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Speech on Financial Accountability Regime Bill

On Tuesday 21 March 2023, I made a speech in Federal Parliament on the government's Financial Accountability Regime Bill 2023 and accompanying bills. You can watch the speech here or read the full transcript below.

E WATSON-BROWN: It may seem like a distant memory now, but only four years ago, the royal commission into the banking sector was dominating the headlines. On almost every day of the hearings we heard about new ways that financial institutions, including the big four banks, were ripping off their customers. This bill, the Financial Accountability Regime Bill 2023, seeks to implement one of the recommendations of the royal commission for the current banking accountability regime to be extended to all large financial service providers.

I would have thought that the key part of this was accountability, but Labor's mates in the banking lobby have made sure that this bill is about accountability in name only. Astonishingly, the bill does not provide for fines for wealthy bankers who have breached their accountability obligations. Instead, the only consequences are that some of their bonuses get revoked—Oh dear! Poor them; their poor bonuses. The government had initially listened to Greens concerns about the lack of accountability and agreed to maximum fines of $1 million for bankers who breached those obligations, but they backflipped on that after pressure from the banking lobby. Sadly, this is way too familiar a tale with this government.

Who is the banking lobby, you may ask? The CEO of the Australian Banking Association is none other than former Labor premier of Queensland Anna Bligh. Not content with privatising many of Queensland's public assets during her time in office, she continues to work in the interests of big corporations over everyday Australians as a mouthpiece for the banking sector, using her direct ties to key Labor personnel. This is a prime example of that revolving door between government, lobbyists and business, that absolutely foregrounds commercial interests over those of everyday Australians. The connection between the banking lobby and the Labor Party, along with the thousands of dollars in donations provided to the Labor Party by the banking sector for the election, seems to be proving very effective, given that this backflip on fines happened after just 24 hours—quid pro quo indeed.

The Australian people are not stupid. They can see these connections and see how cheaply the government can be bought. When asked about this backflip, the minister has said he didn't consider the potential effects on small banks. Great—well why isn't the minister open to just carving out an exception for small banks? Is it because perhaps this is a thinly veiled excuse for bowing to banking lobby pressure?

This is all happening in the context of a cost-of-living crisis, with rising interest rates and huge profits in the banking sector, which is a major cause of inflation. The big banks benefited massively from the low cash rate during the pandemic by accessing $144 billion in wholesale funding from the Reserve Bank. They are now seeing record profits off the back of this. Meanwhile my office, and I'm sure electorate offices around the country, are getting calls and emails daily from mortgagees directly affect by rising interest rates and renters who are indirectly feeling the pinch from rising rents as well, many being priced right out of the rental market and at grave risk of homelessness. Here we have direct transfer of wealth from struggling everyday Australians to the big banks. This is an abomination. It's clear that this isn't going to change under a government so clearly under the influence of the banking lobby.

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