Ross Greenwood speaks to Nationals Senator Barry O’Sullivan about the role he played in the PM’s backflip in announcing a Royal Commission into the Banks and Financial System
Introduction: Is this man responsible for the Royal Commission?
Ross Greenwood: What we’ve been telling you about the royal commission into the banks. The Prime minister certainly has done a massive about face. This is Prime Minister Malcolm Turnball just two days ago.
Malcolm Turnbull: We have made it very clear that we are not going to establish a royal commission and the reason for that is simply because we want to get on with the job now.
Ross Greenwood: That was two days ago. No royal commission. Today, this is what the Prime Minister said.
Malcolm Turnbull: Now, the banks of cause do not believe in inquires necessary, but they have raised and you may have seen their letter to us serious concerns with the ongoing uncertainty is undermining the financial system. The speculation about an inquiry cannot go on. It’s moving into dangerous territory where some of the proposals being put forward have the potential seriously to damage some of our most important institutions. Cabinet has met this morning and has determined that the only way we can give all Australians a greater degree of assurance about the financial system is to a royal commission into misconduct into the financial services industry.
Ross Greenwood: A royal commission into the financial system, that’s what’s taking place. Now, the reason for it is all about politics because the prime minister has done a genuine about turn and the reason for that is the deal that have been done yesterday between the Nationals and the Greens and last night on this program we spoke with Peter Whish-Wilson. Senator Peter Whish-Wilson, one of those who was instrumental in that deal, but the man who bought this proposal to the Senate in the very first place is Senator Barry O’Sullivan from the National party. He’s on line right now. Many thanks for your time Barry.
Interview with: Barry O’Sullivan, Senator, Nationals
Barry O’Sullivan: Thank you, Ross.
Ross Greenwood: Do you believe that it was your agreement with the Greens that prompted the government to create the Royal Commission?
Barry O’Sullivan: Of course it wasn’t just the agreement with the Greens to support my bill that caused this, there was also support from the Liva party and the entire cross bent chair with one exception. But I really think that perhaps the thing that took it from being an idea to a potential reality was the courage of two of my colleagues who were Louis Brown and George Christianson who indicated that they’d supported in the lower house, so I really think that was the trigger. I don’t think that this was the only force at work with the prime minister and the government to reach this, obviously, the banks have bought into it eventually.
I think there were a number of factors and can I say I had a long and very productive conversation with the prime minister this week, I won’t go into the details of it other than to say the prime minister had a genuine belief that what he was doing and his government was doing; my government I should say, was sufficient it’s just we disagreed on it because really from life’s experience of having been involved into Royal Commissions I knew the only way to change the culture was for us to have an inquiry and a Royal Commissions, the go enrolled.
Ross Greenwood: What would hope that a Royal Commission brings out that hasn’t already been brought out or investigated by the variety of inquiries that the government has undertaken?
Barry O’Sullivan: Look, it’s one thing to get into the facts and find misdemeanors and wrongdoing. It’s a whole another thing to drive this culture question, Ross. Can I use the institutional abuse case royal commission as example? There were certain behaviours about individuals in church institutions and non-government organizations. It was obviously very prolific, ’40s, ’50s, ’60; ’70s. Now, I suspect there’s nowhere near the level of that misbehaviour at the moment and even in minor cases, I doubt that you’re going to find bishops and archbishops and other leaders in those organizations moving things around to conceal a behaviour.
Not one law has changed their Ross, not one law has changed. Change in the law, the same offense that occurred that were offenses then are offenses now. No adjustments. It was about exposing the behaviour. It has a cathartic effect to these organizations to force themselves to change the culture and the practices within. It’s almost a market force in my view and without it, you’re not going to get it.
Ross Greenwood: Okay, so the banks have agreed that it seemed to me, at least for the last couple of weeks being the very in your bankers, that they were almost resigned to the fact that there would be an inquiry of some sort. Clearly, if Live is ahead in the polls, it won the next election, it would have called for a royal commission to the banks. Do you believe that the prime minister by calling for this royal commission himself that he ultimately gets control of the terms of reference and as a result of that ultimately, can determine what takes place as distinct from a banking inquiry as you have proposed which would have reported to the parliament?
Barry O’Sullivan: One of my staffs, my drafting staff have done a comparison on the terms that have been put forward by the prime minister. They largely cover, and I think senator Whish-Wilson has said this publicly they largely cover the terms of reference that I had. Mine would probably a bit more detailed but they’re sufficient. I’ve looked at them thoroughly and they’re sufficient. They’re different, two products, but they’ll do the job. The question is about controlling the royal commission, I wouldn’t even consider for a second that the prime minister or an executive government would indefinitely control a royal commissioner and history tells us, Ross, that they’re pretty hard to control these people and in fact the direction and the breadth and depth of commission of inquiries are pretty hard to control too.
Forces will come to be for a royal commission to do a proper job and I think that’s what we’ll see in this circumstance.
Ross Greenwood: Okay. The other point also is in regards to the breadth of the commission because largely yours was focused on the banks. This now goes to the whole area of your banking superannuation and financial services, is that reasonable or do you believe it should- [crosstalk]
Barry O’Sullivan: Oh, no, no. My bill-
Ross Greenwood: – have really concentrated on the banks?
Barry O’Sullivan: – covered those, my bill was broadened. It covered banking, insurance, superannuation and financial and related services. This is as broad as mine, it doesn’t necessarily specifically go case by case, category by category in the financial services but when you look at the terms of reference, they’re broad enough to cover all of those things. Insurance is another big one and particularly for my people in the Bush or for the Nat’s, National parties people in the bush, exuberant insurance cost in regional areas that’s crippling businesses to the point where they can’t ensure, that has to be looked at in and this terms will allow that to happen.
Ross Greenwood: The action that you and other members of the national party have taken, do you believe politically or cause a rift between yourself and the Liberals in the coalition?
Barry O’Sullivan: We should celebrate the ability that within a coalition, we can manage tensions like this without a shot been fired. From time to time we’re very broad church and while that’s a strong and positive thing, Ross, sometimes of course, if you’ve got issues that are deeply ingrained in your political ideology which is the case for the nationals or my colleagues at least, the ones who have stepped up on this. It should come as no surprise that sometimes we might find ourselves at odds with colleagues but that’s not a bad thing, Ross. If we didn’t have the ability to be able to do this, bring the pinch and required to get a result, I might well stay home and send my proxy on the back of a Tele Hopper.
Ross Greenwood: Exactly and the final part of that, this is not the first time that there has been a banking role commission in Australia.
Barry O’Sullivan: That’s right, it’s history repeating itself. In fact, the last royal commission in to the bank and indeed the only previous royal commissions since federation was in 1934 and had come about when the then United Australia Party which was a precursor to the liberal party where the prime minister Joe Lyons was endeavouring to form a coalition with the country party later Earle Page. Page told Lyons that they would not enter into a coalition, they held abound to a pair obviously until such time that there was a royal commission into the banks and that’s what happened and that’s where bank licensing come from in the genesis or the start of bank licensing and it created greater transparency in that case of bank profits. We’re hoping to duplicate the efforts of Page in this circumstance, Ross.
Ross Greenwood: History repeats itself even with the Nationals as well, Senator Barry O’Sullivan who has been instrumental in that royal commission being called by the government today. Barry we appreciate your time here on the program.
Barry O’Sullivan: Thank you, Ross, I appreciate the opportunity.
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