Finance Advice Reforms Disallowance

Following on from Senator Whish-Wilson, I too have met with businesses to discuss this issue. Only a month ago, I was in Stanthorpe, which is south-west of Brisbane. I went to dinner there and I was expecting to talk about 457 visas for growers, wine equalisation tax issues and tourist issues, but there was a small business man there who has a financial advice business in Stanthorpe, with offices in Warwick.

He thanked me, but he was really thanking Minister Cormann for the work he has done to take a huge regulatory burden off his business. It is a small business in a small town of only a few thousand people, and these changes that Labor introduced a few years ago had a massive impact on his business. Every two years, he has to ask his clients to sign back up with him. Imagine that if you were in any other business. Imagine if you were in any other business, you had an ongoing relationship with your clients and your customers, and you had to go back to them every two years and re-sign a contract. It is an unreasonable, unfair and unbalanced requirement on the small businesses of this nation that provide financial advice in our towns.

I heard Senator Whish-Wilson talk about how we want to encourage Australians to seek financial advice, and I agree completely, but people in regional areas who will rely on small businesses particularly to provide that advice will have more limited opportunities if we disallow these regulations today, because this regulatory burden will be put back on those businesses.

I took note of Senator Muir's contribution as well. I congratulate and commend him on the fine words in his first contribution—I think it was his first contribution—to this place. I particularly took note, Senator Muir, of your statement that we should make sure we have sufficient parliamentary scrutiny of measures that go before this place, and I absolutely agree, but why, then, are we rushing this debate today? Why are we putting this through today when we could have another week to look at it? What was the urgency of having to announce this overnight in a deal done between different parties behind the scenes and, as you admit, Senator Muir, to break a commitment you made with the government? Why can't we have sufficient parliamentary scrutiny to assess the implications of these changes? We all know the reason for that. As you said, Senator Muir, you were worried about other people talking to you about the other implications of what might happen. Why shouldn't we wait for that? Why shouldn't you make the time and have the respect for this place to wait for this to come before the parliament?

I want to say something that bears on the point that you made, Senator Muir, that we need scrutiny of regulatory and legislative changes. We absolutely do, but what you may not realise is that, when the former government put these reforms in place, they did not get the scrutiny they were meant to have. They got no scrutiny from the proper regulatory impact statement processes that both sides of politics have signed up to. Both sides of politics agree that major regulations have to go through a process before they go to cabinet and definitely before they come to this place. That is to make sure that, when we place these imposts on small businesses like those in Stanthorpe, there is not an undue regulatory burden placed on them. There is a good reason we have those processes. But, in this case, when there were major changes proposed to the financial advice regulatory landscape in this country, no regulatory impact statement was prepared. The regulatory cost of these changes was around $750 million up-front for the businesses all around the country. The ongoing cost is expected to be $350 million a year—not an insubstantial amount of money—but no regulatory impact statement was done by the former government.

The reason they did not do that was that they knew the answer they would get. In government, there is a solid rule: you do not ask a question if you do not know what the answer is going to be—but they knew what the answer was going to be. They knew that, if a regulatory impact statement was done on these changes, it would come back negative, for the reasons that Senator Back and Minister Cormann have outlined: this is an undue impost on small businesses. It is also unfair in that these two-yearly opt-in provisions that I discussed earlier are a requirement for private businesses or those providing individual advice but not a requirement for those who are involved in providing advice through an industry superannuation fund. Intrafund advice under the laws is exempt, and there is no good reason for that at all. On this side, we believe in fee disclosure. We believe that people providing advice should have to disclose their fees, but industry super funds are exempt under these laws from disclosing their fees to their clients. Why should they be exempt? Why shouldn't the clients of industry super funds have the same access to information as clients of a different type of financial advice? There is no good reason and there has not been one provided in this debate. The issue has been ignored—and ignored for good reason by those on the other side.

I also say to Senator Muir: there has been parliamentary scrutiny of these changes that the government has put forward. There have been two Senate economics committee reports on these changes, both of which have recommended that they be enacted. There have been submissions taken by those inquiries and hearings conducted. There has been lots of scrutiny.

The other thing is that the people have been able to scrutinise these changes, too, because the policy of the coalition has remained consistent for years now—right from the start when Labor introduced these reforms and we knew they had not done a regulatory impact statement. I saw Senator Cormann develop the government's position in opposition when it was his portfolio responsibility and I have seen Senator Sinodinos, when it was his responsibility, and, of course, now we have Minister Cormann conducting this—and it has been consistent the whole way through. The people voted on this last year. It was put to a vote and the government received a mandate on these changes. It was assessed by the people. So we have now had parliamentary scrutiny and we have had the democratic scrutiny we have through elections, but apparently that is still not enough. Why is it not enough?

I believe what has happened in this chamber today is extremely regrettable. We have decided to make a change overnight to what the landscape was and to what the regulations in our country were. And we all know why we are doing this. I believe we are going to do this because individual members of the Palmer United Party want to split with their party and cause division. That is going to have a multimillion dollar impact on small business—all for the interests of a minor party in this chamber.

