Ross Greenwood speaks to Queensland Nationals Senator, Barry O’Sullivan, about why he’s pushing to introduce a bill that would see a powerful commission of inquiry into Australia’s banks.
Introduction: Are we a step closer to a Banking inquiry?
Ross Greenwood: Now George Christensen has indicated that he will not cross the floor until Barnaby Joyce gets back into the house. But again, remember that the balance of this Parliament only stays like this for a very short period of time and also is pending the outcome of those key by-elections in Bennelong which is where you’ve now got Kristina Keneally. The vote away in particular from John Alexander who will be the Liberal candidate. As I say, there is no guarantees in all of this. It’s going to be interesting just to watch it. When I had Scott Morrison on The Treasurer last night, he’s really told me about a banking Royal Commission.
Scott Morrison: We’re taking the action on the banks right now. What a 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 are lawyers but their case hasn’t been settled. It doesn’t actually get an outcome for anyone or change anything. What we’re doing is changing things right now.
Ross Greenwood: What Scott Morrison also told me last night on the program was that from his point of view, only a government can commission a Royal Commission and only a government can basically give the order. National Senator Barry O’Sullivan, who’s on the line, who’s trying to bring this private member’s bill next Thursday to introduce a banking Royal Commission. Barry, many thanks for your time.
Interview with: Barry O’Sullivan, Senator, Nationals
Barry O’Sullivan: Thank you, Ross.
Ross Greenwood: Explain to me the background of this. Why are you wanting to bring this particular bill into the Senate next week?
Barry O’Sullivan: Firstly, this measure is in my view and the view of many colleagues, long overdue. The timing of it is based around, we’ve seen a new pathway through the Senate this week with the introduction of the amendments to the Marriage Act, so it provided a pathway where a private bill or private senators bill, in that case in relation to the Marriage Act was able to get passage. It’s now in full debate, the government are now subject to a week of–
Look Ross, it is so long overdue and I’ve heard the comments of the treasurer and the finance minister. Two comments I’d make. I mean, I think they need to be careful indicating that the government wouldn’t fund an inquiry even if both houses of the Parliament were to recommend it. That would be a fatal blow for the government today without question. We’re not going for a Royal Commission, we’re going for a Commission of Inquiry which is almost identical to a Royal Commission.
The big difference is that a Commission of Inquiry will report to the Parliament which I think is where to report so that the Parliament can move very swiftly and bring about any changes in prudential regulations, general regulations, or legislation if it’s necessary.
Ross Greenwood: Just another thing here, Barry. You did mention the same-sex marriage. The notion of a banking Royal Commission being started in the same way through the Senate is a little bit of tit-for-tat in regards to the fact that that same-sex marriage bill has entered the Senate without necessarily introducing some of the rights or protections of religious freedom. Is that a reasonable observation to make?
Barry O’Sullivan: No, it’s not. The two things are completely separate. Some people like me, I’ve been working in relation to changes around banking and finance now for nearly three years. I’ve got a major policy in this space over with Treasury being costed at the moment. People like my colleague John ‘Wacka’ Williams has been very forceful in this space for a long time. The Greens have passed bills through the Senate along with the Labor Party, so the absolute majority of those of us who sit in this.
Ross Greenwood: Let’s go to that other matter then because you told the Financial Review, “We’ve been treated with contempt rather than harmonized Smith and Paterson bills.” In other words, these are the bills that basically have brought the same-sex marriage legislation into the Senate. Of course, it was a rival bill put forward by the Liberal Senator James Patterson but ultimately that was rolled together into Senate dismissed bill that was ultimately the one that went before the Senate.
Barry O’Sullivan: Those quotes are accurate, there is a body of us on standard side. That’s not correct to say that they’ve rolled in the provisions of the Patterson Bill, they’ve been rejected all the way to the Prime Minister. There was a level of discontent amongst Conservatives over on the Senate side, but you need to separate the two things Ross. We’ve had some unprecedented decisions this last week in the Senate. In that, members of this– that people like me are not bound on procedural matters now by my government, which provides a pathway.
All I’m doing is stepping in instead of the Smiths footsteps here to be able to get the opportunity for this to be aired in the Senate. That wasn’t possible the week before. To the knowledge of people in the Senate for the last 20 years, it hasn’t been possible. It’s not true to say it’s a tit-for-tat. What is true to say is because of the changes that occurred to provide the pathway for the marriage bill, it has opened up a yawning gap for backbenchers to be able to pursue significantly important issues where they haven’t been able to do that before.
I’ve just been straight out of the barriers, I’ve been ready for this along with many colleagues both in the Senate and down in the house. We’re just going to test both houses to see where they are on this. If they both get up, both houses of the Parliament have passed but they’re not going to fund it.
Ross Greenwood: The second part about that also would be that in regards to the banks, have you seen terribly much taking place recently that would actually give you confidence that a Commission of Inquiry is not needed into the banks?
Barry O’Sullivan: Look, let me tell you. When you’ve got institutions that are making profits in the order that these banks make, they are not concerned about the prudential regulator or in deep penalties. I mean, they can pay a $10 million bill and it’ll be less than what the petty cash is down at one of the major banks. The only way you’re going to do this is to give the Australian people their day in court, as I say.
I’ve lived through a Royal Commission, Ross. I was involved in the Royal Commission here in Queensland into the police service back in the late ’80s. What I’ve seen the IMP in my home state and our police service are still benefiting from that 25 years later. This is the only way you’re going to drive the banks out into the open, get them into the middle of the stadium. I’m under no illusions that it will deliver up restitution or compensation for many thousands, tens of thousands of Australians who’ve lost their homes and businesses through scurrilous behaviour on the part of these banks.
This will drive cultural change because they will do whatever they can to get it out in front of a Commission of Inquiry, set a recommendations to fix the issues themselves. If we don’t restore trust between Australians, I mean it’s not as if you’ve got a massive choice in the banking sector, they’re all much the same. It’s a bit of tomato-tomato when you go through them. We have to drive cultural change that restores the trust of Australians.
Ross Greenwood: Just before I let you go, how are you reading the Queensland election at the moment? I mean, you’ve got one nation sitting there, clearly having an influence. You’ve got both Labor, which is obviously flip-flopped on policies they have previously made. In particular, the Adani coal mine. Then you got the Liberals where Tim Nicholls clearly hasn’t performed all that well in the in the first debate. What’s your own reading of it?
Barry O’Sullivan: If I knew the answer, I’d probably apply for Anthony Green’s job. To be honest, I think it will be somewhat lying bull. I think it will be a challenge for either of the major parties to rule in their own right. I’ve been on the campaign trail for some of the times since it started, particularly in rural and provincial areas. Things have gone well for the Liberal National Party in those areas but there’s no question that the One Nation question remains a riddle.
Ross Greenwood: The national Senator for Queensland calling for a Commission of Inquiry into the banks and using this unique opportunity when members are not in the chamber to allow a new passage of a bill through the Senate to be instituted through that way. The same passage that the same-sex marriage act has actually taken through the Senate as well. Barry, appreciate your time.
Barry O’Sullivan: Thank you, Ross. Appreciate the opportunity.
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