Labor to raise $160m a year from banks for new ‘fairness’ fund

Bill Shorten says Labor will start scheduling briefings with officials from government departments now that we are three months away from the election

Bill Shorten says Labor will start scheduling briefings with officials from government departments now that we are three months away from an election. Photograph: Ellen Smith/AAP

Labor will commit to a new fund, raising $160m from the banks per year, to support measures including 500 new counsellors to help victims of financial services scandals pursue compensation, as part of its response to the Hayne royal commission.

As well as pressing on with its banking response, the Labor leader, Bill Shorten, has told Scott Morrison the opposition intends to begin “exercising its right to seek public service briefings” under guidelines associated with the caretaker conventions.

Shorten is invoking the guidelines on the rationale the government has telegraphed the election will be in May, and the parliamentary library has advised May 18 is the last date for a regular election of the House and half the Senate. The guidelines say briefings can happen as soon as an election for the House of Representatives is announced “or three months before the expiry of the House of Representatives, whichever occurs first”.

Labor will unveil a new banking “fairness” fund on Monday, worth $640m over four years, which adds to its announcement last week of a new compensation scheme allowing some victims of banking scandals to have their cases reopened, with the caps for potential payouts lifted to up to $2m.

The opposition has unveiled a series of measures over the past week as part of its response to the Hayne royal commission, including a commitment to roll out fixed-rate commissions for mortgage brokers, which is a departure from the banking royal commission’s recommendation to apply user-pay fees to the service.

Labor signalled initially it would follow the Hayne recommendation to implement a user pays system for brokers, but walked that back after internal disquiet triggered by extensive lobbying from the industry in the wake of the royal commissions’ final report.

Monday’s instalment is a commitment to double the number of financial counsellors from 500 to 1,000 with a $320m commitment from the new fund over the next four years. Hayne recommended in his final report that there be stable funding allocated to financial counsellors.

As well as attempting to keep the political focus on banking, which is safer political ground for Labor than the pre-election border protection war the Morrison government is seeking, Shorten has also flagged he will seek input from officials under guidelines related to the caretaker conventions.

In a letter to the prime minister, Shorten says the guidelines “facilitate pre-election briefings between shadow ministers and officials from government departments and are intended to ensure a smooth transfer of power if an election results in a change of government”.

“Under the guidelines the leader of the opposition and shadow ministers are entitled to seek briefings with the public service in the period beginning three months from the expiry of the parliament, or the announcement of the election, whichever is sooner,” Shorten says in the letter.

He says the correspondence gives “notice” Labor intends scheduling briefings with officials “noting that we have now passed the three month deadline from the effective expiry of the parliament”.

Shorten cites advice from the parliament library saying the latest date for a regular House of Representatives and half-Senate election is 18 May 2019, so “the three month deadline from the effective expiry of the parliament is therefore 18 February 2019”.

“Opposition shadow ministers will contact departmental secretaries to begin arranging briefings in coming days”.

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