Treasury memo misses the real impact of Labor’s negative gearing policy

From The Conversation.

Labor MPs might be rubbing their hands together with glee at a Treasury memo that shows the federal opposition’s negative gearing policy will have a “small” impact on the property market. But insights from behavioural public policy, as highlighted by the 2017 Economics Nobel laureate – Richard Thaler and his colleague Cass Sunstein, tell us that how people respond to this policy will be more about how the government frames it.

The Treasury memo showed the Labor policy of limiting negative gearing to existing homeowners will have a limited impact as the changes are unlikely to encourage investors to sell quickly. Also, owner-occupiers dominate the housing market and the costs of selling are high.

However, this assumes that people are forward-looking, well-informed, good with numbers and perfectly responsive to new information. Behavioural economics shows us that people do not always think so deeply and logically about their choices.

How any changes to negative gearing are sold to us – as a loss or gain, as a one-off or ongoing, in terms of short versus long term costs and benefits – will impact how Australians react.

Most of us aren’t whizzes with mathematics. As Nobel prize winner Herbert Simon has shown, in place of complex mathematical algorithms we use heuristics. These are simple rules of thumb that draw on our intuitions, experience and gut feel.

Heuristics and biases

One common example of a heuristic is the availability heuristic. This is when we make decisions based on easily available information such as recent events and highly emotive experiences. Our brains work better with narratives and stories than with facts and figures.

Nobel economics laureates George Akerlof and Robert Shiller have applied a similar insight to analyse people’s perceptions of housing market fluctuations. They noted that we hear lots of stories about how house prices are on an upward trend. Via the availability heuristic, we easily remember these emotionally engaging stories, much better than we can remember the dry facts about the history of house price instability and housing market crashes.

This leads us to overestimate the chances of continuing house price rises, and to underestimate the chances of a fall, driving unsustainable house price increases – as witnessed, for example, in the American sub-prime property markets before the global financial crisis.

While heuristics can help us to decide quickly, they sometimes lead us into systematic mistakes – “behavioural biases”. This does not mean that we’re all hopelessly irrational. But for negative gearing it matters how a potential change is framed, and how that fits into our heuristics and biases.

Most economists (including those at Treasury) assume that one dollar is a perfect substitute for any other dollar. Whether we save A$100 via a tax break, win A$100 from a scratch card or earn A$100 from working overtime, it makes no difference.

Contrary to this view, behavioural economics has shown that the way we treat money is different depending on the contexts in which we earn and spend it. We have different “mental accounts” for consumption, wealth, regular income and windfalls. We are more likely to splurge money we’ve won from a scratch card than money we’ve earnt doing overtime.

This is another reason why framing is important. How the government frames a negative gearing change will determine the mental account to which we assign it, and therefore how we respond.

If negative gearing changes are considered a one-off hit – the opposite of a scratch card windfall – then property owners won’t worry so much. On the other hand, if the change to negative gearing is seen as an ongoing drain on our incomes, then they will worry a lot.

Another factor that will come into play is loss aversion – people are much more likely to worry about losses than gains. Evidence from behavioural experiments shows that home-owners over-estimate the value of their properties. This makes them reluctant to sell at reduced prices in a falling market.

It also means that Australians will resist negative gearing changes if these are framed as a loss, creating political pressures for a policy u-turn. It is difficult to predict how people might respond, but behavioural economics shows that any ructions might be avoided if the negative gearing change is framed as a gain.

For instance, Treasury predicts that the additional revenue raised from restricting negative gearing could be up to A$3.9 billion. Therefore, the negative gearing changes could cover more than 80% of federal government expenditure on veterans and their families.

In the long and short term

Treasury’s modelling notes there might be downward pressure on house prices in the short term from changing negative gearing, but that this will be small overall.

But a range of models and experiments have shown that people are disproportionately focused on tangible, short-term outcomes. For example, most of us find it hard to persuade ourselves to go the gym: the short-term costs are inconvenience and discomfort and the benefits seem intangible and distant. This is called “present bias”.

