Canberra Doorstop 26/11/19

November 26, 2019


SUBJECT: Brian Hartzer’s resignation; China.

JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER: Labor welcomes the resignation of Westpac CEO Brian Hartzer. The behaviour of Westpac under Brian Hartzer's leadership was nothing short of disgraceful. Brian Hartzer had no option but to resign after the extremely serious and appalling revelations of what has gone on at Westpac for some years. After 23 million breaches of the counter-terrorism and anti-money laundering laws Brian Hartzer had no option. We welcome the decision that he's taken today to step down. There was no other alternative for Brian Hartzer but to step down. This decision today doesn't of itself fix all of the issues which have emerged in recent weeks about the behaviour of Westpac over a period of some years. There's a legal process. Australians will be looking for all kinds of accountability when it comes to the behaviour of Westpac. They will welcome Brian Hartzer's resignation but they will be looking for every avenue for the bank to be made accountable for the appalling, astounding and disgraceful actions which have been uncovered.

In a week when the Morrison Government's highest priority is to pick on workers and unions it beggars belief that for so long now, the Morrison Government has gone soft on the banks, resisted a Banking Royal Commission, voted against it 26 times and dragged their feet on the recommendations of the Banking Royal Commission. We need to make sure that the Australian people can have confidence in their banks and in their financial system. It's a key part of the economy. Actions like those uncovered at Westpac only damage confidence in the banking system. We need to make sure that people can feel with some confidence that the banking system works for them and not against them.

They don't have a Government on their side in that regard. They do have a Labor Party on their side. We need to clean up the banks. We need to make sure that the banks are behaving appropriately. Today's resignation of Brian Hartzer is an important step, but it's not the only step that needs to be taken.

JOURNALIST: In this vindication and proof that people who lead these organisations can't continue to get away with doing bad things?

CHALMERS: It shows that people need to be accountable for the behaviour of companies under their leadership. Clearly there has been a failure of leadership here. Brian Hartzer needed to be accountable for what has gone on at Westpac. I think the Australian people rightly expect high standards of their corporate leaders. They will welcome his decision today but it doesn't end there. There are a whole range of steps that Westpac clearly needs to take to clean up their act. They need to make sure that Australians can have confidence in Australia's oldest bank again.

JOURNALIST: Do you think the Government should continue to put pressure on Westpac so that more of its executives are held accountable or maybe resign as well?

CHALMERS: Whether it's the Government, the Australian community, certainly in the Labor Party, we want to make sure that everyone who's done the wrong thing at Westpac is held accountable for that. There is a legal process underway. There is an APRA process underway, so we'll see how that plays out. I think there is an appetite in the community for people who have led organisations or businesses like this one who have done the wrong thing to be held accountable for it. They'll welcome the resignation, but they'll be looking for other avenues for the bank to be accountable too.

JOURNALIST: Do you think more execs should be stood down?

CHALMERS: That remains to be seen. I think the legal process, the APRA process, and the board process have every chance of suggesting that other people may or may not be accountable for what's gone on here. I don't have full visibility on that so I won't comment in detail.

JOURNALIST: Which parts of the Royal Commission's recommendations do you think should be implemented to ensure that these things don't happen?

CHALMERS: My criticism of the Government when it comes to the Banking Royal Commission is that they talked a big game before the election when they knew people wanted to hear tough talk on the banks and then afterwards they dragged their feet. Now they’ve got a roadmap for implementing the Banking Royal Commission's recommendations that needs to be adhered to. They've got the so-called BEAR legislation that they passed a couple of years ago. They should be looking for every avenue and every opportunity to hold the banks accountable and to clean up the banks so that Australians can have confidence in the system again.

JOURNALIST: Just on China, you've got the Chinese Government saying that Australia is being hysterical. Do you think the Government lacks a plan dealing with China?

CHALMERS: Now is the time for all parties in this Parliament to come together and agree a workable strategy for this complex relationship with China. In recent years that relationship has not been expertly managed. I think the onus is on all of us, especially with the revelations of the last few days, to make a constructive contribution in helping to manage that complex relationship with all the challenges that it entails.

JOURNALIST: So the Government doesn't have it under control?

CHALMERS: We've made our criticisms in the last few years about their management of the relationship with China and obviously we stand by those. I think it's important right now that we do what we can to make constructive contributions as Penny Wong, Richard Marles, Anthony Albanese and all of our team have been doing. We've got a difficult set of challenges at the moment. It is a very complex relationship that has many parts. As Penny Wong said on radio this morning, there's no part of our national affairs that isn't in some way impacted by China so we'll continue to make a constructive contribution and criticism where it is warranted. Thanks very much.