SUBJECT/S: Banks tribunal, VET industry, Backpacker Tax, Greyhound racing ban

HOST: Joel Fitzgibbon, thank you for your time.


HOST: For a second day we have seen focus on the banking sector. We have seen the ANZ CEO today. There seems to be a lot of momentum from the Government’s perspective with this banking tribunal. From your view, what would be wrong with having a tribunal. Would you support it?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: I will make a confession this afternoon Laura. When we first started promoting the idea of a royal commission, I had private doubts about whether it was the most efficient means of getting to the bottom of all these issues and providing a resolution for people. But over the course of the last two days, I have seen absolutely this needs a full royal commission and we have seen apology after apology mea culpa after mea culpa, admission from the banks of wrong doing but we have not seen at all any sign they are prepared to do something about it, nor of course have we seen anyone held to account for some of these wrong doings. It’s pretty serious stuff and I do think we need to dig deeper and I don’t think a tribunal which effectively will just deal with those who have had the capacity to bring their problems forward. I spoke to Matt Thistlethwaite this afternoon unsurprisingly before speaking with you. He said the whistle-blowers are lining up to say what we have seen so far in the Parliamentary inquiry is just the tip of an iceberg.

HOST: That’s really interesting that you say that because as you say the bank bosses today have personally shown contrition, they have apologised. We saw Ian Narev yesterday also point out that the critics will paint these cases at the moment in the media as evidence of ongoing problems within the banking sector. But he makes the case that these are problems the banks have already identified and are dealing with. Is there any evidence in fact of these bank bosses not acting on the problem and not acting on the rip offs. Are you saying there are new rip offs and issues out there that the banks haven’t identified that they are keeping secret or not acting on as yet?

FITZGIBBON: When you think about it Laura it would be in the best interest of the banks to have this fully and transparently dealt with in a royal commission because I don’t’ believe, given some of the revelations to date, you are going to build consumer confidence in the big four banks in particular whenever there is doubt about other outstanding issues. As a local member I have dealt with these at an electorate level. I had one guy die. It wasn’t a major bank by the way, it was another insurance company but who was denied his mortgage insurance because they claimed pre-existing condition medical condition. It was an outrageous set of circumstances. In that case I stared the insurance company down. In a sense I felt guilty letting it go after I had fixed it because I wondered about all those who didn’t happen to know a Federal Member who was prepared to take their case up for them. I think this is in the bank’s best interest to have this fully spread out in a transparent way in a commission.

HOST: These are legitimate cases as you point out, but how do you ensure a royal commission wouldn’t just be a bank bashing exercise because I think rightly as some have pointed out, there is a risk here that you undermine the banking sector and the big four banks and we need to celebrate at the same time their strength, their huge profits and return to shareholders and the fact they did survive a global financial crisis. How would you weigh that up?

FITZGIBBON: I think again you sustain that reputation by putting on the table all of these issues than try to sweep them under the carpet. The tribunal as I said will deal with individuals when revelations come forward. But I think we need to make sure there aren’t further revelations. The other thing Labor members on the committee are telling me is that people are lining up to provide information. In fact I had one constituent from my own electorate email me this afternoon asking me to put something to Labor members on the committee.  It’s interesting they are going to Labor committee members because they understand the Labor members on the committee are taking this more seriously where as they can see the conservatives are just trying to brush all this stuff under the carpet. I saw Malcolm Turnbull claimed today the problems the Labor members are having getting sufficient time in the inquiry can be easily fixed by the committee just extending its time. We know that’s not going to happen because we know the conservatives on the committee control the committee.

HOST: But just one last question on this and I know where you stand on a royal commission and you say your views have even been in embolden over the last few days but I have heard some of your colleagues say that the level of profitability and the GDP, the big banks 2.9 per cent of GDP in this country and the size of our economy and the profitability of the banks are out of kilter and they should be in the top 200 not in the top 20. Does any of that kind of rhetoric concern you and would you caution some of your colleagues?

FITZGIBBON: I think all that information is relevant and I made the point myself before not only in respect to the big banks but in respect to some of the big retailers in this country as well. If they were doing so many wrong things why are their returns so pedestrian. But you don’t cover up for poor performance and poor returns by trying to rip off the people who can least afford to pay like people who have had relatives die and have been denied insurance payments. You don’t make up for the losses in that way so it is a moot point in that sense.

