SUBJECTS: Housing Affordability, Division in Turnbull Government, Federal Budget, Productivity Commission Report

TIM HAMMOND, SHADOW MINISTER FOR CONSUMER AFFAIRS: Well today we see the Turnbull Government again asleep at the wheel. This time in relation to failing to take any meaningful steps to protect vulnerable consumers. As a matter of fact, the Turnbull Government, through its Minister, Michael McCormack has been sitting on a report from the Productivity Commission since the 29th of March this year. When the Productivity Commission released its report into ways we can improve life for vulnerable consumers in the community, it was released yesterday morning, we didn't see anything from the Government until almost half past eight last night and even then the substance of the Government's response is quite frankly, left wanting to say the least.

There is nothing in the Government's response that indicates it will take any meaningful steps to back in protections for vulnerable consumers. The Australian Labor Party has been calling for quite some time on the Government to take steps to protect vulnerable consumers very easily, one thing that could be changed with a stroke of a pen is to bring up penalties for shonky operators who's conduct has an effect upon consumers. Bring that up to $10million, bringing it in line with Competition and Consumer Act, at the moment it sits at $1.1million for a breach. It simply does not do anything to deter companies from improper conduct, or misleading or deceptive conduct. That could be changed with the stroke of a pen and this Government is doing nothing. So we call upon the Turnbull Government and we call upon the Minister Michael McCormack to actually back in Labor's reforms and take some meaningful steps to protect vulnerable consumers. 

In relation to housing affordability, what we see day after day as a consequence of the division and dysfunction between Malcolm Turnbull, his Treasurer Scott Morrison and his backbench is a failure to take any meaningful steps to help young Australian first home owners trying to achieve their dream of affording and owning their own home. Housing affordability is not just a crisis that effects the East Coast of this country. Only the other day, Perth was labelled as the mortgage default capital of this country, housing affordability is an issue that effects every Australian, it effects Western Australians, the Australian Labor Party has come up with some meaningful reform that this government is just ignoring and that is in relation to negative gearing. Instead of taking up our suggestions to make reforms to negative gearing, what we see is squabbling and infighting between Malcolm Turnbull and his Treasurer about whether young Australians should be called upon to access their Superannuation, putting them in between an invidious rock and a hard place in relation to making tough financial choices. The reality is this for West Australians, under Malcolm Turnbull and under Scott Morrison the great Australian dream of owning your own home is turning into a nightmare and nothing is being done to fix it under Malcolm Turnbull's watch. 

JOURNALIST: Christopher Pyne said that the discussion over Super should be done behind closed doors. What do you think about that, trying to keep it away from the public?

HAMMOND: What it really highlights is that Christopher Pyne is taking great steps to try and cover up the fact that everybody knows that there is division and dysfunction within this Government. We have Tony Abbott, we have the conservative right on one side and we have Malcolm Turnbull on the other. What Australian's want is some meaningful reforms which simply make it easier to afford their own home. They're not seeing it under this Government and they're certainly not seeing any sign of it in the lead up to the Federal Budget. 

JOURNALIST: You mention quite a lot about vulnerable consumers, what do you mean by that? Who in particular are targeted?

HAMMOND: All too often we see, Australians and West Australians, under significant financial stress, who rely upon corporates and those selling products and selling services to do the right thing and not ripping off every days Mums and Dads. The problem we have now is that there just aren't enough penalties within the Australian Consumer Law to deter those corporates from doing the wrong thing. We saw just the other day, the High Court endorse the decision of the Federal Court to punish Nurofen for misleading with a deceptive product in relation the kind of painkillers they are putting on the shelf. Now a $1.1million breach for that kind of conduct isn’t even going to touch the sides of the coffers for Nurofen. What needs to happen is that serious penalties need to be set to make sure that Mums and Dads that are doing it tough aren't facing being ripped by corporates that a just doing the wrong thing.

JOURNALIST: What do you think is behind the inaction? Is it just that they don't care, is it not a priority? What do you think it could be?

HAMMOND: I think it's really sad. The only conclusion I can draw, which is terribly sad that is it a combination of not caring and inactivity. This forms a long list of meaningful reviews that have been undertaken that this Government is just ignoring. We have seen the Small Amount Credit Contract (SACC) review sitting on the shelves in a circumstance where pay day lenders and debt vultures continue to prey upon people who are in financial hardship and have financial vulnerability. In a circumstance where there is bipartisan support for recommendations of the SACC review, Kelly O'Dwyer the Minister for Finance has sat on this report for over a year, has indicated she is going to do something and she is just doing nothing. 

JOURNALIST: Just in terms of like the penalty you want to increase to $10million, is there any scope for small and large businesses? Because as you say for Nurofen it isn't much, but is there scope for saying that it is probably huge for a small business?

HAMMOND: The decision to implement a penalty for misleading and deceptive conduct and for conduct that breaches the Australian Consumer Law is ultimately discretionary penalty. The problem we have at the moment is the ceiling, the ceiling is $1.1million per breach and it cannot be any higher than that. What we are simply calling upon is a change to the law to life the ceiling to leave scope for discretion in precisely the circumstances you've articulated, which can then mirror the nature and extent of the conduct involved. Thank you.