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Inside the House of Reps banking inquiry

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Inside the House of Reps banking inquiry


By Christian Edwards


1 Day ago





The political divide within the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics inquiry into the banking sector has been thrown into stark relief with the public release of its second report, revealing the frustration of non-government members forced to march to the majority’s beat.


In November 2016 the government-heavy, ten-member committee - including three Opposition and one Greens member - tabled its first ten recommendations to improve the banking system for Australian consumers.


According to committee chair, Liberal MP David Coleman, the second report affirms these and calls on Government implementation, as well as backing the abolition of non-monetary default clauses for loans to small business – a matter examined by the Australian Small business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, Kate Carnell.


“Each of these Recommendations should be implemented,” Coleman said. “The committee is open to some modest variations to the first report recommendations but affirms the substance of each of them.


“In particular, it is important that the committee’s recommendations on executive accountability, creating a new focus on competition, and opening up of consumer data are acted upon.”


Smoke and mirrors politicking


However, the minority members’ have made it clear, in contrast to the government members, that there has been smoke and mirrors politicking behind the scenes and reaffirmed their long held views that there is “no substitute” for a Royal Commission.


“Nothing has substantially changed since the first hearings. If anything, many more troubling examples of poor banking culture and misconduct have come to light,” Labor members said in a statement. “This inquiry exists as a mechanism to avoid further scrutiny through a broader inquiry."


Among its first-round recommendations, the committee called for the Government to “amend or introduce legislation, if required, to establish a Banking and Financial Sector Tribunal by 1 July 2017".


However, the opposition members - The Greens' MP Adam Bandt and Australian Labor Party (ALP) members Matt Thistlethwaite (deputy chair), Madeleine King MP and Matt Keogh MP - repeated their determination for a Royal Commission rather than a “tribunal” as the only vehicle to drive further banking sector accountability.


The committee’s ALP members "again urge the Government to take responsibility, stop defending the banks and establish the systematic, thorough and transparent investigation that only a Royal Commission can provide".


The Labor members were further underwhelmed by the second round of hearings and dismissive of the bank CEO’s providing each member of the Committee just 20 minutes of questions.  After the first hearing the Labor members said that “it was clearer now than ever that a broader inquiry is needed, this policy approach remains true".


“The only way to achieve any form of justice for the victims of the banks, and the only way to truly shine a light on the practices that drive unethical behaviour in the banking industry is to hold a Royal Commission,” the Labor members’ concluded in the second report.


Shift in big bank culture?


According to Bandt, the second round of hearings did nothing to dissuade the Australian Greens of the essentially “broken” nature of the system and the need for a Royal Commission.


“The Greens repeat our recommendations from the first report, including that there be a Royal Commission into the big banks. None of the evidence to date persuades us that there has been any substantial shift in big bank culture. We also repeat our recommendations from the committee’s inquiry into home ownership, because the system is clearly broken and the big four banks have an interest in maintaining the status quo," Bandt concluded.


According to the ALP, through the questions-in-writing process over both the first and second hearing, thousands of documents have been provided by the banks that still remain sealed.


“These secret documents deserve greater scrutiny,” Labor members declared. “This is made worse by the Government members’ belligerent attitude to the second report, by tabling the report out of session when most committee members have not been given adequate opportunity to review this documentation, which for many would require significant travel time to Canberra.”


Labor members said it was concerning that for both committee reports, the Government members used their numbers to force ”premature reporting timelines” upon the Committee.


“An unreasonably short reporting period has been foisted on non-Government members of this Committee by Government members, the necessity of which remains to be seen but which will no doubt become all to (sic) apparent in the not-to-distant future,” the opposition members’ concluded.


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Guest Friday, 28 February 2020