States want the GST guarantee set in legislative stone


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The government hoped to have the pressure on Labor over planned legislation for a new GST carve up but instead it has found itself on the back foot.

At a meeting of state and territory treasurers on Wednesday, there was a general demand across the political spectrum for the legislation to include a guarantee that no jurisdiction will be worse off.

NSW Liberal Treasurer Dominic Perrottet said after the meeting that “all states and territories put forward the strong view” the bill must include this.

“Unfortunately the Commonwealth indicated it would proceed with legislation without that guarantee,” he said.

He said that under the federal government proposal “there are a number of scenarios where NSW would lose substantial funding.

“That is not an acceptable outcome,” Perrottet said.

“In the weeks ahead I will be making every effort to ensure any Commonwealth legislation includes the guarantee the Prime Minister and the Treasurer have previously given – that our state will not be worse off.”

Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the legislation would be introduced in the next parliamentary sitting week. He reaffirmed that, “based on the Productivity Commission’s data”, the deal “will make every state and territory better off. This will guarantee an extra $9 billion in funding over the next 10 years”.

Frydenberg said the government was not including the guarantee in the legislation because “we don’t want to run two sets of books … the old system and the new system.”

If the government does not give way beforehand, the issue of the guarantee will likely become one for the Senate.

The new distribution for GST revenue is driven by the need to give Western Australia a fairer share. To win the support of the other jurisdictions the government announced the $9 billion in extra funding, to make for winners all round. But the states are concerned that if the guarantee is not in the legislation, unforeseen circumstances could arise that might disadvantage them.

Anxious to bed down the new GST arrangement without the need to get agreement from all jurisdictions, the government resorted to the unusual course of legislation – only to then run into Wednesday’s problems.

Victorian Labor Treasurer, Tim Pallas said the lobbying would continue to have the guarantee “enshrined in legislation”.

Queensland Labor Treasurer, Jackie Trad said that without the legal guarantee there was a “real risk” some jurisdictions could be worse off in certain circumstances. “We cannot prepare or forecast or model every single scenario.”

The South Australian and Tasmanian Liberal treasurers also declared they wanted legislated protection.

Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen said: “It’s a particularly special day when Josh Frydenberg offers an additional $9 billion in GST top up payments and still manages to get every state and territory Treasurer united against him.”

Bowen said Morrison promised when treasurer that no state would be worse off under the changes. “But he’s been called out this week for the government’s legislation failing to match this guarantee”.

Labor’s position is that it supports legislating the new distribution but wants the guarantee included. Morrison has been challenging Bill Shorten to back the legislation.

While there was a fight over the GST distribution legislation, there was unity over removing the GST on tampons from the start of 2019, ending a battle that began when the tax was introduced.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Hayne holds fire, but the banks’ day of reckoning is coming



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Putting people rather than profits at the centre of banking culture is possible, but difficult.
Shutterstock

Andrew Linden, RMIT University and Warren Staples, RMIT University

The evidence presented in the first four rounds of the Royal Commission into Banking and Financial Services was harrowing.

It would be a mistake to think the appalling misbehaviour uncovered so easily by the Commission was unconnected, just a few bad apples, as the banks and their supporters had been claiming.

It’s a mistake Commissioner Hayne doesn’t make in his interim report, describing the misconduct as systemic, orchestrated as a matter of corporate policy, and against the law.




Read more:
Banking Royal Commission’s damning report: ‘Things are so bad that new laws might not help’


So shocked is he about what he concludes is law-breaking sanctioned at the highest levels that he asks rhetorically whether there would be any point in new laws, given the old ones were often ignored by banks and are not enforced by regulators.

The law already requires entities to “do all things necessary to ensure” that the services they are licensed to provide are provided “efficiently, honestly and fairly”. Much more often than not, the conduct now condemned was contrary to law. Passing some new law to say, again, “Do not do that”, would add an extra layer of legal complexity to an already complex regulatory regime. What would that gain?

He makes no recommendations in his three-volume 1000 page interim report, instead drawing together a long list of questions he intends to answer in his final report, due in February.

Before then, the bank chief executives appearing in the Comission’s final round of hearings will be asked some very tough questions.