Recent work in behavioural economics confirms that framing (alongside a range of other socio-psychological influences) has a strong impact on our choices. Framing will determine how we perceive the policy, which mental account we will use to process it and how the various heuristics and biases identified by economics and psychologists will play out.

In the debates around negative gearing policy changes, these behavioural insights have not been highlighted. So perhaps Treasury could have added some psychology, alongside the economics, in arguing that house price falls are likely to be limited.

Author: Research Professor at the Institute for Choice, University of South Australia

The Fall Out From The Negative Gearing Expose

The FOI release, which the ABC covered yesterday, highlighted “the Coalition’s phoney defence of negative gearing and capital gains tax discounts before the last election”.

A number of economists at the time disputed the claims that winding back those two tax write-offs would “take a sledgehammer” to property prices because “a third of demand” would disappear from the market.

But as the excellent Rob Burgess has highlighted in the New Daily today, there are two consequential questions which need answering:

The two questions that need answering, is why were Mr Turnbull and Mr Morrison making such obviously false claims, and why were those claims not torn apart by the Canberra press gallery?

The answer to the first question is straightforward. They were either responding to an ideological commitment from the right-wing of their own party room that tax is somehow optional for asset-rich Australians, or they were following the advice of party strategists who could not see them re-winning government if wealthier Australians did not hear them loudly condemning Labor’s plans.

Historians will not doubt tell us which of those it was in years to come.

The answer to the second question is more complicated.

Journalists were not brazenly siding with the banks who had profited so much from the negatively-geared property investment mania, and they were not simply playing partisan politics in favour of a Liberal-led government.

Rather, the get-rich-quick culture of the then 16-year-old property boom, and the gradually normalised claim that tax avoidance is somehow a basic human right, has infected Canberra policy makers and fourth-estate critics alike.

That’s why in 2016 it was so refreshing to hear NSW planning minister Rob Stokes lay out the moral case against these tax write-offs.

He said at the time: “We should not be content to live in a society where it’s easy for one person to reduce their taxable contribution to schools, hospitals and other critical government services – through generous federal tax exemptions and the ownership of multiple properties – while a generation of working Australians find it increasingly difficult to buy one property to call home.”

While he told the truth, his federal colleagues were telling lies.

They lied on behalf of the 10 per cent of Australians who profit from the tax write-offs, and against the interests of the other 90 per cent.

Perhaps now that the nation’s best-equipped economic modellers have highlighted the benefits of these reforms – around $6 billion a year returned to the budget bottom line – the news media will finally call these laws out for what they are.

They are grossly unfair. They have helped pump up the Australian housing bubble. And they have redistributed tens of billions of dollars from poorer to wealthier Australians.

As interest rates start to rise around the world, and the interest-payment write-offs of property investors start to bite even harder into the federal budget, these laws need urgent reform.

A news media that vigorously holds the defenders of these laws to account would be a good start.

Proposed Negative Gearing Changes Only Minor Impact

The ABC is reporting that a Treasury  FOI request has shown that Federal Labor’s negative gearing overhaul would likely have a “small” impact on home values, official documents reveal, contradicting Government claims the policy would “smash” Australia’s housing market.

The previously confidential advice to Treasurer Scott Morrison from his own department said the Opposition’s plan might cause “some downward pressure” and could have “a relatively modest downward impact” on prices.

 

 

Enhanced Financial Services Product Design Obligations Announced

The Treasury has released draft legislation for review  which focusses on the design and distribution obligations in relation to certain financial products. We think is is potentially a big deal, and will put more compliance pressure on Financial Services providers. It is a response to the FSI recommendations. Consultation is open until 9 February 2018. It includes investment products and well as credit products such as consumer leases, mortgages, and guarantees.

It sets out:

  • the new obligations;
  • the products in relation to which the obligations apply;
  • ASIC’s powers to enforce the obligations; and
  • the consequences of failing to comply with the obligations.

