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Shorten pledges royal commission into banks

Opposition leader Bill Shorten has moved to thwart attempts by prime minister Malcom Turnbull to make union thuggery and bribery in the construction industry an election issue. At a news conference on Friday April 8, Shorten called for Turnbull to establish a royal commission into the conduct of the nation’s banks, and said if the government did not do so, an incoming Labor administration would set one up.

“The (bank) scandals keep coming, people keep losing money, they are being ripped off”, said Shorten. “Enough is enough”.

All four of Australia’s major banks have been involved in scandals of one sort or another in recent months – the latest being accusations against Westpac by the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) that it had been manipulating the bank bill rate. The bank denies the charge.

Shorten said, “Many Australians have suffered through the decisions of banks and financial institutions. Retirees who have lost their retirement savings, small businesses who have lost their livelihood, Australian families who have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars, life insurance beneficiaries, denied justice and legitimate claims. There are literally tens of thousands of victims if not more.”

Shorten is gambling that voters in marginal electorates will resonate more with the misdemeanours of the banks and the financial services industry than with the well documented crimes of union leaders in the building and construction industry, not least because many more will have been affected by bank misselling, over-charging, and failure to pay out insurance claims than by actions on large building sites.

Turnbull persuaded the governor-general, Peter Cosgrove, to recall Parliament for three weeks this month so that the Senate could reconsider a bill to restore the construction industry watchdog, the Australian Building and Construction Commission, a move opposed by Labor and the Greens. If the Senate fails to pass the legislation, Parliament will be dissolved and a general election called for July 2.

Labor and Greens tactics have been to seek the establishment of a wider anti-corruption body, which the government rejects. Turnbull will rebuff the latest tactic too. But with opinion polls narrowing, and one showing Labor in the lead, it is Turnbull, not Shorten, that is now in a tricky position.