No more convivial chats

It won’t be like the convivial chats the bank executives are used to with the heads of regulators, eager to please their ministers in love with financial innovation and the concept of Australia becoming a global financial centre, a new City of London in the East.

Nor will it be like the “I’m sorry, I’ll take that on notice” parliamentary hearings the government arranged a year or two ago in an effort to fend off the Commission.

We’ve always had the evidence

For decades few have thought to ask why Australia’s big banks have been consistently among the world’s most profitable.

Certainly not shareholders who loved the returns and wanted more.

Too many middle and higher level employees were happy to take the bonuses.

Now a new treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, who wasn’t centrally involved in fending off the Royal Commission, appears to have got the message.

Whatever the criticisms are of the regulator, we should remember actually who perpetrated the wrong conduct. And that was the financial institutions themselves. So they are ultimately, and the individuals involved, ultimately the ones who must be held accountable and responsible for their actions. The regulators need to enforce the laws they have at their disposal, impose the penalties that are available to them, and in doing so we are more likely to see a culture of compliance than what we have seen.

Commissioner Hayne has framed the fundamental problem as one of greed overriding respect for the law and respect for customers.

We allowed greed to become good

Hayne asks how that could change.

We have argued with reference to AMP and IOOF that while greed might be an ever present part of the human condition, it can be suppressed or contained.

Greed-induced systemic financial crises were common before the 1940s and after the 1970s, but not during the war or in the decades immediately after the war.




Read more:
Britain’s broken corporate governance regime


The 1980s saw a sea change in attitudes to greed, brought about by financial deregulation and the popularising of the view taught in economics classes that pursuit of individual self interest was in society’s best interest.

Rules, codes and views about what constituted good governance came to be based on a theory that gave a central role to greed, maximising shareholder returns and incentivising managers.

Boards were encouraged to think that putting shareholders first was more important than following directors duties and the law.

Bureaucratically, there was an unrelenting policy preference for self-governance, light touch regulation and cooperation with wrongdoers rather than enforcement.

It’s hard to change

Relying on good character (individual virtue) isn’t enough when corporate structures and policies facilitate systematic misconduct.

It’s impossible to buy organisational culture off the shelf. It is a product of many things.

Changing culture requires more than better professional credentialing, increased financial literacy and embedding regulators inside banks. By themselves, these measures are unlikely to be systemically effective.




Read more:
Trust has to be as important as profit if banks and their boards are to regain their corporate legitimacy


We need to change the rules by which boards operate.

Containing greed requires many, many eyeballs, not just those of shareholders and consumers, but also employees, unions, customer advocacy organisations, regulators and the parliament, as well as clear and well-designed rules, active enforcement, appropriate rewards and strong consequences, and a new shared ethos of prudence, responsibility, honesty, service and fairness.

It is possible, but difficult.The Conversation

Andrew Linden, Sessional Lecturer, PhD (Management) Candidate, School of Management, RMIT University and Warren Staples, Senior Lecturer in Management, RMIT University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Three simple steps to fix our banks



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It isn’t brain surgery.
Shutterstock

Elise Bant, University of Melbourne

Here are three simple steps to address the widespread misconduct revealed in the interim report of the banking royal commission, arising out of research I have undertaken with my colleague Associate Professor Jeannie Paterson.

While not exhaustive, they are good places to start:

Step 1: back to basics

Commissioner Hayne is spot on when he says that simply adding more regulation is not going to do the job.

In fact, more regulation can be more damaging than helpful.

There are literally dozens of overlapping state and federal statutes that prohibit misleading or deceptive conduct, and they often use subtly but significantly different language and impose different penalties.

This “legislative porridge” splits the regulation of financial services and products in ways that defy rational justification.




Read more:
Banking Royal Commission’s damning report: ‘Things are so bad that new laws might not help’


The result is protracted and cripplingly expensive litigation to determine who is covered by what prohibition.

This plays perfectly into the hands of well-funded corporations who know that delaying tactics and the limited resources of regulators and commercial and consumer are likely to produce soft settlements, “agreed penalties” and no real pressure to change behaviour – all while profits continue to flow in.

So we need to get back to basics. Simple, overarching prohibitions contained in one or two pieces of key legislation, which apply to every trader and corporation who engages in trade or commerce. No exceptions. No carve outs. No special treatment. The same penalties and remedies. Simple, powerful and unavoidable.

