ABC RN Breakfast - 7/2/19

February 07, 2019

SUBJECT/S: Potential leak of banking Royal Commission report; Scott Morrison’s part-time Parliament; Liberals squibbing Royal Commission recommendations.
FRAN KELLY: Jim Chalmers is the Shadow Finance Minister. Jim Chalmers, welcome back to Breakfast.
KELLY: What happened at around 11 o'clock Monday morning that has alarm bells ringing? 
CHALMERS: Something very fishy happened at 11 o'clock on Monday morning. You'll recall, Fran, that when we were asking the Government to release the findings and the recommendations of the Royal Commission either on Friday afternoon or on Saturday the Government guaranteed that there wouldn't be any kind of leak of the contents of the report or the recommendations. Instead, we heard something very fishy going on around 11 o'clock in the morning during the trading of the market on Monday, well before the report was released. So what Clare O'Neil has done is she's written to the head of the Prime Minister's department to ask for something that I think is very reasonable - that's for all steps to be taken to determine what's happened here. We need to get to the bottom of it. On behalf of the Australian people, we need to know that there hasn't been some kind of insider stitch up here. 
KELLY: But you're not suggesting anyone in the Government leaked it?
CHALMERS: Well, we need to know that. We need to know whether a minister or a minister's office or an official or anyone with knowledge of the contents and recommendations of the banking Royal Commission final report, we need to know whether any of that information was passed on. I think independent respected commentators have concluded that something seriously wrong has happened here. There was, as you said rightly in your introduction, hundreds of millions of dollars plunged into the market, into bank shares, at 11 o'clock in the morning. I think that became something like a $22 million profit by the time the market opened the next day on the Tuesday. So I think Australians need and deserve a proper explanation here, and that should begin with a proper investigation into whether anyone in a minister's office or a minister or an official did the wrong thing and passed on any information.
KELLY: Mind you, that morning some respected economic commentators and financial commentators were also suggesting they didn't think the recommendations of the Royal Commission were going to be so radical or so punitive. I wonder what would have been the key piece of information that would have been so interesting and valuable to investors? Would it have been the Commissioner was not going to recommend the end the vertical integration, because there were plenty of commentators who were suggesting the Commissioner would not go that far? So it could have just been informed?
CHALMERS: That remains to be seen, Fran. It's one of the reasons why we need to get to the bottom of it. I think any objective observer of that extraordinary activity on the market at 11 o'clock in the morning, hours before the release of the report, would determine that there are questions that need to be answered. I think Clare is right to write to Martin Parkinson to make sure that investigation can happen. Maybe it should also involve the regulators. But something fishy has gone on here and the Australian people need answers.
KELLY: Labor next week is going to pass a motion to get the Government to schedule an extra two sitting weeks in March to deal with the Royal Commission recommendations. This is just a stunt isn't it? Even with an extra fortnight of sitting, how much could be legislated in such a truncated time frame? It takes a long time to draw up legislation. These are complicated things to get right.
CHALMERS: On the contrary, Fran. I think most Australians would think that the Parliament only sitting for 10 days during an eight-month period is letting the Australian people down.
KELLY: That's another issue. You're saying have two weeks to deal with the recommendations of the Royal Commission. Seriously, how many do you think could get passed in two weeks?
CHALMERS: We could do something about grandfathering of commissions; we could do something about the prohibiting of hawking of super and insurance; we could do something about unfair contracts under Australian consumer law; we could close some of the loopholes around funerals - there are a whole range of things that we've nominated that we could act on immediately. I think what's happened here is the Government's squibbed response to the Royal Commission has confirmed people's worst fears about them and that's that running a protection racket for the big banks is second nature to the Liberal Party and particularly to Scott Morrison who voted against this Royal Commission 26 times. If they're serious about this Royal Commission, Fran, if they're serious about implementing the recommendations, then they would agree to the proposal that the Parliament sit for another fortnight in March so that we can get in place as much as possible so that we can give the Australian people the assurance that we are acting on the very serious rorts and rip-offs which were uncovered by the Royal Commission.
KELLY: We're almost running out of time, but Labor's been critical of the Government. Even though the Government says it will act on all the recommendations, Labor has vowed to support all 76 recommendations. Can we take it from that that Labor will also include just one default account for the industry superannuation funds, many of which are controlled by unions? That was a recommendation of the Commissioner.
CHALMERS: Yeah, we have said that we support in principle all the recommendations. We're in a bit of a different position to the Government, Fran. We've had the report for not as long as the Government. We've got some internal processes to go through. But yeah, we've said that we support them all in principle. We've got some work to do into how we would implement them. We've got some work to do to make sure...
KELLY: See, that's my point - work to do in how you'll implement them. You're not going to get much done in two weeks are you?
CHALMERS: I've just run through a list of things we could do, Fran. We could do those immediately, and we should. Nobody's proposing that in two weeks you could implement every single recommendation of the Royal Commission. But we are saying that action should be taken. I think people are rightly suspicious that the Government doesn't want to deal with some of these things before the election. That's because they've got form here. They always run a protection racket for the big banks, particularly Scott Morrison, who's the worst offender on this front. If they're serious about the Royal Commission, let's get as much of it done as we can, as soon as we can.
KELLY: Jim Chalmers, thank you very much for joining us.
CHALMERS: Thank you, Fran.