28 March 2023

Address to the AFR Banking Summit

I acknowledge the Gadigal people, the Traditional Custodians of this land, and pay my respects to their Elders past, present and emerging.

I also acknowledge all First Nations people attending today and thank them for their contribution.

I would like to thank The Australian Financial Review and Deloitte for hosting today’s Summit.

But first, I’d like to say a few words about the banking developments overseas.

You’ve all seen the headlines in recent weeks.

It’s a turbulent time for the global financial market.

Like many of you in this room, the Government and our regulators are closely monitoring market developments in the US and Europe including the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank and the UBS takeover of Credit Suisse.

It is reassuring to see the action being taken by overseas central banks and other international financial authorities.

While we’ve seen some strains in global funding markets, our domestic funding markets continue to function well.

One thing is clear: Australia’s banking system is resilient.

While we are not immune from the volatility in global financial markets, Australia’s banks are well regulated, well capitalised and have strong liquidity coverage.

Australia’s financial system is well‑equipped to deal with the disruptions and challenges in the global economy.

We’ll continue to monitor the situation and update Australians on any significant developments.

Of course, despite our inherent strength we cannot be complacent. The challenges we’re facing in our second budget are well known:

  • one trillion dollars in debt
  • a structural deficit
  • big pressures across health, the NDIS, aged care and defence.
  • cost of living pressures driven by higher prices and rising interest rates.

Our fundamental strategy has not changed: fiscal restraint, targeted energy relief for households, and repair of constrained supply chains to reduce inflationary pressure.

A lot of work is already underway – like our renewed focus on improving skilled migration, and rebuilding our trades training. Continuing the momentum with National Reconstruction Fund, which is focussed on enhancing our manufacturing capacity, and continuing the momentum on energy transformation.

The housing shortage is hurting people – it’s also slowing economic growth in many parts of the country. We are determined to work with state and local governments, and with investors, to boost the housing supply.

This is a story of the Government which is focused on dealing with the economic challenges and implementing its election commitments.


I want to talk about another election commitment. It was born of our experiences during the pandemic, and in particular during lockdowns.

COVID changed the way we do business.

More people began shopping online. Many for the first time. More and more transactions shifted from cash to cashless. This was facilitated by the transformation in payment methods. Things that once took days or weeks could now be done in an instant.

There is so much upside to this.

Enormous opportunities to increase efficiency and improve productivity, through faster, easier, simpler transactions.

There are also big risks. As money moves faster, it is easier to implement good decisions. But it is also easier to lose money to scams and frauds.

As the technology improves and develops, scam techniques develop right alongside it.

We might have thought of scams as someone conning you out 50 bucks – well not anymore. What we are seeing now are sophisticated, organised, criminal enterprises, that aim high, looking to rip tens of thousands of dollars from Australian people and Australian businesses.

We call them scams but really, they’re economic crime.

They are a more than a menace. They are a destructive force in our economy. A force which, left unconfronted, will undermine confidence in the way modern commerce is conducted.

Let me explain why.

It is estimated that Australians lost two billion dollars to scams in 2021.

That’s a big number.

It got bigger a year later - between three and four billion dollars in 2022.

Between 2020 and 2022, these figures show an increase of over 300 per cent. The ACCC, who run Scamwatch, say that only about 13 per cent of scams are reported.

No wonder consumers are worried. The ABA tells us that in 2021, 37 per cent of Australians lost money to a scam or knew someone who did.

According to their survey nobody is spared. 66 per cent of people fend off at least one scam every week, and 29 per cent are battling the scammers every single day. A text, an email, a phone call, a social media ad...it is someone trying to trick them out of their money.

The eSafety Commissioner backs this in. Their 2020 survey found that 64 per cent of Australians viewed scams as their greatest risk of harm online.

The amount lost per scam is getting bigger as well. The majority of people lose between $10,000 and $50,000, but that number has gone up 35% in a year.