Step 2: calling out deceptive conduct

For many years, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission has concentrated its relatively meagre litigation efforts on proving “misleading” conduct by corporations. This is probably because it is notoriously difficult to prove the personal dishonesty traditionally required to prove fraud (the “deceptive” part of the prohibition on “misleading or deceptive” conduct).

Part of the problem has been that corporations are artificial persons and so need to operate through directors, managers, employees and agents.




Read more:
Fees for no service: how ASIC is trying to make corporate misconduct hurt


Nailing down instances of individual personal dishonesty, intention and responsibility is often impossible.

Misleading conduct, by contract, is relatively easy to prove, because it focuses on the objective meaning of conduct, does not require proof of fault – and does not require ASIC to identify the personal intentions of individuals behind the conduct.

But, focusing on misleading conduct comes at the cost to effective regulation.

The reputational damage flowing from a finding of misleading conduct is very low.

As Commissioner Hayne has noted, corporations are quick to characterise this sort of conduct as involving “mistakes”, to apologise and to promise reform.




Read more:
Hayne holds fire, but the banks’ day of reckoning is coming


It is time to face the reality that what matters is the behaviour of corporations rather than what is in their (artificial) minds.

It isn’t brain surgery.

As the commissioner himself as noted, you don’t need legal advice to know that “charging for doing what you do not do is dishonest”. Much of the reported conduct “ignores basic standards of honesty”.

A change in focus from personal intention to objective standards of honest conduct is needed to address what the commissioner identifies as “the root causes of conduct, which often lie within the systems, processes and culture cultivated by an entity”.

Step 3: genuine punishment

The final piece of the puzzle (missing from the otherwise incisive discussion in the interim report) is to bring courts on board.

Australian courts have been very cautious in awarding penalties for misleading conduct, and give substantial weight to mitigating factors such as expressions of remorse and cooperation with regulators.

They have said repeatedly that the focus of penalties should be on deterrence rather than punishment.




Read more:
How courts and costs are undermining ASIC and the ACCC’s efforts to police misbehaving banks and businesses


Their approach may be entirely appropriate in cases where courts are dealing with human defendants facing personal ruin. But when applied to corporations, it can undermine the legitimate role of punishment in changing repeated and longstanding corporate misbehaviour.

Again, there are some simple changes to the law that could address this problem.

One is to clarify that punishment is an important aim of the civil penalties regime, required for “public denunciation” of bad behaviour and to provide effective deterrence.




Read more:
The problem with Australia’s banks is one of too much law and too little enforcement


Another is for courts to frame penalties with a strong eye to the profits amassed as a result of the breach. Often the profit earned will be larger than the damage to consumers. Misconduct cannot be allowed to make good financial sense.

Yet another (also not yet on the commission’s radar) is to seriously consider expanding private rights of redress to include additional, punitive damages in cases of serious misconduct.

Not only would this make private claims more feasible for commercial victims. The recent launch of group proceedings by Slater & Gordon shows that, when brought together, private litigants are capable of sharing the regulatory burden of keeping banks on the straight and narrow: it needn’t all be done by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission.

There are important issues to consider about the strengths and dangers of group litigation, currently the subject of review by the Australian Law Reform Commission.

But if it can be done properly, the deep pockets of banks might well meet their match in well organised teams of lawyers and litigation funders, aggressively seeking justice both in the interests of their clients and for their own financial reward.The Conversation

Elise Bant, Professor of Law, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The problem with Australia’s banks is one of too much law and too little enforcement



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bank cards.

Deborah Ralston, Monash University

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg moved very quickly to deliver the interim report of the Royal Commission into Financial Services to the public. It was submitted to the Governor General, tabled in parliament (out of session), and made public on the same afternoon – Friday September 28.

The three-volume report is limited to findings from the first four rounds of hearings, on consumer credit, financial services, lending to small- and medium-sized enterprises, and experiences with regional and remote communities.



So far the commission has received almost 10,000 submissions, mainly related to banking (67%), superannuation (12%), and financial advice (9%). Most address issues relating to personal finance, superannuation, or small business finance.