Here is a brief summary of the 57 page document.

The new design and distribution regime generally applies to a financial product if it requires disclosure in the form of a PDS. However, some financial products requiring a PDS are not subject to the new design and distribution regime: MySuper products and margin lending facilities. These products are currently subject to product-specific regulations that negate the need to apply the new regime.

The new design and distribution regime also applies to financial products that require disclosure to investors under Part 6D.2 of the Corporations Act. The section defines ‘securities’ for the purposes of Chapter 6D of the Corporations Act as meaning: a share in a body; a debenture of a body (except a simple corporate bond depository interest issued under a two-part simple corporate bonds prospectus); or a legal or equitable right or interest in such a share or debenture. Again, there are some exceptions.

The obligations require issuers of such products to:

  • determine what the appropriate target market for their product is
  • take reasonable steps to ensure that products are only marketed and distributed to people in the target market, and that appropriate records are kept to demonstrate this
  • and gives ASIC powers to “intervene” if a financial or credit product has resulted in or will, or is likely to, result in significant detriment to retail clients or consumers. There are two main limitations on the types of financial products that can be subject to the intervention power under the Corporations Act. First, the power generally only applies in an ‘issue situation’. Second, the power only applies where a product may be made available to ‘retail clients’.

Background

As part of the Government’s response to the Financial System Inquiry (FSI), Improving Australia’s Financial System 2015, the Government accepted the FSI’s recommendations to introduce:

  • design and distribution obligations for financial products to ensure that products are targeted at the right people (FSI recommendation 21); and
  • a temporary product intervention power for the Australian Securities and Investments Commission when there is a risk of significant consumer detriment (FSI recommendation 22).

This consultation seeks stakeholder views on the exposure draft of the Treasury Laws Amendment (Design and Distribution Obligations and Product Intervention Powers) Bill 2018 which implements these measures.

 

 

Seven charts on the 2017 budget update

From The Conversation.

Here’s how the budget is looking at the mid-year mark, in seven charts.


The A$5.8 billion drop in the 2017-18 underlying cash deficit compared with the original May budget is due more to higher revenue than lower spending. Receipts are higher by A$3.6 billion and payments are lower by A$2.1 billion.

The higher receipts reflect the stronger economy, which implies higher company tax (up A$3.2 billion) and superannuation fund taxes (up A$2.1 billion).

Receipts would have been even higher if not for stubbornly weak wages growth which, despite stronger employment growth, has tended to dampen individuals’ income tax receipts. These are in fact down by A$0.5 billion.

The estimates of GST and other taxes on goods and services remain unchanged since the budget.

The lower payments of A$2.1 billion are driven by several changes having opposite effects. Some of these are:

  • A$1.2 billion (over four years) lower welfare payments to new migrants due to longer waiting times;
  • A$1 billion (over four years) lower payments to family daycare services due to more stringent compliance checking; and
  • A$1.5 billion (over four years) lower disability support payments due to lower than expected recipient numbers.

There is not much change in the net debt projections relative to those in the 2017-18 budget. Net debt is A$11.2 billion lower at A$343.8 billion in 2017-18 (around 19% of GDP). Debt stabilises in 2018-19 and starts to steadily decline thereafter to about 8% of GDP in the next ten years.

The lower deficits as a share of GDP are obviously reducing debt, but one factor tending to increase debt is student higher education loans. These are projected to increase by 32% from A$44.4 billion to A$58.8 billion over just the next four years.


The economic outlook continues to be a puzzle. National output of goods and services, real GDP, is expected to grow slightly slower in 2017-18 than the budget forecast – 2.5% compared with 2.75%.

However this is an improvement on the 2% achieved in 2016-17. And it is expected to increase further to 3% in 2018-19.

The economy is being driven by strong global growth and strong domestic business investment. Australia’s major trading partners are forecast to grow (meaning real GDP growth) at a weighted average of 4.25% in each of the next three years.

