30 November 2017
Transcript - #2017042, 2017

Interview with Raf Epstein, ABC 774

SUBJECTS: royal commission into banks; Sam Dastyari

RAF EPSTEIN:

Kelly O'Dwyer is the Minister for Revenue and Financial Services. She is also, of course, the Liberal member for the seat of Higgins here in Melbourne. Kelly O'Dwyer good afternoon.

KELLY O'DWYER:

Good afternoon Raf.

RAF EPSTEIN:

Is it rank socialism?

KELLY O'DWYER:

Well what I would say is that the Government in all of the decisions that we have made has always acted in the national interest and in the interest of all Australians. The Treasurer consulted with the chairman of APRA, the Governor of the Reserve Bank about all of the political conjecture and ongoing speculation around the prospects of a banking inquiry or a Royal Commission and it had reached a point where it was having an impact on our international reputation.

RAF EPSTEIN:

But the conjecture's said by the Government.

KELLY O'DWYER:

So in response to that, the Government has acted, the Government has set out very clear terms of reference…

RAF EPSTEIN:

So it's a Government solution to a Government induced problem.

KELLY O'DWYER:

Well no, I would say to you that the ongoing speculation, the fearmongering actually had been kicked off by the Leader of the Opposition, who, during…

RAF EPSTEIN:

The difference is the Nationals, the difference isn't the opposition.

KELLY O'DWYER:

Well I'm very happy to finish the sentence, Raf, but I mean, let's not forget that Bill Shorten, when he was financial services minister, oversaw scandals to do with Storm, Great Southern, the collapse of Trio, and he was vehemently opposed to a Royal Commission at that point in time. Since he's been in opposition, he's had a very different perspective. Now we have always said that we have a very strong and stable banking system. It underpins our Australian economy and it is absolutely right to say that it is prudentially regulated to the very highest standards and that's recognised internationally and that was confirmed by the Murray Financial System Inquiry, which we did when we first came into Government and which the Labor Party actually opposed. But, in recent times, the chorus has become so incredibly loud on this particular issue and it risks undermining the reputation of our world class financial system. So we have said rather than have something that is not properly and soberly focused and appropriately resourced, we will, as a government, commission a Royal Commission to look at our financial systems, to look at the banking, superannuation, insurance and financial services sector, with very clear terms of reference to ensure that people can have confidence in our system.

RAF EPSTEIN:

But isn't the issue, you've announced a raft of resourcing, legislative and hearings, to try and put some scrutiny on the banks. Isn't it embarrassing that all of that effort didn't persuade your own backbench?

KELLY O'DWYER:

Well what we've always said, Raf, is we wanted to be very practical in our approach to this. And we absolutely believe, and we're continuing with these reforms, that it was critical that those people who had been treated badly, for instance by a bank, who had a legitimate concern, had access to…

RAF EPSTEIN:

Forgive me, Kelly O'Dwyer, but none of this even managed to persuade Barnaby Joyce, I mean he's the Deputy Prime Minister in all but name, and he's the one who this week, he's giving interviews completely opening the way for a Royal Commission to defy the Prime Minister's authority. You don't need to persuade me or the listeners about your credibility on banking, you haven't persuaded Barnaby Joyce and the Nationals backbench.

KELLY O'DWYER:

Well I would like the opportunity to talk to your listeners, Raf, and if you ask me a question I'm really happy to answer it. And the point I was making is that we haven't sat around and sat on our hands and done nothing here, the Government has been very active. We've got legislation in the parliament now which is a game changer for small business and consumers to get access to justice in a timely way by an independent arbiter. Small businesses, if this passes through the Senate next week…

RAF EPSTEIN:

Kelly I've got a lot of time for you but you still haven't answered the question that I've asked in a variety of different ways – if all of those things are so effective, how have you not managed to persuade Barnaby Joyce and George Christensen and Barry O'Sullivan? You're in this mess because you couldn't persuade the Nationals.

