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Mr CADMAN (Mitchell) (12.56 p.m.) —I wish to express my appreciation to the member for Hinkler and endorse the motion he has moved and the comments he has made in the House today.

Credit unions are a very important alternative source of finance for many Australians. In fact, there are 229 credit unions, and the credit union movement as a whole is more significant than three of the four leading banks. That is something that many Australians are unaware of and would wish to know, because there is a high level of concern and distrust for the high fees and charges of banks. People deserve an alternative, and credit unions are the only deposit taking alternative to the banking system. So it is important that this House and the Australian community take notice of the unique ownership of credit unions: they are owned by the customers.

It would be terrific if banks asked every customer who came into their institutions whether they were happy, whether the banks were doing the right thing and whether they would vote for the directors and give their endorsement to the banks, because if the banks were required to react to customers in the same way the credit unions must we would see a totally different attitude in the banking system. This is a very significant difference. It is okay for APRA and ASIC and other regulatory organisations to impose on the credit unions the banking requirements that banks must fulfil, but it would be very interesting if the banks were also asked to respond in the way these mutually owned organisations need to respond in their market environment. Credit unions—and perhaps building societies—are the only alternative in many areas of Australia. They are filling the gaps in suburban Australia and in regional and rural Australia. Instead of bank closures, we have the credit union movement working with the government, rural and regional communities. Even AMP and ING, the new banking people on the block, do not have branches—you are supposed to do it all online over the Internet.

I think personal finances and the housing sector are being more adequately coped with and dealt with by credit unions. They are paying attention to the broad needs of their customers far more than in the past. They have not turned themselves into banks, but they are looking at personal finances and housing requirements. They are authorised deposit taking institutions. Instead of the approach that APRA appears to adopt in some of its preferred regulatory controls—`one size fits all' was the comment by the previous speaker, Mr Hatton—the Senate inquiry into financial institutions has on perhaps three occasions identified differences between credit unions and the main deposit taking institutions that need to be noted and acted upon.

APRA and ASIC can focus on large corporations like HIH. We expect them to, and they should do a very thorough job there. They should not spend a lot of time focusing on what are well-run organisations which have limitations imposed on them by the type of structure they have. They have limits on the concentration of investment of funds, they have a focus on their non-transferable share structure and they have rules imposed on them regarding the way in which they must keep their assets. These rules have no regard to the high level and quality of security over loans, which are basically in people and in housing. They do not lend beyond 80 per cent on any house. These investments are in people and in bricks and mortar. The members of the credit union movement have a much more secure type of investment than many banks. That ought to be taken into account when we look at the regulatory process and the requirements that they fulfil certain regulations. This is an excellent amendment and, I believe, a good start for us when focusing our attention on alternatives to the banking structure. (Time expired) [start page 9243]

Author: Alan Cadman MP
Source: House Hansard - 2nd December 2002
Release Date: 9 Dec 2002


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