Kelly O'Dwyer forced to admit banks royal commission was needed

Minister defends delay in calling inquiry, saying it was a ‘sober and deliberate’ decision
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Kelly O’Dwyer has been forced to admit consumers will benefit from the banking royal commission, while repeatedly refusing to concede the government was wrong to delay it.

Asked almost 10 times whether the government should have ordered a royal commission into the banking industry earlier, the minister for revenue and financial services refused to answer, repeatedly deflecting the question.

In an awkward and tense exchange with the host of the ABC’s Insiders, Barrie Cassidy, O’Dwyer claimed the government had “been alive” to the issues within the banking industry for sometime, but had needed to act in a “sober and deliberate” manner.

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That was despite the government having ordered royal commissions into Labor’s pink batts scheme and trade unions very quickly upon taking power.

“If you want to go over the political entrails, Barrie, let me say this … the first person who called for a royal commission [into the banks] was actually Mark Butler in the Labor party when Labor was in government.

“The big scandals that happened, Great Southern, Storm Financial, happened when Bill Shorten was the financial services minister and had direct responsibility,” she said.

“He was almost three years into the job. Labor did virtually nothing. We acted on coming into government. We put in place a financial system inquiry. We have been instituting the vast bulk of all of those recommendations.

“You know it is a bit rich for people to claim that we should have acted earlier, when, in fact, they had the opportunity, and when we, as a government, have been very sober in the way we’ve gone about it.

“And we are actually getting results for consumers. We care about consumers.”

But O’Dwyer said the government had no plans to exclude the banks from its planned $65bn company tax cut, despite the revelations from the inquiry. Crossbencher Derryn Hinch refuses to support the legislation without a bank exemption.

“You are trying to conflate two issues, that I think should not be conflated,” O’Dwyer said. “It is good for our economy to actually, I mean, it’s more than just the banks who are actually part of the economy here, as well.”

Labor’s shadow finance minister, Jim Chalmers, said the government was reading the room incorrectly.

“They’ve learnt nothing from all the scandals we’ve heard and still can’t bring themselves to say: ‘We were wrong to run a protection racket for that royal commission for so long,’” he told the ABC.

“They will want to hand a billion-dollar tax cut to the four big banks which are at the centre of the rorts and rip-offs in the system.”

The Turnbull government was forced to order a royal commission into the banks late in 2017, after a group of National MPs publicly confirmed they would cross the floor to support colleague Barry O’Sullivan’s private’s members bill.

With the Greens and Labor having already given support to a royal commission, Malcolm Turnbull announced the inquiry as a “regrettable but necessary action”.

The Hayne inquiry has since uncovered systematic failures within Australia’s financial services industry, including admissions from AMP that it had regularly lied to the corporate regulator about why it charged customers’ fees for no service, and the Commonwealth Bank’s admission it charged fees to dead clients.

Scott Morrison, who had also argued against holding a royal commission into the banks, claiming it would damage the banking industry’s reputation internationally, confirmed tougher penalties for misconduct were on the way.

However late last week, he too refused to concede the government had got it wrong by resisting pressure to establish a royal commission for almost two years, declaring calls for an apology to be “political point-scoring” by Labor.

Both Barnaby Joyce and Tony Abbott had publicly admitted they were wrong to oppose a royal commission for so long, as have the heads of the Big Four banks, who have apologised for past actions.

Contributor

Amy Remeikis

The GuardianTramp

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