Wages and household consumption are the puzzle – they are not growing as fast as expected from the stronger than expected employment growth (up 0.25% on the budget to 1.75%) and lower than expected unemployment rate (down 0.25% on the budget to 5.5%).

Household consumption growth is down 0.5% on the 2017-18 Budget forecast to 2.25%. This has in fact become a global phenomenon due to higher costs and job insecurity from the forces of globalisation and automation.


Commodity prices are notoriously volatile and hard to predict, yet they are critical to the budget forecasts because they impact the revenue of resource companies which feeds into company taxes and other taxes.

Iron ore prices are assumed to remain flat at US$55 per tonne over the forecast period, as in the budget. This forecast is almost certain to be wrong because iron ore prices never stay flat for long – the problem is that we can’t say in which direction it will be wrong.

The same applies to thermal coal prices which are assumed to be flat at US$85 per tonne which is again consistent with the budget forecast.


Australian taxpayers continue to bear most of the burden of budget repair. The government can claim with some justification that their efforts to reduce payments further have been thwarted by the Senate.

Excluding the effect of Senate decisions, new spending has been more than offset by reductions in other spending. The gap between the revenue and payment is reducing at the rate of about 0.6 percent per year.

As a share of GDP payments are expected to be 25.2% in 2017-18, falling to 24.9% of GDP by 2020-21 which is slightly above the 30-year historical average of 24.8% of GDP.


Wage growth has been revised down from an already low 2.5% in the budget to 2.25% in MYEFO. With the Consumer Price Index forecast to grow at 2%, wages are barely keeping pace with inflation – growing in real purchasing power by only 0.25%.

This provides a meagre compensation for labour productivity growth which is implied to be about 1% in MYEFO. Wage growth is expected to pick up by 0.5% next year to 2.75%.

This is important because it underpins government revenue growth, yet it’s brave to expect the deep forces that are keeping wages down in Australia and around the world to turn around and exactly match the 0.5% growth in real GDP expected to occur next year.


New measures since the budget have increased the deficit on both the revenue and expenditure sides of the budget. On the revenue side, for example, higher education changes reduced revenue by A$76 million and the GST by A$70 million.

On the expenses side, needs-based funding for schools has cost an additional A$118 million and improving access to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme costs A$330 million. The roll-out of the NDIS in Western Australia adds another cost at A$109 million, and Disability Care Australia at A$362 million.

Author: Ross Guest , Professor of Economics and National Senior Teaching Fellow, Griffith University

MYEFO – There’s a Consumer-Shaped Hole in Our Budget

On first blush, the revised federal budget has improved according to the MYEFO (Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook) released by the Treasurer  today.  But consumers are the weak link, and wage growth and consumption a problem – no wonder there is now talk of tax cuts for consumers! In addition, more savings are forecast, including an extension of the waiting period for newly arrived migrants to access welfare benefits and a freeze on higher education funding.

The budget is, they say, on track to return to balance in 2020-21, and overall debt as share of GDP is set to fall further. The latest projected surplus of $10.2 billion in 2020-21 is an improvement of $2.7 billion compared to May’s Budget estimate.

At the 2017-18 Budget, gross debt was projected to be $725 billion in 2027-28. Gross debt is now projected to reach around $684 billion by 2027-28 — a fall of around $40 billion. But absolute debt is still rising!

The improvement is driven by a rise in company profits, and company tax take. Commodity prices helped also, although they remain a key uncertainty to the outlook for the terms of trade and nominal GDP, especially in relation to the Chinese economy.

They say the fall off in mining investment is easing, while non-mining business investment is predicted to rise (a little), but we think overall business investment remains an issue.

Real GDP is forecast to grow by 2.5% in 2017-18, lower than at budget time (2.75%). Beyond that, real GDP is forecast to grow at 3% in 2018 19, per the original budget.