In receiving the interim report, Frydenberg reiterated its key message that financial institutions have put “profits before people”.

It’s about the money

According to the report, poor culture and conduct in banks have been driven by their remuneration policies, with almost every instance of misconduct being directly linked to monetary benefit.




Read more:
Banking Royal Commission’s damning report: ‘Things are so bad that new laws might not help’


The interim report is also highly critical of the regulators, painting a disconcerting picture of their determination to detect and monitor misbehaviour and enforce compliance with the law.

The Australian Securities and Investments Commission comes in for particular scrutiny, with Commissioner Kenneth Hayne noting that where the law had been broken, “little happened beyond an apology from the entity, drawn-out remediation, and an infringement notice or an enforceable undertaking that acknowledged no more than ASIC had reasonable concerns about the entity’s conduct”.

The penalties imposed were often immaterial, given the size of the institutions involved.

The letter of the law can smother its spirit

It’s hard to know how to regulate. On occasions, as with the Future of Financial Advice legislation, the spirit of the law has been lost in complexity about prescribed behaviour, and of course so-called “grandfathering provisions” which ensure commissions that began in the past can continue even though they would no longer be legal.

The interim report asks whether, rather than more legislation, the answer lies in less: in simplifying the laws to better reflect their intentions.




Read more:
Royal Commission shows banks have behaved appallingly, but we’ve helped them do it


It is something Labor had in the original version of the financial advice legalisation – an overarching obligation on advisers to act in their client’s “best interests”, an obligation the Coalition tried to remove on attaining office, arguing that specific provisions would do the job just as well.

On releasing the interim report, Frydenberg was asked where our regulators had been ineffective because they had been captured by industry or had inadequate resources.

Frydenberg replied that culture was indeed substandard, but that giving the regulators more resources would be seriously examined.

The government has already given ASIC and APRA more.

In August, ASIC received A$70 million in additional funding to strengthen supervision and give it the capability to embed its staff members inside major banks.

Earlier this year the government appointed a second ASIC deputy chairman, Daniel Crennan QC, to bolster its enforcement credentials.

The new chairman James Shipton appears to be reshaping the ASIC culture.

But that’s only the beginning of the changes we are likely to see.

It’s our turn now

Public submissions in response to the interim report are now open and are due by Friday October 26, 2018.

Two more rounds of hearings are yet to be held, with the final report due by February 1, 2019.The Conversation

Deborah Ralston, Professor of Finance, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Royal Commission shows banks have behaved appallingly, but we’ve helped them do it


Andrew Grant, University of Sydney

The term deposit has matured. Initial scepticism over the timing, scope, and overall need for a royal commission into financial services has transformed into deep concern about the culture and practices in one of our most important industries.

Malcolm Turnbull, the (perhaps not coincidentally) ex-prime minister, admitted it had been a “political mistake” to delay the royal commission by nearly two years.

None of the major banks have escaped the Commission’s ire.

Perhaps that’s because none of them have had an incentive to behave better. There’s been little financial reward for being the bank to improve.




Read more:
Banking Royal Commission’s damning report: ‘Things are so bad that new laws might not help’


Australian banks generate the second-highest returns on equity in the world, and so far none has been keen to let those returns go.

In his interim report, Royal Commissioner Kenneth Hayne pilloried them for their greed, putting profits before customers. He hinted that submissions he has not yet fully examined may uncover even more misconduct.

Conflicts in providing credit

Are loan providers offering customers what’s best for them, or what’s best for the bank?

A disproportionate share of loan products recommended by mortgage brokers working for firms affiliated with banks are produced by other firms affiliated with those banks.




Read more:
Vital Signs: for all its worth, the banking royal commission could hurt a generation of battlers


Mortgage brokers currently help originate more than half of all new loans. They operate under an opaque commission structure with rewards that are unlikely to align with the customer’s best interests.

A change to up-front, transparent commissions should be mandated, and enforced by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission.

Irresponsible Lending

ASIC guidelines merely require banks to offer customers products that are “not unsuitable” for their needs.

The guidelines allow banks to do things such as using rough guides for household expenditure rather than individually examining the circumstances of each borrower.

Some have argued that this is a better practice than making inquiries of borrowers, who are likely to exaggerate their ability to repay loans. But it runs the risk of constituting a dangerous form of financial advice.




