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After three days labor still wants a royal commission and government looking at complaints tribunal




SOME $28 million-a-year worth of prime banking CEO moved through Parliament House this week and voters now have to decide whether they are better off for the visits.

The figure is roughly the combined annual base salaries before bumper bonuses usually linked to share price performance and profitability of the Big Four chief executives.

They faced 10 MPs total salaries about $2 million on the House economics standing committee.

Lots of questions were asked but the big one left hanging was: Will unhappy bank customers think their concerns have been answered?

This is the big one that will have to be addressed in the committees report to Parliament. Almost certainly it will not be a bipartisan report.

The hearings were the first of what Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said would be an annual engagement when he rejected Labors call for a royal commission into the finance sector.

Labor says the three days of hearings, which ended today, showed a bigger inquiry was needed, and that a couple of QCs with plenty of time and resources would be more effective than a small group of MPs.

The Government MPs have asked about the possibility of a banking industry tribunal, possibly as a further option short of a major inquiry.

The differing tactics and priorities of the six Coalition committee members and the three Labor MPs with the Greens Adam Band on paternity leave but listening in on the phone were stark.

Labor wanted to put on the committee record an extensive list of bad behaviour by banks, in the hope the accumulation of misdeeds would heighten demands for a bigger inquiry.

For example, the Commonwealth Bank team had to sit through a Labor re-run of a jarring episode when a CommInsure assessor declared a death a suicide with no payout when police and the coroner ruled it accidental.

This was followed by bank chief Ian Narev telling Labors Pat Conroy no one had lost their job for this or other unwanted practices.

The Government MPs focused on broader issues, including measures to boost competition among banks.

The LNPs Scott Buchholz told the first hearing most of his constituents wanted accountability on why credit card interest rates were so high up to 20 per cent on cash advances on the lowest-level cards when official rates were so low.

All banks make a motza on their credit card operations and often train tellers to push customers to sign up for them. It is doubtful many on the committee were happy with explanations.

Liberal MP Craig Kelly was persistent on the margin applied to small business loans.

He also raised the prospect of a banking tribunal to handle complaints which would be too expensive for small business operators to take to court.

isnt that because the legal system we have at the moment currently isnt working, that a consumer or a small business that has experienced wrong-doing by a bank simply cant go through the existing court process? he asked the NABs Andrew Thornburn.

The CEO replied his bank wanted to make it easier to deal with complaints, but argued there had been a 64 per cent fall in complaints going to the financial ombudsman.

Westpacs Brian Hartzer told the committee the bank was receiving three times more compliments than complaints.

All CEOs said they were improving ethical standards when they spent three hours before the committee, with varying responses to requests for further appearances or information.

The Commonwealth Banks Ian Narev declined to volunteer information on credit cards but the ANZs Shayne Elliott said it would be provided.

Committee deputy chair, Labors Matt Thistlethwaite told Sky News the executives hadnt been as open as he wanted, certainly not as open as (at) a royal commission.

There are a lot of questions that have been taken on notice; where they cant provide answers theyve claimed commercial-in-confidence, he said.

The exchanges were not always productive.

Today committee chairman and Liberal MP David Coleman interrupted the NABs Andrew Thornburn to say: Ive asked you three (times) and you havent answered the question.

One of those broader issues was why banks took so long to implement interest rate cuts but moved swiftly to increase them after official rate movements.

Whatever the banks say, one observer, economics professor Abbas Valadkhani of Swinburne University of Technology, writing in theconversation.com, has a view and its all about close to $9 million a day banks save and borrowers are denied. .

According to my analysis, the big four banks can make approximately $8.6 million per day as a group if they do not fully pass onto borrowers a hypothetical 0.25% cut in the RBAs cash rate, he wrote.

More specifically, if ANZ, CBA, NAB and Westpac manage to postpone lowering their mortgage interest rates say by 10 days, they can potentially make an extra $16, $28, $16 and $26 million dollars in profits, respectively.

These hearings wont change much unless there are follow-up engagements or at least additional information provided by the banks.

The committees strength will be tested on this. It will have to get some concessions from the CEOs or have little defence against the wet lettuce jibe.

Australia has spent 28bn more on transport projects than originally estimated new reports reveals




IT’S 95km long, was opened in 2009 and has the dubious title of being the Australian road which bust its budget by the most.

A new report from the Grattan Institute has said Australia has spent $28bn more than originally budgeted on transport infrastructure over the last 15 years.

And the blame has been laid at the feet of over promising politicians eager for re-election.

An analysis of more than 800 projects valued at $20 million or more and planned or built since 2001 found they cost 26 per cent more to build originally accounted for.

Top of the list of budget blowouts, according to the analysis, was Western Australias Forrest Highway.

Both the Forrest Highway between Perth and Bunbury and New South Wales Hunter Expressway cost over five times the amounts politicians initially promised they would cost, said Grattan Institute Transport Program Director Marion Terrell.

Premature announcements when a politician promises to build a road, bridge or rail line without a funding commitment, often in the run up to an election are the biggest culprits.

The Forrest Highway, which connects up the end of the Kwinana Freeway in the state capitals southern suburbs to Bunbury was over budget before it was even started.

Between the projects announcement in 2004 and 2006 costs has already escalated by $160 million and the Government chipped in several hundred million more to make sure the road was completed, reported the Sunday Times.

According to the Grattan Institute the road was first announced during the 2001 state election campaign at a cost of $136 million but by the time it opened the price tag had soared to $700m. Part of the rise in coast was due to a later extension to the road, but even that didnt account for the whole blowout.

When the highway did open, it was lacking any petrol stations leading to many cars running out of fuel on the journey south.

The 40 kilometre Hunter Expressway, in NSW which links the M1 Pacific Motorway to Maitland, also cost far more than originally announced busting its budget by 350 per cent, the analysis found.

With a budget of $335m in 2002, it eventually racked up a bill of $1.7bn by the time it opened in 2014.

NSWs Alstonville bypass came in at 162 per cent over budget and Queenslands Ipswich Motorway at 196 per cent more than expected.

The Institute said one-third of transport infrastructure projects announced early by politicians accounted for 74 per cent of the value of the $28bn overruns over the past 15 years.

Costs were rarely analysed from the first funding promise, the report said, but the public often treated that first figure as a cast-iron commitment.

Often the projects hadnt been rigorously evaluated, had already found to be not worth building or the benefits were over estimated.

For instance, Brisbanes Clem7 tunnel had been predicted to carry 100,000 cars a day but two years after its opening it was only averaging one-fifth of that.

Transport infrastructure has great potential to ease traffic congestion and lift productivity, but unless we can curb politicians premature promises, it will remain the bluntest of economic instruments, said Ms Terrill.

The report said the contingency for unexpected budget overruns at a range of projects currently in train including the Canberra Light Rail, Queenslands M1 Pacific Motorway and the Melbourne Metro rail project were far smaller than needed.

Last week, it was suggested western Sydneys Parramatta Light Rail project would come in at $3.5bn, $2bn more than the original estimate, reported Fairfax Media.

This project has now been thrown into doubt following the NSW Governments eagerness for the new Western Metro rail line which could follow much of the same route.

On Monday, questions were also raised about the cost of a new express bus service to Sydneys under served Northern Beaches, the budget of which is reported to have jumped from just over $200m to $600m.

Which is about the cost of a freeway in Western Australia.