The 2017-18 forecast is lower driven by anemic outcomes for wage growth and domestic prices.  More than 360,000 jobs at a rate of 1,000 jobs a day having been created in 2017.  Yet, wages are now forecast to remain lower for longer, with index growth of 2.25% in June 2018, 0.25% lower than at budget time, and 2.75% to June 2019. They admit wages growth is lower than expected, but they still hope lifting economic momentum will lift wages, eventually – despite the very high levels of underemployment, and structural changes in working patterns. This lower forecast for wages is expected to weigh on personal income tax receipts and slow household consumption.

Finally, the assumed Treasury yields are set quite low, for modeling purposes.  Rising rates in the USA and elsewhere may lift rates faster.

 

 

Crowd-sourced equity funding regulations for proprietary companies

The Government has released exposure draft regulations providing further detail on the extension of the crowd-sourced funding (CSF) framework to proprietary companies. This is the next step in enabling proprietary companies to access equity crowdfunding, and follows the legislation introduced to the Parliament on 14 September 2017.

The draft regulations also make refinements to the existing CSF regime for public companies, to add flexibility to the structure and contents of CSF offer documents in addition to requiring disclosure relevant to the proprietary companies, and make other minor changes to clarify the operation of the existing rules.

In relation to proprietary companies, the draft regulations provide that the exemption from the takeover rules for CSF proprietary companies will be limited to companies that are still eligible to make a CSF offer, as it would be inappropriate for proprietary companies that out-grow the CSF framework to continue to be exempt from the takeover rules in perpetuity. The draft regulations also modify the unsolicited offer provisions in the Corporations Act, which apply to all companies, to make these more flexible for proprietary companies with CSF shareholders.

All interested parties are invited to lodge a submission by Friday 2 February 2018. More information on the existing CSEF regime for public companies is available on the Australian Securities & Investments Commission website.

Wages Growth, Under The Skin, Is Concerning

The Treasury published a 66-page report late on Friday – “Analysis of Wage Growth“.

It paints a gloomy story, wage growth is low, across all regions and sectors of the economy, subdued wage growth has been experienced by the majority of employees, regardless of income or occupation, and this mirrors similar developments in other developed western economies. Whilst the underlying causes are far from clear, it looks like a set of structural issues are driving this outcome, which means we probably cannot expect a return to “more normal” conditions anytime some. This despite Treasury forecasts of higher wage growth later (in line with many other countries).

We think this has profound implications for economic growth, tax take, household finances and even mortgage underwriting standards, which all need to be adjusted to this low income growth world.

Here are some of the salient points from the report:

On a variety of measures, wage growth is low. Regional mining areas have experienced faster wage growth, but wage growth has slowed in both mining and non-mining regions. Wage growth has been fairly similar across capital cities and regional areas, although the level of wages is higher in the capital cities.

The key driver of wage growth over the long-term is productivity and inflation expectations. This means that real wage growth – wage growth relative to the increase in prices in the economy – reflects labour productivity growth. However, fluctuations across the business cycle can result in real wage growth diverging from productivity growth. There are two ways of measuring real wages. One is from the producer perspective and the other is from the consumer perspective. Producers are concerned with how their labour costs compare to the price of their outputs.

Consumers are concerned with how their wages compare with the cost of goods and services they purchase.

Generally, consumer and producer prices would be expected to grow together in the long-term, so the real producer wage and real consumer wage would also grow together. Consumer and producer prices diverged during the mining investment boom due to strong rises in commodity export prices. The unwinding of the mining investment boom and spare capacity in the labour market are important cyclical factors that are currently weighing on wage growth.

It is unclear whether these cyclical factors can explain all of the weakness in wage growth. Many advanced economies are also experiencing subdued wage growth. In particular, labour productivity growth has slowed in many economies. However, weaker labour productivity growth seems unlikely to be a cause of the current period of slow wage growth in Australia. Over the past five years, labour productivity in Australia has grown at around its 30-year average annual growth rate.