Read more:
How ‘liar loans’ undermine sound lending practices


If a loan is recommended to a customer, they might infer from that the bank has deemed it as being appropriate for their needs, rather than merely “not unsuitable”.

In several instances detailed to the commission, customers borrowed as much as they have been to allowed by banks, only to later blame the banks for not protecting them from themselves.

Banks also argue that there is a trade-off between obtaining accurate documentation and processing loans quickly.

Reformed?

Inadequate internal processes have led to customers being offered products that they can’t use, such as financial advice for dead people, or insurance that’s impossible to claim against.

These failings have been rightly condemned by the commissioner, even if they might not have affected a significant portion of the banks’ clients.

Ahead of the report, the banks have been trying to pre-empt its findings by arguing that their primary focus has moved from “sales” to “service”.

They say their internal processes have already improved, and bad apples weeded from the staff.

It’s our fault, too

Commissioner Haynes said that one obstacle to greater consumer power is an alarming lack of financial literacy among consumers, which has also been unearthed by the commission.

Banks exploit our loyalty, our inertia, and our inability to negotiate.

They also help exacerbate these things, by offering too many products that are too hard for the average person to compare.




Read more:
Financial literacy is a public policy problem


If we educated ourselves, many of the problems identified by the Royal Commission would disappear.

Making public the actual interest rates paid on our loans, the fees paid to advisers and brokers, and consumer credit scores would help as well.

But it will only help us if we are willing to help ourselves.

The community rightly expects a lot from banks, but a second thread running through the Royal Commission’s interim report is that but we need to expect more from ourselves as well.The Conversation

Andrew Grant, Senior Lecturer, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Privatising WestConnex is the biggest waste of public funds for corporate gain in Australian history



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Gladys Berejiklian’s government will pay for much of WestConnex construction, give away other toll roads, guarantee annual toll increases and force motorists to use the toll road.
AAP Image/Joel Carrett

Christopher Standen, University of Sydney

The NSW government has confirmed it will sell 51% of WestConnex — the nation’s biggest road infrastructure project — to a consortium led by Transurban, the nation’s biggest toll road corporation.

NSW treasurer Dominic Perrottet described the A$9.3 billion sale to one of his party’s more generous donors as a “very strong result”.

I would describe it differently: the biggest misuse of public funds for corporate gain in Australia’s history.

Let’s examine how much public funding has been or will be sunk into WestConnex, a 33km toll road linking western Sydney with southwestern Sydney via the inner west.

Privatising Westconnex will return the NSW government 30 cents for every dollar of public money spent.
WestConnex Business Case Executive Summary

To date, the NSW and federal governments have provided grants of about $6 billion. Much of this was raised through selling revenue-generating public assets, including NSW’s electricity network.

Hiding privatisation by stealth

As well, the NSW government is bundling three publicly owned motorways into the sale: the M4 (between Parramatta and Homebush), the M5 East and the M5 Southwest (from 2026). Together, Credit Suisse values these public assets at A$9.2 billion. The government is privatising them by stealth. Leaked NSW cabinet documents suggest the Sydney Harbour Bridge will be next.

Then there is the A$1.5 billion bill for property acquisitions and the millions spent on planning, advertising, consultants, lawyers and bankers.

The government is funding extra road works to help prop up WestConnex toll revenue. It will increase the capacity of road corridors feeding into the interchanges. But it will reduce the number of traffic lanes on roads competing with WestConnex, such as Parramatta Road.




Read more:
Modelling for major road projects is at odds with driver behaviour


It will also pick up the bill for building a A$2.6 billion airport connection and the complex underground interchange at Rozelle. It will even pay compensation if the latter is not completed on schedule.

To further bolster toll revenue, NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian introduced a vehicle registration cashback scheme for toll-road users.

Her government has also committed to continuing the M5 Southwest toll cashback scheme. The cost of these incentives to the public purse is likely to exceed A$2 billion every ten years.

In total, I estimate the NSW government is pumping more than A$23 billion worth of cash, public assets, enabling works and incentives into WestConnex — though efforts to shield the scheme from public scrutiny mean the figure could be much higher.