HOST: Okay, I’ll move on. The VET Industry is being rorted it has been pointed out today by private providers. The Government has announced a clamp down today. Now we have seen some detail from Senator Simon Birmingham. Parliament sits next week and I’m sure Labor will be seeking more detail and a briefing on that, but are you inclined to provide Parliamentary support on this?

FITZGIBBON: If there is rorting in any system well you want to address it of course. I heard Bill Shorten say earlier today, all the rorting it appears based on the data we have been provided has happened on the watch of this Government. I mean this mob have been in power for three years now.
HOST: Yes but some may argue that it is because the changes made when Labor was last in power, do you concede that?

FITZGIBBON: Well, let’s have the debate. Let’s have the debate and find out on whose watch this occurred and if there are problems, let’s fix them. Bill Shorten said today after the election this will be a cooperative Government and a Government that will assist and work with the Government when it puts forward a good policy.

HOST: What about the Backpacker Tax legislation? There are only five sitting weeks left this year so I imagine that legislation will be introduced by the Government at least next week over the next sitting fortnight. Are you inclined to support that?

FITZGIBBON: It will be the Labor Party’s fault no doubt if it doesn’t make it there in time after two years of debacle. Labor is always up for good public policy and what this Government hasn’t done is the Budget of 2015, explain what the policy objective is for the Backpacker Tax. They have taken in from zero per cent to 32.5 per cent and now they expect the world to rejoice because they are only going to take it from zero to 19 percent. I want to know what the magic of 19 per cent is and I want to know if Australia’s international competitiveness will be restored at 19 per cent. I have very grave doubts quite frankly.

HOST: Would you like to see it go lower? I mean I pointed out before that New Zealand actually has a tiered system and if you earn up to 14,000 New Zealand dollars you have to pay a rate as a backpacker of about 11 per cent and then the next tier is up to $44,000 and that is about 19 per cent. Is that what you are comparing to? Is that the international competitive comparison you will be making?

FITZGIBBON: There are a number of variables that go into the formula of course but usually when the Government brings forward a new policy it does so to either raise revenue, to save money or maybe fix some behaviour in either the community or the economy. They have never explained this policy. All they have done is taken $540 million out of the industry and tried to run.

HOST: There is also a budget problem as well.

FITZGIBBON: Labor has always been up for playing a cooperative role in budget repair. Sadly the budget has further blown out on their watch. If it’s about revenue, then let Barnaby Joyce and Malcolm Turnbull say so. We know before the election they tried to walk both sides of the street saying we will review it post-election implying they would get rid of it but they were still booking the $540 million. Look if this is about revenue Laura, come and say so and tell the Australian people what it is about. And on the competitive nature of the 19 per cent, remember the employers also have to pay 9 per cent superannuation which the Government is going to take out and off backpackers when they walk through the..

HOST: well you can’t really avoid that can you? You can’t really give exceptions to employers who employ backpackers not to pay super can you? It would be a logistical nightmare.

FITZGIBBON: Well let’s have the broader conversation, I heard Barnaby Joyce denying that the spectre of the Backpacker Tax is the reason backpackers had been falling off so substantially. So what he is saying is that we have broader problems in terms of our international competitiveness but he’s only response to it is to put a 19 per cent tax on it for the first time as well. Well surely that is going to make the situation worse. These are the conversations I want to have with Scott Morrison.

HOST: One final question because Paul Murray is taking his show to Orange tomorrow night and the greyhound racing industry and there has been a huge response to his live show there and he will be speaking to key players in the industry. Now I want to ask from your perspective, the Labor perspective at a NSW level, Luke Foley was opposed to this from the beginning, but he has pledged, if he is to win the next election, and I know it is a long way away, to reinstate the greyhound racing industry but there are no details on how he is going to do that. Do you concede that if he is, if it does go ahead with the ban which has been legislated and will come into effect next year and then a two year lag time, it would be very difficult for Labor at a state level  would be very difficult to revive that.

FITZGIBBON: I’m heading to Orange myself unsurprisingly Laura in the not too distant future. I don’t think Luke Foley will ever face that problem because my prediction is they will lose the Orange by-election. Troy Grant, the deputy premier will probably go and Mike Baird will be left to clean up and he will have no choice not to backflip and show some common sense and allow the greyhound industry the opportunity to clean up its act.

HOST: Okay well we will speak to you after you go to Orange. I will be interested on what the feedback is. Joel Fitzgibbon, the shadow agriculture minister, thank you for your time.

FITZGIBBON: It’s a pleasure Laura.

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