Wage growth is weaker than the unemployment rate implies. There may be more spare capacity than implied by the employment rate. [Is The Phillips curve broken?]. Labour market flexibility is a possible explanation for the change in the relationship between wage growth and unemployment, and the rise in the underemployment rate. Employers may be increasingly able to reduce hours of work, rather than reducing the number of employees when faced with adverse conditions. This may be reflected in elevated underemployment.

It is difficult to draw firm conclusions on the effect of structural factors on wage growth, given they have been occurring over a long timeframe and global low-wage growth is a more recent phenomenon. Three key trends are the increasing rates of part-time employment, growth in employment in the services industries, and a gradual decline in the share of routine jobs, both manual and cognitive, and a corresponding rise in non-routine jobs.
Both cyclical and structural factors can affect growth in real producer wages and labour productivity, so such factors can also affect the labour share of income. Changes in the labour share of income occur as a result of relative growth in the real producer wage and labour productivity. Since the early 1990s, the labour share of income has remained fairly stable. Nonetheless, different factors have placed both upward and downward pressure on the labour share of income.

An examination of wage growth by employee characteristics using the Household Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey and administrative taxation data suggests that recent subdued wage growth has been experienced by the majority of employees, regardless of income or occupation. Workers with a university education had higher wage growth than those with no post-school education over the period 2005-2010, but have since experienced lower wage growth than individuals with no post-school education.

An examination of wage growth by business characteristics using the Business Longitudinal Analysis Data Environment (BLADE) suggests that higher-productivity businesses pay higher real wages and employees at these businesses have also experienced higher real wage growth. Larger businesses (measured by turnover) tend to be more productive, pay higher real wages and have higher real wage growth. Capital per worker appears to be a key in differences in labour productivity and hence real wages between businesses, with more productive businesses having higher capital per worker.

Wage growth is low across all methods of pay setting. In recent years, increases in award wages have generally been larger than the overall increase in the Wage Price Index. At the same time, award reliance has increased in some industries while the coverage of collective agreements has fallen. There are a range of reasons for the decline in bargaining including the reclassification of some professions, the technical nature of bargaining, natural maturation of the system and award modernisation which has made compliance with the award system easier than before.

Royal Commission, Draft Terms Of Reference

The draft terms of reference are out for the Royal Commission into the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry.

The scope has been carved out to avoid issues already being looked at elsewhere, such as the Productivity Commission looking at vertical integration, or ACCC on product pricing, and so is focussed on alleged misconduct.  The BEAR regime is also separately designed to deal with executive behaviour.  The bad behaviour is broadly defined across financial services (so we assume mortgage brokers, and financial advisors would be in scope).  And it is relative to community standards, so plenty of wriggle room there. Also, the scope is much narrow than that being hawked about on the back benches, one reason why both the Bank Leaders and Polys both fell in behind the current narrower scope.

The scope does not touch in broader policy or regulatory issues (such as macroprudential) but could conceivably cover lending standards and “liar loans”. One potential outcome could be to lift the lid on “not unsuitable” lending.  It does not consider the disruptive intrusion from digital or Fintech.

So we suspect the focus will be more on poor disclosure, bad contracts, and areas where the community has been most vocal – for example, poor financial advice, disputed insurance claims, and SME lending and foreclosure.

We will be interested to see the extent to which the mortgage industry is impacted.

From an industry perspective, it introduces a whole new set of risks for potential investors to consider, and so while the political uncertainty has been defused, the ongoing industry uncertainly may lead to a risk premium being required to placate investors, so leading to some upward pressure on product pricing.  But it is unlikely to lead to any fundamental structural reform.

Context

Australia has one of the strongest and most stable banking, superannuation and financial services industries in the world, performing a critical role in underpinning the Australian economy. Our banking system is systemically strong with internationally recognised, world’s best prudential regulation and oversight.

Most Australians are consumer sof banking, superannuation and other financial services. The superannuation system alone in Australia has created more than a $2 trillion retirement savings pool, which continues to grow rapidly, and which compels all working Australians to defer income today for their retirement.

