December 5, 2017
Member for Wide Bay Llew O’Brien – one of the LNP backbenchers who had been pressing hard for a judicial inquiry into Australian banks – has welcomed the Royal Commission announced last week.
Mr O’Brien found himself in the national media spotlight when he publicly backed a proposed Bill by colleague, Senator Barry O’Sullivan, that could have forced an inquiry with support from Labor, the Greens and crossbenchers.
Speaking on ABC Radio National before the Royal Commission was announced, Mr O’Brien said his support for an inquiry was not an attempt to destabilise the Turnbull Government.
“I’m in Parliament to serve both my constituents and the people of Australia, and they’re the people I answer to,” he told AM.
In the end, Senator O’Sullivan’s Bill became unnecessary when Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced the Royal Commission last Thursday.
The decision came after the chairmen and CEOs of Australia’s “big four” banks – ANZ, CBA, NAB and Westpac – wrote to Federal Treasurer Scott Morrison calling for an inquiry to “put an end to the uncertainty and restore trust, respect and confidence”.
Mr O’Brien said the inquiry into the banking, insurance, superannuation finance and wealth management industry showed that the Coalition Government had listened.
“(It) is now acting on the concerns of my constituents, the community and the industry,” Mr O’Brien said.
“While the terms of reference are yet to be confirmed, I congratulate the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull for promising a comprehensive inquiry. I trust that the terms of reference will be sufficient to accommodate the matters that have been raised with me, and I have raised with the government.
“I also thank my Parliamentary colleague, Senator Barry O’Sullivan, for his work in highlighting the issues and concerns about the industry and taking these to the government.
“This process is about building a better, more responsive and more accountable banking and finance industry.
“We’ve heard the countless reports of misconduct, breaches and predatory behaviour that has plagued the industry for many years. That behaviour must cease and a Royal Commission is the best way to make that behaviour stop.
“Royal Commissions transform secretive entities into accountable and dynamic organisations and restore public faith and confidence in them. Royal Commissions also successfully improve the culture of organisations by shining a light on improper practices, and making recommendations to ensure the mistakes of the past are not repeated.
“The banking and finance industry holds a very special position in our society and we need to ensure our continued confidence is justified. I expect this Royal Commission to remedy the errors of the past to give the public the confidence it needs to have in these fundamental economic institutions so they meet community expectations.
“There is clear evidence that many people all over Australia are frustrated by their experience with the industry and have been left hurt by practices which have eroded the trust of the public. The problems are many and varied and keep on recurring and the best way to focus the industry’s attention on the consumer is through this Royal Commission.
“The Royal Commission now takes politics out of the issue and puts it in the independent hands of the experts.”
Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman Kate Carnell has also welcomed the Royal Commission.
She said she hoped the inquiry would examine past cases where small businesses had been unfairly treated.
“The asymmetry in power between the banks and small businesses, together with the conduct of banks particularly since the global financial crisis in 2008, has left many small businesses in a devastating financial position,” Ms Carnell said.
“Many have lost their businesses as well as their family homes, with no prospect until now of obtaining access to justice.
“I’ve been concerned that in some cases there may have been unconscionable behaviour by the banks and this should be examined in the Royal Commission.”
She said there must be a capacity to review past disputes between banks and small businesses and award compensation.
“It’s not acceptable that banks called in loans where repayments were up to date,” she said.
“Businesses were forced to close, people lost their jobs and entire communities suffered adverse impacts.
“The contract clauses were so one sided there was no constraint on the banks to stop them foreclosing on loans that didn’t fit their risk profile.”
The Royal Commission will have 12 months to complete its inquiries, with a final report expected by February 1, 2019.