Transcript: ABC Capital Hill 14/10/19

8.40am | October 15, 2019


SUBJECTS: Banking inquiry; Medevac; Julian Assange.
MATT DORAN, HOST: Joining us for our Monday panel to discuss those issues and a few other things floating around the corridors of power are Liberal Senator for Victoria James Paterson and Labor Senator for New South Wales Jenny McAllister. Welcome to both of you.
HOST: Senator Paterson if I could start with you. We've had a Royal Commission, we've had banks hauled before House inquiries, we've had other investigations by the ACCC. What's new about this inquiry that's actually going to force some change here?
PATERSON: My hope is the banks use it as an opportunity to reflect on themselves about the decisions that they've been making and to demonstrate to the Australian people and to the Government, why it is that they set interest rates the way that they do. Frankly, they haven't explained to the public or to the Government, why it is that they can't pass on the full value of interest rate cuts when the Reserve Bank reduces them. There might be good reasons for that but I haven't heard them and I don't think the public has heard them and it's an opportunity for the banks to demonstrate that to the Australian people.
HOST: Given the banks are for-profit organisations, does this somewhat go against the Liberal Party's free market ideals to be saying that they need to start passing on these interest rate cuts and effectively eat into their profits?
PATERSON: Well, we don't plan on abolishing profit. We don't plan on out-loan profit. That's still something we want to see from our banks. A profitable banking sector is in everyone's interest. The alternative is much, much worse and we don't want to see that. And we're certainly not proposing to legislate to require banks to pass them on, but I don't think it's unreasonable to ask them to demonstrate to the public and the Government through the ACCC in this inquiry, why it is the way that they make their decisions that they do and for them to reflect on those decisions.
HOST: Jenny McAllister, does Labor and do you personally, see any merit in this type of inquiry?
McALLISTER: Hopefully we will get some good outcomes out of this. My concern is that the Government really doesn't seem to have a particularly strong policy reform agenda at all. So they've been sitting on the last report from the ACCC into competition in the finance sector for a year and there's been no reform around those issues at all. Only a month ago Liberal Senators on the Reps Committee were sort of dismissing Rod Sims’ call for another inquiry and now after a fair bit of pressure from the public, from the Labor Party, there's another inquiry been established. Hopefully it will turn up some interesting recommendations about improving competition in the sector, but I just would point to a lack of enthusiasm from the Treasurer and the Treasury in actually making progress on reform. They've got a whole markets division in Treasury answerable to the Treasurer, Mr Frydenberg. I don't see many proposals coming forward.
HOST: Back when Wayne Swan was Treasurer, Labor introduced a suite of measures to try to make it easier for customers to change banks if they wanted to shop around for a better deal. That's something that Treasurer Josh Frydenberg says will be looked at by this inquiry. Do you think the fact that this inquiry will look at that is an indication that those reforms haven't lived up to expectations?
McALLISTER: Well, let's remember that these were reforms that the Liberal Party opposed when Labor was last in Government. Yes, I think it is though time to look again at the ease with which customers switch between banks. Most customers don't. It's very time consuming. It takes a lot of effort. Anyone who’s been through a process of trying to switch mortgages knows that it's actually not something you can do quickly. I think that is a fruitful area of exploration, but again, I'd just point to the fact that the Liberal Party have a really bad form on banks and actually acting on behalf of consumers. Their interests seem to be permanently the banking sector and protecting the banks. I think a ruthless focus on consumer interests would be a great improvement.
HOST: James Paterson, right of reply?
PATERSON: Yeah, I just want to say I think that's a bit unfair categorisation of the Government's agenda. First of all, we are implementing at record pace the Royal Commission recommendations-
McALLISTER: At record pace? Good grief, James.
PATERSON: -and that's a serious amount of work for the Parliament to get through in two years which we're going to do that. But more importantly than that, I take up Jenny’s point on consumers. You are right. We should be consumer focused. We are consumer focused and that's one of the reasons why we are doing the open banking reforms, which will allow consumers for the first time to have control over their data with their banks and to use that data to go to competitors of banks to move more easily. That’s something that this Government is just getting on with and doing and I think it will enhance competition in the sector and deliver better outcomes for consumers.
HOST: Implementing the findings of the Banking Royal Commission you said there in record pace, the Coalition has been accused of dragging its feet there. There weren't that many sitting weeks between the findings of that Royal Commission being delivered for Parliament to even deal with the less complicated measures that was put off until after the election. Do you think the public really buy that argument?