KELLY O'DWYER:

Well let me tell you that the Labor party kicked off this discussion around there being a lack of confidence in our banking system and they have treated this like a political football, in fact, only recently they had an affiliated union, the Financial Sector Union, robo-call people to talk about the need for further inquiries. This is a political exercise and the Government…

RAF EPSTEIN:

Absolutely all of that is true but they're not the only people. John Wacka Williams. John Wacka Williams has been talking about a Royal Commission into the banks for years.

KELLY O'DWYER

Look I'm not going to comment on colleagues. What I'm going to say to you is that the Government, recognising these issues, has taken control of this. We are going to have a sober review. It is going to be one that will be done within 12 months. It will also ensure that we will still be able to continue with the reforms that I know you don't want me to run through now, but where we've strengthened the powers of the regulator given them more resources, more powers. Where we've actually brought additional competition measures into the banking industry, where we've given people access to redress with a one-stop shop and where we've lifted the standards for financial advisers. These are all things we're doing now as well as an accountability regime for bank executives so that people can't simply point the finger at someone else and they actually have to take responsibility where there is misconduct. The Government would never have been able to do these things if we had simply called a Royal Commission the first time that somebody mentioned it. We have done this as a result of this issue now potentially causing more damage by virtue of not having one than having one. We've made that decision, we've consulted with the Chair of APRA, with the RBA Governor, we've done it soberly and we've introduced it today in the statements that have been made.

RAF EPSTEIN:

It's just a bit silly isn't it to say a royal commission goes on for years and then come out today and say well we can keep the royal commission to twelve months. It just sounds dreadfully inconsistent.

KELLY O'DWYER

Well, we have set a time limit on it. A lot of royal commissions tend to go for long periods of time but we are very committed…

RAF EPSTEIN:

You could have set a time limit two years ago.

KELLY O'DWYER

We are very committed to this commission being able to wrap up and provide that certainty within 12 months. It will be appropriately resourced so that it can do that. And we know that there have been several inquiries before now which the commission will no doubt be able to draw upon.

RAF EPSTEIN:

Can I ask you about another issue Kelly O'Dwyer that you, I'm sure you're busy because you've got a financial portfolio, however, Sam Dastyari the Labor Senator. I don't think there is a good answer to why he warned someone that their phone might be under surveillance when he knew that person was a concern for ASIO. I don't think there is a good answer for why he issued that warning. However, is it a hanging offence, like should he actually leave the Senate? It's arguable whether or not he's done anything illegal. He's lost something like $10,000 a year. What's he specifically done that the Government says means he should actually leave the Senate?

KELLY O'DWYER

Well I absolutely think he should leave the Senate and I think most Australians hearing the statements that he made would think the same. It is an absolute privilege to be elected to the Parliament and to serve whether in the House or in the Senate and you do that knowing that you need to always defend Australia's national interest. You are not there to represent the interests of any other foreign power. Clearly he has talked the talk and the talking points of a foreign power in relation to the South China Sea. I don't think that that is something that he can explain in a credible manner. He has already, on a number of occasions, given very different accounts of how it was that he came to make those statements, saying that they were off the cuff remarks. It's quite clear now from the recording that's been released that they were very clear statements made in a very deliberate manner and I think, it is not sustainable for Bill Shorten to allow him to sit as a Labor party Senator and if he's not prepared to resign, Sam Dastyari should be sacked.

RAF EPSTEIN:

Bit messy though isn't it having the Government, I mean they're sort of talking about, you are talking about national security issues, intelligence issues, surveillance issues. They're usually the sorts of issues where the government says – national security not going to comment. Are you stepping where perhaps you once may not have?

KELLY O'DWYER

Well look, these issues are all in the public domain and they require, I think, a very clear explanation. That explanation has not been provided, in fact it has only served to reinforce the view that he is not fit to sit in the Senate. He is not fit to be in the parliament representing Australia's national interest and I think Bill Shorten needs to demonstrate leadership if Sam Dastyari's not prepared to resign, he ought to be sacked.

RAF EPSTEIN:

Thanks for your time Kelly O'Dwyer.

KELLY O'DWYER

Pleasure.