Competition and Consumer Amendment (Payment Surcharges) Bill 2015 - Consideration in Detail

Thursday, 04 February 2016

Mr HAWKE (Mitchell—Assistant Minister to the Treasurer) (09:35): In addressing the amendments that the member for Melbourne has put forward, I would start by saying that I do not doubt his genuine sincerity in having a discussion about ATM fees. I do not necessarily think, though, that his advice to the banking industry would be well received. If the member for Melbourne were to open a bank on the principles he has outlined here in the House today and call it the Greens Bank, for example, and he were to run it at a loss—he sort of railed against banks making a profit—and he were to charge no fees for service and provide free money, I am not certain that there would be a rush from the Australian population to put their money into the Greens Bank. I am not sure his advice to the banking industry is really that accurate or that well regarded.

In terms of the series of amendments that he has put forward, the first point to make is that the Financial System Inquiry did not make a recommendation on ATM fees. This bill is about excessive surcharging by merchants—that is, where merchants are charging a fee that is not related to the cost of providing that service—which was found by the Financial System Inquiry to be a matter of concern. It is a problem that all Australians know about. It is a problem that they reported to the Financial System Inquiry. It is a problem that David Murray highlighted from the inquiry. It is a specific recommendation. This is why the opposition and the government are united in this endeavour. We do not want to see merchants surcharging excessively the public in an unrelated way to the actual fees for providing that service.

ATMs—and there are many ATMs around the country—and ATM fees might be a legitimate issue for discussion in another forum, in another context. It would not be good law. It would not be good process to start tacking on everybody's pet issue to the back of serious bills about reducing credit card surcharging. It would not be a good process. It has not been a recommendation of the Financial System Inquiry. There are whole different issues at play about the fees for service at ATMs. Of course there are different issues at play, because providing an ATM service does have a cost structure to it and, regardless of the member for Melbourne's fictional economic understanding of these things, it does cost money to provide terminals in place and banks ought to have the right to recover cost and to charge fees for service for accessing money. Fee for service of a business is a well understood principle. The levels and the nature of those fees, when they are applied or not applied, are legitimate items for discussion in a different forum and in a different way, and the government is open to a conversation about those things in the future.

This bill is so important, because we are addressing something quite different, and I do not think it is accurate for the member for Melbourne to conflate these two issues. There are different issues at play, and here specifically David Murray, a well-respected individual, has inquired into these issues at length. He has identified this as a specific problem, and of course the government has responded very quickly and strongly with this legislation to ensure Australians can now have confidence that when they are charged for the use of a credit card it is entirely 100 per cent related to the cost of providing that service. We can now all have confidence in that.

The government will not be supporting the amendments of the Greens in relation to this, and I urge them, if they want to have a conversation about this, to take it to the appropriate forum and the proper place and we can have that conversation.


Mr HAWKE (Mitchell—Assistant Minister to the Treasurer) (09:39): Again, I reiterate in relation to these amendments that this bill is about excessive credit card surcharging, so this is not a debate about ATM fees. There may be a proper time and place to have that debate and that discussion. Certainly it is the government's view that banks need to make a profit. There needs to be competition in our economy and a competitive and well-regulated banking sector. That does not mean that we seek to run every single aspect of the banking sector and every single aspect of their business.

There are good arguments in relation to the cost of ATMs, and this is a great era we are in, where people can access their own capital in more ways than ever before, whether they be through payWave services, digitally online or through an ATM terminal. And of course we have to continue to innovate and exploit that era, but we are not running the banks, I have to say, to the member for Melbourne. We regulate to ensure that there are strong capital and liquidity requirements in Australia and that we have confidence in the banking sector, but we do not want to be day-to-day bankers and run every single aspect of their business. This is not a bill about the banks; this is a bill about excessive credit card surcharging, which has been identified by the Financial System Inquiry as a serious area of concern to most Australians that needs tackling. The government agrees that merchants should not be allowed to add unreasonable and excessive charges on top of credit cards for people to access credit.

This is a worthy bill so we seek your support. We seek for you to drop these amendments so we can get this through. And if you have serious concerns, have carefully analysed every aspect of ATMs and other fees and want to present a report, go ahead and do it. But I suspect you would not be able to tell us today exactly the cost structure of providing 15,000 ATMs around the country. I suspect you would not be able to tackle it today, so rather than waste this House's time with an endless debate about something which is not what this bill is about, simply support what is—I think you would agree—a very worthwhile measure and something the government is doing that you can support. You do not always have to rail against the machine, Member for Melbourne. When the government does something worthwhile you can get up and say, 'This is worthwhile.' The Labor Party is on board, and the opposition is on board. This is a worthwhile measure supported by the Financial System Inquiry, supported by the opposition and supported by the Australian public. You can get up and have a nice day with us and say, 'Thank you for what we're doing' and 'What a good bill,' and then we can have another debate, if you want to do so.


Mr HAWKE (Mitchell—Assistant Minister to the Treasurer) (09:44): I simply reiterate that this bill is a worthwhile bill in itself. It does not address the issue of ATMs—it was not a recommendation of the Financial System Inquiry—and the member for Melbourne's simplified explanation of ATM fees is not able to be discussed in this debate today in the House. Simply getting up and putting your own particular view about one particular component of one particular report is not a way to make law in this country. It is not a fair way to make law or have a debate in this country. Mr Bandt's amendment tacked onto a bill about something else is not a way to run an economy, not a way to run a government, not a way to provide certainty and confidence for consumers or businesses. It is not really right for him to come in here and raise one aspect of one pet thing that might be of concern to him and suggest that we just tack it onto the back of a bill about something else. That is what the government's principal objection is here. We make no claims about the other matters that he raises, because this is not the forum to discuss them. It is very simple. It is not appropriate to come in here and just add something that is very complex, something that does bear discussion and consideration by government, something that does concern Australians, something worth considering in other forums in other ways, onto the back of something else and pretend we have had a reasonable discussion about it. There are many complex issues related to those matters.

I say to the House again that the government and the opposition have carefully looked at these matters in the Financial System Inquiry and the reason we have come to the same view is that that is the strong recommendation of Mr David Murray. I say to the member for Melbourne: you have many forums, you have many opportunities, you have many ways of raising those matters but it is not a good process, it is not good law, it is not good for the economy or consumers or businesses to be attaching minor pet issues onto the back of every single piece of legislation about other matters when people are unable to have the proper debates or the proper considerations about the issues that you want us to legislate on.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Mitchell ): The question is that the amendments be agreed to.

A division having been called and the bells having been rung—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: As there are fewer than five members on the side for the ayes in this division, I declare the question negatived in accordance with standing order 127. The names of those members who are in the minority will be recorded in the Votes and Proceedings.

Question negatived, Mr Bandt and Mr Wilkie voting yes.

Bill agreed to.