That is crippling, for almost anyone.

But it damages our broader economy too.

The overwhelming majority of money scammed out of the pockets of Australians is immediately sent overseas and never seen in Australia again.

Two billion dollars ripped out of the economy in 2021.

Three or four billion dollars ripped out of the economy last year.

Goodness knows how much this year.

It adds up, and it multiplies.

And it costs us all.

It means less economic activity, and less taxation revenue, on top of the devastation caused to thousands and thousands of Australians. 

It rattles consumer confidence, and undermines the basics of our financial system.

And this is the key point that I want to make:

Consumer protection is economy protection.

You don’t need to know too much about markets to know that consumer rights make them more efficient. Informed and confident consumers create efficient markets and a stronger economy.

Consumer protection is business protection.

The tools of scammers

As I said earlier, when we imagine the business practice of scammers and fraudsters we often think of small scale, one person and a phone operations.

Now there are a range of scams that are based on identity theft: like a fake website, profile, email or text message.

They are sophisticated operations, often an organised group of people sitting in a bunker in a foreign country.

We also know that hacks and cyber breaches can lead to stolen data and, in some cases, identity data, being sold on the dark web. This can lead to higher rates of scams and frauds as criminals seek to monetise the use of this data.

A strong government strategy must confront all of these.

But it also helps to understand that behind the technology is lies a very basic business model – the exploitation of our hopes and our fears.

The core tools of any scam are exploiting our human emotions. A desire to:

  • Love and be loved – the hey mum scams, the romance scams
  • Hope for a better future – scams which promise to double a modest saving within a few months
  • Pride – the belief that you alone have the smarts to understand that this new too good to be true investment offer which will put you on the rapid rise to wealth.
  • Panic and urgency – the need to suspend all normal caution, to move quickly or the opportunity will pass, or the threat will be realised.

Scams are everyone’s problem.

There are challenges for regulators, and law makers, and there are challenges for industry.

And it is up to all of us to fight back.

Plenty of the know‑how and the resources to take up this fight resides within the Government.

And plenty more resides within the companies who are caught up in all of this: in particular banks, telcos, and social media platforms.

And so we have to work together in ways we haven’t had to before.

We need to think about these things in a new way, and approach them in a new way.

The banking sector recognises this, and many banks are doing important work to throw sand in the scammers’ gears.

Last year I visited Westpac’s new Finance Crime Hub in Parramatta.

Like many banks they have set up anti‑fraud facilities.

Banks have invested heavily in teams of specialists in dedicated fraud prevention centres, who deal with the most common investment scams on a daily basis.

The Commonwealth Bank and Telstra just yesterday announced a new pilot to help protect their customers from phone scams.

The new tool will enable CBA to check if a customer is on a phone call – the prime indicator that a scam is occurring. This will allow the bank the opportunity to try to contact the customer or put in additional checks

They think this pilot could prevent $15‑20 million of customer losses per year.

Across the economy, financial services providers are investing more and more into the fight against scams and fraud. From insurers, to super funds, fintechs, payment providers and digital platforms, good work is being done.

They get it.

Systemically, we want to make Australia the least favoured destination for international scammers and the hardest place in the world for domestic scammers to ply their trade.

The establishment of a National‑Anti Scam Centre is at the heart of this goal, and fits within a broader agenda across Government to better protect Australians from economic crime, fraud, cyber crime and identity theft.

Our policy

There are four key limbs to our work across Government -

  1.  First, we need to limit the information flow at the source:

Across the economy we need to ask questions about the extent of data that is requested and required for a basic transaction.

Does my local barista really need my email address, age and postcode when I order a coffee?

Then, we need to ask questions about how that data is stored, shared, and protected.

That is why the Attorney General is now in the midst of a review of the privacy legalisation.

These questions have never been more pertinent. We have seen three major data breaches in the last six months.

This is also about preventing the theft of data from Government and business.