Senator Xenophon: "Mr Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. The honourable senator is impugning the motives of another senator, basically saying that they are going down a path to vote for legislation for motives that appear to be malicious. That seems to be quite improper."

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Whish-Wilson): "That is not a point of order, Senator Xenophon."

Senator Canavan: As I was saying, Senator Xenophon, we all know why this deal has been done. We know it and you know it.

Senator Xenophon: "Mr Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. Unless Senator Canavan is a psychic, he does not know unless I have said so."

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: "Senator Xenophon, that is a debating point; it is not a point of order."

Senator CANAVAN: Let's be clear: we are putting a multimillion dollar impost on small businesses because certain PUPs and the Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party want to unleash the dogs of war in this chamber. That is why we are doing this. We are doing this to satisfy the personal and sectional interests of particular senators.

Honourable senators interjecting

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: "Sorry, Senator Canavan, can I just get you to clarify that word. I thought you said 'sexual'."

Senator CANAVAN: I said 'sectional', as in a section or a part. When I got here a few months ago, we all as new senators were imbued with a lot of pride and honour. I made the point at the time—and someone told me this, because I did not know it—that this was the third largest intake of new senators in our nation's history after an election. There was a lot of talk of having a new set of crossbenchers to provide new clarity and scrutiny of the government—which I believe. I believe in this chamber. I believe in its right to exist. I believe in the merits of having a review mechanism. I said at the time, 'Well, maybe we will get a new culture. Perhaps we can make a difference.'

I believe that the country got sick and tired of what happened in the previous parliament. They got sick and tired of those overnight deals that were done, where you wake up the next morning and you have a different PM, you wake up the next morning and suddenly you have a carbon tax and you wake up the next morning and you have a major change to the EPBC Act—all because there were deals done behind the scenes without parliamentary scrutiny. So I was hopeful that perhaps that would change and that perhaps we would have proper committees and have legislation go through in a methodical way—exactly how the government has progressed with these changes through the committee process. But, unfortunately, some senators have not decided to go down that route; they are still continuing the dirty deals that were done in the former parliament—the dirty deals that were done by a former government and crossbenchers—which so dirtied this place, and the Australian people rejected it overwhelmingly last year.

I also said, 'If we do not change things as new senators, the Australian people will kick us out too, just like they did the last mob.' That is what they will do. They will get tired of us very quickly if we continue to behave in this way. Yesterday we were not going to disallow the financial advice reforms and today we are. What changed overnight? What changed in this country overnight? Was the temperature different? Did the water change? No, no; we just woke up and decided we were going to do a different thing. How does it give people out there any confidence in this place if every day we just decide to do different things, if we get out of a different side of the bed and we decide to change our laws? I think we should have more consistency than that. I recognise, Senator Muir, that it is hard; that there are lots of things that go through this place. But I also note that crossbenchers are given more advisers to help them, and we all have processes and ways of trying to assess these things. But to every day change our positions on things is the kind of culture—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: "Senator Canavan, I would just remind you to direct your comments through the chair, please."

Senator CANAVAN: Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. I take that admonition. We have to provide more consistency as a parliament, because people expect that. I was at a dinner with some businesspeople the other night and they were bemoaning the fact that when they go overseas and they are talking to people in China or in Asia they have to spend ages talking about the Australian Senate, how it works and the risks of it.

Senator McEwen interjecting

Senator CANAVAN: Sorry, Senator McEwen, but that is exactly what they said. Maybe they were lying to me, but they said they had an hour meeting with a major investor in China recently and they spent 30 minutes talking about the Australian Senate—30 minutes of that hour talking about it. That is because of us. We have contributed to that. We have all contributed to that, and we are all continuing to contribute to that with our behaviour today.

I had hoped that we would have a different future. I had hoped that, with the change, things would be different—and I think for the last few months they have been. The Palmer United Party and others have taken a different approach and we have passed legislation. It has taken us a long time. We had to sit late the other night, but we got it done. But, today, we are going back to that different approach which is ad hoc and which means that we wear a different colour shirt every day depending on who we are talking to. I hope that can change in the future.

I want to finish by commending the work that Minister Cormann has done in the last few years in prosecuting this issue. He has remained consistent. I do hope that we can find a different way to remove this multimillion dollar regulatory burden on the small businesses of this country, for those businesses that provide financial advice that are not involved in big companies. Minister Cormann made a very good point earlier in this debate—that is, that it is not the big businesses in this country that have to worry about the changes that we are making today; it is the small businesses. They are the people who cannot do this. They must be pulling their hair out right now, thinking they have just got a new framework, it has been put in place and it had the confidence of this parliament—it was voted on by this place—and now, today, we are going to change it all for them.

Who have they got to help them? Who have they got to help them provide their advice? I know that we complain that we do not have enough advisers. It is hard for us. Who do they have? Who do they have to provide advice for them on the changes that we are going to make now? They are going to have to do it all themselves. They are going to have to stay back this weekend and get across it in more detail. They are going to have to spend less time with their kids because of the things we have done in this place. I know that I am not going to change what is going to happen tonight, but I want to put on record that what we are doing is hurting small businesses in this nation. It has to stop and we have to have a different approach.

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