All Australians have the right to be treated honestly and fairly in their dealings with banking, superannuation and financial services providers. The highest standards of conduct are critical to the good governance and corporate culture of those providers.

These standards should continue to be complemented by strong regulatory and supervisory frameworks that ensure that all Australian consumers and businesses have confidence and trust in the financial system.

The Government will appoint a distinguished serving or former judicial officer to lead a Royal Commission into the banking, superannuation and financial services industries.

The Commission’s inquiry will not defer, delay or limit, in any way, any proposed and announced policy, legislation or regulation of the Government.

Terms of Reference

1. The Commission must inquire into the following matters;
a) the nature, extent and effect of misconduct by a financial services entity (including by its directors, officers or employees, or by anyone acting on its behalf);
b) any conduct, practices, behaviour or business activity by a financial services entity that falls below community standards and expectations;
c) the use by a financial services entity of superannuation members’ retirement savings for any purpose that does not meet community standards and expectations or is otherwise not in the best interest of members;
d) whether any findings in respect of paragraphs 1(a), (b) and (c):
i. are attributable to the particular culture and governance practices of a financial services entity or broader cultural or governance practices in the industry or relevant subsector; and
ii. result from other practices, including risk management, recruitment and remuneration practices;
e) the effectiveness of mechanisms for redress for consumers of financial services who suffer detriment as a result of misconduct by a financial service entity;
f) the adequacy of:
i. existing laws and policies of the Commonwealth (taking into account law reforms announced by the Government) relating to the provision of financial services;

ii. the internal systems of financial services entities; and

iii. forms of industry self-regulation, including industry codes of conduct;
to identify, regulate and address misconduct in the industry, to meet community standards and expectations and to provide appropriate redress to consumers and businesses;
g) the effectiveness and ability of regulators of a financial services entity to identify and address misconduct by those entities;
h) whether any further changes to:
i. the legal framework;
ii. practices within financial services entities; and
ii. the financial regulators,
are necessary to minimise the likelihood of misconduct by financial services entities in future (taking into account any law reforms announced by the Government); and
i. any matter reasonably incidental to a matter mentioned in the above paragraphs, 1(a) – 1(h).

2. In conducting its inquiry the Commission should give priority to matters which in its opinion, have greater potential for harm if not addressed expeditiously.

3. Inquiring into the matters set out in paragraph (1)(f), the Commission:
a) must have regard to the implications of any changes to laws, that the Commission proposes to recommend, for the economy generally, for access to and the cost of financial services for consumers, for competition in the financial sector, and for financial system stability; and
b) may have regard to comparable international experience, practices and reforms.

4. However, the Commission is not required to inquire, or to continue to inquire, into a particular matter to the extent that to do so might prejudice, compromise or duplicate:
a) another inquiry or investigation; or
b) a criminal or civil proceeding.
And, the Commission may choose not to inquire into certain matters otherwise within the scope of this Inquiry, but any such decision will be the Commission’s, alone.

5. The Commission is not required to inquire into, and may not make recommendations in relation to macro-prudential policy, regulation or oversight.

6. The Commission may submit to the Government an interim report no later than September 2018 and must submit a final report within 12 months.

The final report is to contain:
a) its findings; and
b) any recommendations relevant to the inquiry that the Commission thinks fit.