My colleague Clare O’Neil, the Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Cyber Security, is working on a new Cyber Security Strategy, setting out the path to achieve a more secure online world for Australian businesses and individuals.

Limiting information flow is also about frustrating the ability of economic criminals to market to their victims.

Most Australians are targeted by scammers via phone and text message.

There is a lot that strong codes of practice for the telecommunications industry and social media platforms can do, in identifying and taking down known scams and illegal promotions.

And, again, a lot of good work is already being done, particularly in the telco space.

  1.  The second limb involves rapid identification and response to scams and frauds as they emerge.

We’re about a decade behind on this.

The way they do it in the UK and Canada shows how a collaborative approach, bringing the resources of business and the resources of government together, can take scammers on with a strong and united front.

The UK ‘fusion cell’ model was established in 2013 and shows the benefits of rapid sharing of intelligence between regulators, government, and relevant institutions, with appropriate safeguards built in.

The Fighting Scams package we took to the election committed to the establishment of a National Anti‑Scam Centre, broadly modelled on the UK’s successful model.

At the last Budget we provisioned over $12 million to these commitments, including to allow the ACCC to commence work on the design of a centre.

This centre would not only draw upon the UK’s collaborative approach to detection and prevention. It would also focus on boosting consumer awareness and education.

It would fight scammers directly, but it would arm consumers to take up the fight too.

  1.  The third limb is about safety of transactions

Payment redirection scams are the most common type of scam affecting business.

Small and micro businesses are especially vulnerable. They make up more than half of payment redirection scam reports.

But for individuals, this year the payment methods resulting in highest losses are bank transfer, then crypto.

We are working to strengthen the regulatory framework around crypto. We put out a paper on Token Mapping recently, and we’ll be consulting on a licensing and custody regime soon.

And we know that reform to the regulatory framework around payments is long overdue, so we are building a strategic plan.

Through the consultation process we received 60 written submissions, held 32 stakeholder meetings and ran 3 roundtable discussions.

Every single stakeholder said that the fight against scams and fraud was a priority, a critical objective.

Unanimous agreement across 60 submissions and over 30 meetings – that’s a pretty loud call to action.

We will consult on a modernised licensing regime for payment functions this year, and we’ll also consult on expanding the RBA’s mandate in the payments space to make sure it’s fit for purpose.

  1.  The final limb is rectification.

When personal data is compromised, the damage can last a long time.

People should be able to reclaim a stolen identity quickly – that’s why the recent budget increased funding for existing ID recovery services.

But we also have some work to do to clarify the obligations on these providers, particularly what they need to do to protect consumers from scams, and to clarify when they’re on the hook for losses, and when they’re not.

I do not support a blanket rule to pile all the impost of scam recovery onto our banks in all cases. It is not good enough to let scammers run wild and leave the banks to wear the costs.

Industry, including banks, should be held to a very high bar to protect consumers against scams.

If they don’t meet the bar, then they should be on the hook to reimburse.

However, if they’ve met that standard, and done what they can, they shouldn’t still end up with the bill.

As we said before the election, obligations need to be clarified.

But we also need coordinated, systemic defences against scams, and more informed, alert consumers.

What has all this got to do with Economic Reform?

It’s about expanding our thinking on productive, efficient systems, so that when we think about a market working well, we include consumer safety and consumer security and consumer confidence.

Fast and safe.

I’ll say it again.

Consumer protection is economy protection.


Right now, many Australians are watching every dollar they spend.

And they’re worried their money’s not going where they think it is.

For too long, consumers have been left with these worries.

They’ve been left to battle the scammers on their own.

Those days are over.

This Government is standing with consumers and taking up the fight, shoulder to shoulder with them. 

And we know that there are companies, and other organisations all around Australia, including plenty in this room, who are alongside us as well.

We’re doing it because, morally, it is the right thing to do.

But we’re also doing it because economically, it is the only thing to do.

We can’t afford to lose.