PATERSON: Well, they may or may not but it's the truth. This legislation is extremely complex. It is not straight forward and if we rushed it and stuffed it up, that wouldn't help anyone. It wouldn't help consumers, it wouldn't help the industry, it wouldn't help the economy. We are doing it as fast as we can and in fact, some of the normal consultation processes that Treasury normally undertakes for this kind of legislation is being significantly expedited to get it done more quickly. A lot of the normal processes around a regulatory impact statement have been cut or shortened in order to get this done more quickly. So the Parliament has not moved more quickly on a body of legislation than this ever before. And we're going to do it because we are sincere about implementing those recommendations.
HOST: Let's move on to one other issue, because there is plenty to get across today. On the issue of the Medevac legislation. Why will the Government be pressing ahead with this legislation, considering that the bulk of the evidence that was presented to Senate Inquiries, the bulk of the discussion that's happened in the public argues against the Coalition's claims that this piece of legislation has opened up the flood gates to people trying to get a back door into Australia?
PATERSON: I think Christian Porter outlined it really clearly with your colleague this morning, Matthew. In that this is a question of principle at the end of the day. Should the ultimate decision maker about  whether someone comes to Australia, be someone whose accountable to the Australian public and in that case, a politician or a Minister, or should it be a group of doctors who are unaccountable, who are unelected, who cannot be reviewed if they make a decision that the public disagrees with? Ultimately this is about whether we're a sovereign country or not. Whether the people of Australia can set the terms of how people come to this country. Everyone agrees, if people are in need of urgent medical care on Manus or Nauru, that they should be brought to Australia and many were being brought to Australian prior to this law being passed, but that was being done under the oversight and control of a Minister who’s accountable to the Parliament and the public and that's a fundamental difference than what's happening under this legislation.
HOST: So, you are suggesting that doctors might be allowing people into the country who actually don't need medical treatment?
PATERSON: Without even knowing whether they are or not, I think in principle it is wrong to outsource the decision about who comes to our country, about our immigration system to someone who is unelected and unaccountable. The decision has to be made by someone who can be held to account for how they make those decisions and a doctor or a couple of doctors, cannot be.
HOST: Jenny McAllister, Jacqui Lambie is likely to be the deciding vote here. How confident are you from Labor's perspective that you've been able to convince her to see your point of view?
McALLISTER: Well, Jacqui's vote is up to Jacqui, but I would make this point. James’ answer tells you quite a lot about the Coalition's approach to this. It is all about ideology and not very much about the evidence. The evidence is that actually, quite a limited number of people have come to Australia under the provisions of the Medevac Bill. We've got doctors all over the country saying this is working. The peak doctors' organisations say it works and James doesn't really characterise the scheme correctly. The Minister retains the ability to exclude someone if he does not think that there are genuine medical grounds, if that person has a criminal record or if that person presents a risk to national security. Those are reasonable provisions they give the Minister discretion to keep the people out who genuinely present a danger to our country. But, on balance, why shouldn't the Minister listen to medical advice and if somebody that is judged to be in need of medical treatment that is not available in PNG or Nauru, they ought to be brought to Australia. They're in our care, the system is working and we continue to support these laws.
HOST: Something I want to touch on very briefly because Question Time is racing towards us, is the issue of Julian Assange. Barnaby Joyce has today said that the Federal Government should be doing more to stop his extradition to the United States. Is this a failure of diplomacy on Australia's part that it looks likely he will end up there?
McALLISTER: Ordinarily a citizen who’s charged with an offence in another country or subject to legal proceedings is provided with Consular support and it is my understanding that Mr Assange has been receiving Consular support. I don't support calls for something beyond that and I would also I guess note, that when a case is ongoing before the courts either here or somewhere else, we wouldn't normally comment in the specifics of that case. We'd ordinarily allow the legal system to run its course.
HOST: Just briefly, James Paterson, is this a different situation because we're talking about the United States seeking the extradition of an Australian citizen as opposed to a country like China?
PATERSON: I think it is different. The United Kingdom and the United States are all rule of law countries. There is no political intervention which the Australian Government can make or any other Government can make into an independent legal system to change the way a judge will decide a case. It has to be heard on the facts, on the evidence according to the law. This is not the case in many other countries in the world. Sadly, we know there are Australian citizens detained right now in China and Iran who are not facing free and fair legal systems. I'm very concerned about that and the Australian Government does have a greater obligation to assist those citizens, but the United Kingdom is not some tin pot dictatorship where someone is going to face an unfair legal system. It's a robust independent legal system.
HOST: James Paterson and Jenny McAllister we must let you depart our studio for Question Time. Thank you both for joining us.
PATERSON: Thank you.