Definitions

financial service entity means an entity (other than a Commonwealth entity or company) that is:
a) an ADI (authorised deposit-taking institution) within the meaning of the Banking Act 1959;
b) an entity that carries on the business of undertaking liability, by way of insurance (including reinsurance), in respect of any loss or damage, including liability to pay damages or compensation, contingent upon the happening of a specified event, including:
i. a general insurer within the meaning of the Insurance Act 1973; and
ii. an entity undertaking life insurance business within the meaning of the Life Insurance Act 1995.
c) a person or entity required by section 911A of the Corporations Act 2001 to hold an Australian financial services licence or who is exempt from the requirement to hold a licence by virtue of being an authorised representative; or
d) an RSE licensee of a registrable superannuation entity (as that term is defined in the Superannuation Industry (Supervision) Act 1993) and any entity that has any connection (other than an incidental connection) to the RSE licensee of a registrable superannuation entity.
Macro-prudential policy and regulation means policy and regulation, including as to the structure, role and purpose of financial regulators, that is concerned with containing systemic risk, which can have widespread implications for the financial system as a whole, beyond simply the banking system.
misconduct includes conduct that:
a) constitutes an offence against a Commonwealth, State or Territory law in relation to the provision of a financial service, as existed at the time of the alleged misconduct; or
b) is misleading and/or deceptive; or
c) indicates a breach of trust or duty or unconscionable conduct; or
d) breaches a professional standard or a recognised and widely adopted (conduct) benchmark.

Major Banks Call For “Proper” Banking Inquiry

The four banks have now sent a letter to the Treasurer asking for a properly constituted inquiry into the financial services sector to be established.

The letter is signed by the current CEO’s and Chairs: ANZ chairman David Gonski, ANZ CEO Shayne Elliot, CBA chairman Catherine Livingstone, CBA CEO Ian Narev, Andrew Thorburn, Westpac chairmen Lindsay Maxsted, and Westpac CEO Brian Hartzer.

We are writing to you as the leaders of Australia’s major banks. In light of the latest wave of speculation about a parliamentary commission of inquiry into the banking and finance sector, we believe it is now imperative for the Australian Government to act decisively to deliver certainty to Australia’s financial services sector, our customers and the community.

Our banks have consistently argued the view that further inquiries into the sector, including a Royal Commission, are unwarranted. They are costly and unnecessary distractions at a time when the finance sector faces significant challenges and disruption from technology and growing global macroeconomic uncertainty.

However, it is now in the national interest for the political uncertainty to end. It is hurting confidence in our financial services system, including in offshore markets, and has diminished trust and respect for our sector and people. It also risks undermining the critical perception that our banks are unquestionably strong.

As you know our banks have acknowledged that we have not always got it right, and have made mistakes. Together with the Government and regulators, since 2014 we have been taking action to fix issues, and improve what we do and how we do it. We have collectively appeared before, or taken part in 51 substantial reviews, investigations and inquiries since the global financial crisis, 12 of which are ongoing. We continue to demonstrate our commitment to doing the right thing by our customers and seeking to ensure those genuinely affected by these mistakes are appropriately compensated.

A strong, well-regulated and well-governed banking system is in the interests of all Australians and is critical to job creation and fairness. The strong credentials of the banking system ensured Australians were spared the worst of the Global Financial Crisis, and have been fundamental to the ongoing performance of our economy despite global and domestic political turmoil.

We now ask you and your government to act to ensure a properly constituted inquiry into the financial services sector is established to put an end to the uncertainty and restore trust, respect and confidence.

In our view, a properly constituted inquiry must have several significant characteristics. It should be led by an eminent and respected ex judicial officer. Its terms of reference should be thoughtfully drafted and free of political influence. Its scope should be sufficient to cover the community’s core concerns which include banking, insurance, superannuation and non-ADI finance providers. Further to avoid confusion and inconsistency, the inquiry must to the most practical extent replace other ongoing inquiries.

It is vital that the terms of any inquiry consider the many reviews and inquiries that have been conducted into the banking sector in recent years; the significant government and industry-led reforms that have been and will shortly be implemented; the 44 recommendations made in the Financial System Inquiry in 2014; and the broad and positive contribution that banks make to the Australian economy and to millions of customers and shareholders.

It is also important that any inquiry reports back in a timely manner so that we can have certainty about the findings and move forward to implement any recommendations.
We will work hard to ensure our contribution to any process helps to further strengthen Australia’s financial services system.
Throughout this, our focus will remain on our customers. We are proud of the work our people do every day to support them. That work continues.