour of being sued for telling their story.
Ross Greenwood: I will tell you what, John Williams is always great having you on the program. Senator John Weicker Williams really, the heart and soul in many ways of the National Party Australia and a man very close to Barnaby Joyce and also this issue of the banking Royal Commission
Interviewed Matt Canavan, Minister for Resources and Northern Australia titled ” Is the banking inquiry inevitable? .”
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