Australia's banks offer mea culpa ahead of royal commission report

Anna Bligh admits industry has failed customers as Labor goads Morrison government

Australia’s big banks have launched a public mea culpa ahead of the release of the long-anticipated, likely scarifying, findings of the banking royal commission, acknowledging they have failed their customers, and arguing the Hayne report is a chance to reset the sector.

With institutions and their shareholders braced for a major shake-up when the final report and the Morrison government’s response is made public after financial markets close on Monday, the chief executive of the Australian Banking Association, Anna Bligh, said banks had “not lived up to the high standards Australians rightly expect of the industry”.

“While we don’t know the recommendations in the report, we do know this is an opportunity to reset the industry and to make things better for our customers,” Bligh said.

The Morrison government took possession of the final report from commissioner Kenneth Hayne on Friday afternoon, with the treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, enduring an awkward photo opportunity with the former judge; and has taken the weekend to formulate a response.

There is widespread anticipation the report could flag legal actions as a consequence of the litany of horrors unveiled during the royal commission process, and could also recommend reform of regulation across the financial services sector, as well as action on controversial remuneration and reward structures inside institutions.

Labor on Sunday attempted to goad Scott Morrison, who has been highlighting the risks of a credit crunch if the response is fumbled, into committing to adopting all of Hayne’s recommendations. Bill Shorten contended “the reality is this is a government that can always find a way to not bring the banks to heel”.

It is unclear whether the response to the royal commission will be bipartisan, with the major parties now locked in an intensifying battle over the economy and tax policy in the countdown to the federal election.

With the banks facing their day of reckoning on Monday, and the government response in the spotlight, the shadow treasurer, Chris Bowen, will use the Chifley Oration to lay down markers in the economic policy debate in the run up to the federal election.

While the Coalition is warning a vote for Labor is a vote for slowing down the economy, Bowen will counter that the economy, under the government’s stewardship “isn’t growing as broadly, as strongly or anywhere near as fairly as it should”.

The shadow treasurer will say that seven of the past nine quarters of productivity growth have been negative, based on GDP per hour worked, and this trend is contributing to the stagnating of living standards.

“Australians are reminded of this every time they get paid, with wages growth at record lows,” Bowen will say, according to a speech extract circulated in advance. “The government might actually be the last people in Australia to realise this.”

Bowen will say the economy “isn’t delivering for ordinary people” because growth is underperforming, over a million people are under-employed “and far too many working Australians are underpaid”.

“The cost of living is rising but living standards themselves are stagnating, and this isn’t because of bad luck or unfortunate timing – it’s because of the bad policies of an incompetent government.”

The government is doubling down on attacks on Labor’s controversial policies, but Labor is insisting it will persist with reforms to negative gearing, capital gains tax concessions and to the existing system of cash rebates for franking credits despite signs of a voter backlash, and an intensifying scare campaign.

Bowen will say Labor’s primary policy concerns are clear: getting wages moving, restoring penalty rates, improving job security, providing substantial investments in hospitals and schools, and “bigger, fairer tax cuts for 10 million working Australians who earn up to $125,000”.

He will say tax cuts will boost consumption, and tax relief for business will increase investment and help productivity, with these the priorities “not protecting loopholes and concessions which some say are sacrosanct, but are actually just matters of priority”.


Katharine Murphy Political editor

The GuardianTramp

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