Tuesday 25 Sep 2018

Sandra Blake's week in Canberra

By: Sandra Blake

A significant number of my clients are adversely impacted upon by unfair payday lender loans and consumer leases. To this end I have spoken to Cathy McGowan MP and written to her as a concerned citizen. Most recently when I raised this with Cathy McGowan MP she invited me to Canberra to speak to MPs myself.

I spent the week from Monday 13th August 2018 working as a volunteer in Cathy McGowan’s office in Parliament House. The days were frantic and long. Beginning at 7am concluding as late as 9pm.
I presented case studies and research to Cathy and her staff. From this a speech was prepared and Cathy moved a motion in the Federation Chamber. I was seated in the gallery and acknowledged not only by Cathy, but other MPs.

Here is the link to the video of the motion

The speakers were McGowan, Bert Van Manen, Milton Dick, Craig Kelly, Madeleine King. While acknowledging high fees, Van Manen spoke against the motion. Perhaps he is unaware of NILS, StepUp, Speckle Centrelink Advance or the effect financial counselling has on clients. I am now writing letters to these MPs, again as a concerned citizen, advising them of these alternatives and how financial counselling assists people to avoid their tendency to apply for a payday loan or consumer lease.

To my knowledge no client I have assisted with payday loans or consumer leases have taken out new payday loans or consumer leases after meeting me.

Another issue that Cathy delivered a speech on during the week was the low rate of social security payments and the difficulties people have when dealing with Centrelink. For example long wait times on the phone and extended periods of no payments and being cut off from payments prematurely. These have also been issues I have spoken to Cathy about.

Other offices I visited were Ken Wyatt MP, Minister Aged Care and Indigenous Health, Bridget McKenzie MP Minister for Rural Health, Minister for Sport, Minister for Regional Communications, Bill Shorten MP, Leader of the Opposition and Greens Senator Janet Rice. In these meetings my role was as an observer and chaperone but I was able to introduce myself as a financial counsellor and explain the reason for my visit to Parliament House was to advocate for the passing of the SACC bill and that was about payday lending and consumer leases. I also met Independent Rebecca Starkey and Clive Palmer and explained to them why I was visiting.

While in Canberra I received an official letter from the Hon Michael Sukkar. At the time he was Assistant Minister to the Treasurer. He advised that legislation will be progressed this year with the changes applying 12 months after its passage.

Labor MP Milton Dick invited me to his office for a meeting. This was informative and beneficial. He suggested I write to Pauline Hanson as her electorate is likely to be badly affected by payday lending and consumer leases. He is keen to see this bill passed and offers whatever assistance necessary. Milton Dick showed me a letter he received the day prior to our meeting from the then Prime Minister, Hon Malcolm Turnbull. In this letter Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull also stated that the bill would be passed this year with changes implemented within 12 months.

Cathy McGowan believes for optimal results the visit should be repeated by a delegation of three or four (including myself), Consumer Action Law Centre, Financial Counselling Australia and Financial Consumer Rights Council to meet with the Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar, the shadow Clare O’Neil and Dan Tehan Minister for Social Services and his shadow. Cathy’s office would arrange the meetings. (Of course, these positions have now changed) Milton Dick MP agreed with this and offered to arrange meetings with the shadows. Cathy described the progress as, “kicking a goal in the football game before winning the match”. It was valuable progress but should be followed up. The Parliament House staff pass I was allocated is valid for 12 months. Cathy sent me a card last week, she wrote, “thank you for the excellent work you did for Indi, in Canberra, this week!! I'm very grateful that you were able to make the time to help me with this very important issue - and I'll look forward to welcoming you back in the
near future”.

I represented Cathy McGowan at various functions during the week and accompanied Cathy to a Victorian Leadership Forum held in the Liberal Party Function room. After Cathy delivered her speech she introduced me and asked me to speak about the reason I was in Canberra (totally unexpected). I addressed the audience on payday lending and consumer leases and how they have affected my clients and about the SACC bill being stonewalled for so long. Many present in the audience spoke to me afterwards.

Payday lenders and consumer lease companies display atrocious behaviour not only to their customers (our clients) but also to those who advocate for them. Some of the messages and emails I receive are unprofessional and rude. Sometimes it is hard not to be affected by them, but it makes me more determined to see this through.

I distributed several ‘A day in the life of’ fliers at Parliament House and also to all of the FCs at the Hume region meeting of FCRC in Benalla. I encouraged all FCs to invite their local representatives to their workplace and also to write to their representatives with their concerns. Cathy’s staff told me that she has not received many complaints about payday lending. This is not surprising given that our clients are unlikely to complain to their MP and there are so few financial counsellors. Cathy understands this, but it would help if there were more noise.

Spending a week working in Parliament House was a challenging experience. Again I was reminded of the opportunities provided to me by financial counselling and FCA and how these opportunities equipped me to prepare for this week. For example, accepting the opportunity to present a spot talk and work with John Yeo taught me skills utilised during the week and instilled confidence. I am grateful for all of these opportunities. The moral and informative support received from Financial Counselling Australia and Consumer Action Law Centre, particularly Denise Boyd and Katherine Temple during the week was much appreciated.