The Crest of the Commonwealth of Australia Treasury Portfolio Ministers
Picture of Peter Costello

Peter Costello


11 March 1996 - 3 December 2007

Transcript of 27/03/01

Transcript No. 2001/027

Hon. Peter Costello MP

Tuesday, 27 March 2001
8.30 am

SUBJECTS: Labor’s Banking policy


I’d like to make some comments on the stunt that was pulled by Mr Beazley yesterday in relation to banking fees. As is well known the Government has been working with banks for some time now to ensure that they deliver low cost services, particularly to pensioners, and the outcome of what the banks were proposing to do was briefed to the Labor Party last Friday. After the Labor Party was briefed on Friday, they cobbled together a journey from Parliament House down to the suburb of Kingston to try and beat the ABA in its announcement. They were briefed on Friday, they raced down to the bank, the local bank here at Parliament House, so that they could try and beat the announcement and pretend that they had done some work themselves. It was a lazy stunt and of course it has been exposed by the fact that the ABA has said that the Labor Party was briefed on this on Friday. The only thing that they wanted to announce that they hadn’t stolen from the ABA announcement, or tried to pre-empt from the ABA announcement, of course, was an agreement to re-open banks that had been closed. In the last 3 years of Labor Government, 500 bank branches were closed. If you wanted to re-open them you would probably need $250, $300 million dollars a year, and the Labor Party has put aside for the re-opening of closed banks, $20 million. It wouldn’t even open one in ten of the branches that were closed in the last three years of their Government.

So, this is a stunt. It is illustrating, again, a lazy approach to policies. It is not thought through. The only good part of it is the part of it that was actually briefed to them by the Australian Bankers Association.


How many bank branches closed in 5 years of your Government?


We are going to produce full figures, we are trying to produce full figures on this. But, what we know, is, that bank branch closures accelerated under Labor. So, 500 in 3 years is the figure we have got at the moment. We are going to try and do some more work to find out how many in total. But let’s suppose they were only going to open the 500 they closed when they were in Government, just when they were in Government. In the last 3 years, of a thirteen year stretch, and it is 500, and let’s suppose it is half a million a bank branch, at the least, you would need $250, $300 million. What they said, yesterday, is, they are going to re-open bank branches for $20 million – wouldn’t even open one in ten of the branches closed in 3 years of Labor Government back in the 1990s.


But, Kim Beazley says you may not be talking about a fully fledged branch re-opening, it might be through a post office agency or some other delivery mechanism.


Well, see, he has walked away from his policy already. Yesterday he was going to re-open bank branches for $20 million. Because it can’t be done, today he says, ‘oh, no, we are going to have bank branching through Australia Post’, which this Government has been putting in place. His policy didn’t last the day. Today, he is not re-opening bank branches, he is trying to allow for Australia Post to provide banking services, which is what the Government has been saying over the last, what, 4 or 5 years.


(inaudible) you have been working with the banks, as you say, over the last few years. Why has it taken 5 years for them to realise there is a social responsibility?


Well, I think the banks have had to be prodded in relation to their obligations. The Government has had to sit down and work with them, and it has had to push them. And it finally pushed them to a stage where we had this Viney Report, where they agreed that they would take some action. They wanted to announce it themselves, we thought that was fair enough. They made the mistake of briefing the Labor Party on a confidential basis on Friday and the Labor Party went and breached the embargo, and announced it on Monday.

I say to business this; there is a lesson here. Any business that thinks you can have a confidential chat with the Labor Party and that they won’t use it for political opportunism ought to look at this very carefully, ought to look at this very carefully, indeed. Here is an example of where the Labor Party gets briefed on something, and goes and announces it as its own, not because it is interested in the policy, but because of the stunt. You know yourself. When did they call their press conference? Monday morning. How far could they get to announce it?

As far as a 5 minute drive down past their favourite Chinese restaurant, down here from Parliament House. Just down near the Tang Dynasty. That is as far as they could get in time to try and beat the announcement.


Do you think there is an irony in the fact that this week you are defenders of the banks and last week you were belting them over the head over banking?


No, we are not defending the banks. We have been pushing the banks into a policy which the banks decided on last week and announced this week. The Labor Party tried to pull a stunt to try and cover that in a cloud of dust. But, the truth of the matter is, the banks would not have been making this announcement if it had not have been for the Government pushing and prodding them. Now, I welcome the announcement. The announcement is a good announcement. This is something that should have been done for quite some time. But, the only add-on, which yesterday was, Labor is going to re-open all the branches, died overnight. They are no longer going to re-open all the branches, now they are back to Australia Post banking. I suppose, from their point of view, they would be happy that the stunt lasted 24 hours, but it won’t last much longer.