ABC 730

SUBJECT/S: Royal Commission into the Financial Services Industry; Part-Time Prime Minister; Return of Parliament

SABRA LANE: With me in the studio now is the Opposition's Finance spokesman, Tony Burke. Mr Burke, welcome. Thanks for coming in.


LANE: When did the shadow cabinet actually tick off on the idea? What was the tipping point?

BURKE: Well we changed our position. You remember a year ago we took the view we should give the banks a chance to be able to deal with these issues themselves. We're only up to April. We've already had CommInsure, we've had the scandal with the Bank Bill Swap Rate. We've had a situation where as long as we keep getting drip feed by drip feed of scandal after scandal, you're not going to get the sort of confidence in the banking system everybody wants. 

This is the right way to deal with this. We were now at the point of saying 'let's use the most serious form of inquiry we can have,’ which gives you not just the powers of a royal commission but the scope of a royal commission and the public nature of a royal commission.

LANE: Why should voters believe Labor's intent on this given more than a year - well, not more than a year ago - last June, Labor voted against a motion in the Senate for a royal commission; indeed, nobody from Labor spoke on the chamber floor about this idea full stop?

BURKE: That's not uncommon with Senate motions. It's the procedure they work on there. But we had a different position.

LANE: Not only that, Sam Dastyari tweeted at the time and he also yelled it across the chamber that it was a stunt. Now, voters'd be scratching their heads and thinking ‘What's changed between then and now?’

BURKE: No, our position has changed. I'm not denying our position has changed. A year ago we were saying the banks should be given a chance to be able to deal with these issues themselves. What's happened since then has been scandal after scandal and the seriousness and the severity of them has been increasing, not decreasing. 

It's not simply: what does it mean for the institutions of the banks? You also go to Four Corners on this network just over a month ago and you see people like James Kessel, you see real-life situations of where this is ending up. 

The framing of the story we just saw, was this as an election wedge. We hope the Government will sit down on this with us, take the politics out of it and agree on terms of reference. That would be the best outcome here. Seriously, it's something we suspected, and a number of the Government's own backbench would have suspected, Malcolm Turnbull to follow through on. Instead, they've gone immediately to an extraordinary frame of Scott Morrison actually defending that these issues should be dealt with in secrecy.

LANE: Ok. Well hang on for a tick. Just a last month, a Labor-led Senate committee on forestry managed investment scheme handed down its report. It did so at 4.59pm on the Friday of a long weekend. Now, those findings were pretty serious. The Greens said, again, it reinstated their need for a call for a royal commission, yet the Labor-led committee - and it was a Labor-led committee - by tabling this report when it did effectively buried that committee's work. Now actions do speak louder than words, don't they?

BURKE: Until you arrive at a new position, you don't hold it. We've been responsibly waiting as the case has built, and each issue you raise, yes, they have been additional layers as the case has been built. We don't do what the other side of politics does, where they've had royal commissions where the purposes have been transparently political. 

Labor's the party that had the royal commission into institutional abuse and black deaths in custody. The royal commissions we have involved ourselves with have been on serious and grave policy issues. We don't make these decisions lightly. That's why we didn't arrive at this decision quickly. That doesn't go to some sort of strategic decision. It goes to the simplicity of: we waited for the case to be built and now there is no doubt in our minds. The best thing, not only for banking consumers but for the institutions themselves, is for all the powers and scope of a royal commission to be put into play.

LANE: ASIC's chairman Greg Medcraft said last year the authority was thinly resourced. Do you believe it has enough resources? Because, I mean, $53 million would go a long way to filling the cut it took in 2014?

BURKE: Well the cut it took was $120 million.

LANE: And $53 million's almost half.

BURKE: And Malcolm Turnbull today has floated in some of the news organisations the concept of ‘oh, maybe we'll give them more money.’ I don't argue for a minute they don't need more resources. Those cuts were targeted at the institution that's meant to be doing the work on whether or not the law has been broken. But I think people want to know a little bit more than that.

LANE: You'll restore the $120 million?

BURKE: Well today we're dealing with the royal commission and you know we're not going to rush every announcement off in a day. That's not how any opposition will work. We've put more out there already than any opposition in living memory. 

But to take the issues through: a royal commission does work that ASIC cannot do. A royal commission doesn't only deal with whether or not for a particular case there's been a breach of the law, it can also go to unethical behaviour. It also hears evidence in public. It will be able to deal with systemic issues in a way ASIC doesn't. Beyond that, it will also be able to look at whether the regulators themselves have the right levels of power and authority, and you could hardly expect the regulators to be in charge of that question.

LANE: Alright. Switching to your other hat, the Manager of Opposition Business. Parliament's recalled next Monday with the specific purpose of debating the resurrection of the Australian Building and Construction Commission. The House of Reps at this stage is only sitting for two days. You've got a problem with that?

BURKE: This is breathtaking. Of all the acts of arrogance from Malcolm Turnbull. It was weird enough, given Malcolm Turnbull's history, that he went to the representative of the Queen and asked for the Governor-General to assist. Of course he acted on the advice of the Prime Minister, but what Malcolm Turnbull was asking for was to get permission to perform a political stunt to facilitate a sense of crisis to deliver an early election. That's what he wanted. 

Well, when you recall the Parliament, people just presume at the same time Parliament will sit and there'll be a Question Time each day. Instead, we've got this unprecedented concept we just turn up, as far as he's concerned to perform the stunt for him, then we all get sent home and he doesn't have to answer questions. You've got five days there where the House of Reps, everyone thought would be sitting, and no, it's only the Senate. He doesn't want to deign himself to answering questions from us.

LANE: But the Clerk's advice - and this is the Clerk of the House of Representatives - is that when Parliament is prorogued, all proceedings come to an end. There's no motions, no bills, nothing. The chamber is effectively starting with a blank slate. Isn't it more productive to send people back to their electorates to do work?

BURKE: Well, no, every piece of legislation the Government wants to introduce, they can introduce it. The one thing you don't need motions on the notice paper to be able to deal with, is Question Time. That's the thing he's dodging. 

He's meant to be a prime  minister, he's not meant to be a monarch. He's meant to have to appear before the floor of the Parliament and answer questions from, as it's turned out, hard questions not only from our side of politics, but some hard questions from his own side. 

Now, in fairness, I can understand why he's doing this. With the current state of the Liberal Party, he wouldn't be keen in having them all in the same room every day. It's not likely to end too well for him with the number of them who are sniping at him and targeting him, whether it's a former prime minister or a former whip. But that's the job. It might not be the fun bit, it might not be the bit where he gets wild applause. If wants to be Prime Minister, turn up for Question Time.

LANE: We'll get to see next week. Sadly, we're out of time. Thanks for coming in.

BURKE: Good to be back.


Tony Burke