Aussie banks face government grilling

By Malcolm Farr

Commonwealth and Westpac are among the "big four" facing an inquiry. National Australia Bank and ANZ will also face questions. Photo / Getty
Commonwealth and Westpac are among the "big four" facing an inquiry. National Australia Bank and ANZ will also face questions. Photo / Getty

Twenty Australian MPs today will represent millions of angry borrowers when the top executives of the big four banks in Australia begin individual grillings by a house committee in Canberra.

Some causes of that anger were identified in a survey commissioned by the Australia Institute released today.

Some 77 per cent of borrowers want it to be compulsory for banks to pass on official interest rate cuts, according to the survey.

And 76 per cent want banks to put the interests of customers ahead of those of shareholders.

The three-hour hearings, starting with the Commonwealth Bank's Ian Narev, are the response by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to Labour demands for a royal commission into the finance industry.

About 68 per cent of voters still want a royal commission, according to the Australia Institute survey, but Mr Turnbull believes the hearing before the House Economics Committee will produce greater bank accountability.

The government also hopes the process will boost competition among lenders and make it easier to switch banks and take personal data with you.

Mr Turnbull believes the annual engagements will allow banks to explain their positions, as the Reserve Bank does.

Treasurer Scott Morrison pre-empted the hearings today by announcing tougher regulations to protect benchmarks used in pricing financial products.

But Labour has called the hearings a sham and a mere once-a-year chat in front of a 10-member committee - six Coalition, three Labour and one Green.

One of the Labour MPs, Matt Thistlethwaite, already is unimpressed with the hearings. He has said the committee doesn't have the resources, time or powers to properly investigate matters.

These matters would include:

How widespread instances of illegal and unethical behaviour are within Australia's financial services industry

How Australia's financial services institutions treat their duty of care to their customers

How the culture, ethical standards and business structures of Australian financial services institutions affect the behaviour of these institutions

Whether Australia's regulators are really equipped to identify and prevent illegal and unethical behaviour

Mr Thistlethwaite, deputy chair of the committee, said each member would get just 20 minutes to ask questions.

"I've got two days worth of questions I could ask for the Australian public," he said.
Tomorrow it will be the turn of the ANZ bank, and on Thursday a double-header with the NAB and Westpac.

- news.com.au

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