Finally, as part of the deal with Transurban, the government has agreed to plough A$5.3 billion of the sale proceeds back into WestConnex. It’s recouping just A$4 billion by selling majority ownership.

This translates to a financial return of 34 cents for every dollar spent.

Government expenses and receipts.

Of course, governments don’t always spend our money with the intention of making a profit. Usually there are broader social benefits that justify the expenditure. However, past experience shows inner-city motorways do more harm than good — which is why many cities around the world are demolishing them.

Given its proximity to residential areas, WestConnex will have serious impacts on Sydney’s population. Construction is already destroying communities, harming people’s health and disrupting sleep and travel — with years more to come.

Motorists who cannot afford the new tolls on the M4 ($2,300 a year) and M5 East ($3,100 a year) will have to switch to congested suburban roads. This will mean longer journey times — especially with the removal of traffic lanes on Parramatta Road.

New tolls on existing motorways.

Those who do opt to pay the new tolls may enjoy faster journeys for a few years — until the motorways fill up again.

Costs outweigh the benefits

But this benefit will be largely cancelled out by the tolls they have to pay — with low-income households in western Sydney bearing much of the pain. As such, the ultimate beneficiary will be a corporation that pays no company tax and employs very few people.

Traffic and congestion on roads around the interchanges will increase significantly. Moreover, with tolls for trucks three times those for cars, we can expect to see them switching to suburban and residential streets — especially between peak hours and at night.

The extra traffic created by WestConnex will lead to more road trauma, traffic noise and air pollution across the Sydney metropolitan area. With unfiltered smokestacks being built next to homes and schools, more people may be at risk of heart disease, lung disease and cancer in years to come.




Read more:
Big road projects don’t really save time or boost productivity


On any measure, the WestConnex sale is not in the public interest. The billions of dollars ploughed into the scheme would have been better spent on worthwhile infrastructure or services that improve people’s lives.

Is the WestConnex acquisition a good deal for Transurban? A$9.3 billion may sound like a high price, given the past financial collapses of other Australian toll roads.

However, with the Berejiklian government agreeing to fund most of the remaining construction, giving away the M4 and M5, guaranteeing annual toll increases of at least 4%, and bending over backwards to force motorists under the toll gantries, it can only be described as a “very strong result” for the consortium, though not for taxpayers.The Conversation

Christopher Standen, Transport Analyst, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Banking Royal Commission’s damning report: ‘Things are so bad that new laws might not help’


Peter Martin, The Conversation

Royal Commissioner Kenneth Hayne has identified “greed” as the key reason banks and other financial institutions repeatedly broke the law, along with an inability to manage, and repeated decisions by the Securities and Investments Commission and the Prudential Regulation Authority not to properly punish them.




Read more:
Three billion per year. How the financial system rips us off


The three-volume interim report of the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry, released today, concludes that Australia’s banks have built every part of their operations around selling, to maximise profits, at the expense of serving their customers’ needs.

The report says:

Selling became their focus of attention. Too often it became their sole focus of attention. Products and services multiplied. Banks searched for their “share of the customer’s wallet”. From the executive suite to the front line, staff were measured and rewarded by reference to profits and sales… How else is charging continuing advice fees to the dead to be explained?

The report reaches damning conclusions about the management systems in place at the Commonwealth Bank and the National Australia Bank, saying they were the only two organisations unable to furnish a proper list when asked about the misconduct they had been aware of over the previous five years:

Taken together, the course of events and the explanations proffered can lead only to the conclusion that neither CBA nor NAB could readily identify how, or to what extent, the entity as a whole was failing to comply with the law.

If that is right, neither the senior management nor the board of the entity could be given any single coherent picture of the nature or extent of failures of compliance; they could be given only a disjointed series of bits of information framed by reference to particular events.

It says when misconduct was revealed, it either went unpunished or hurt the perpetrators little:

The corporate regulator ASIC rarely went to court to seek public denunciation of what had been done. The prudential regulator, APRA, never went to court.

Much more often than not, when misconduct was revealed, little happened beyond apology from the entity, a drawn out remediation program and protracted negotiation with ASIC of a media release, an infringement notice, or an enforceable undertaking that acknowledged no more than that ASIC had reasonable “concerns” about the entity’s conduct.

Infringement notices imposed penalties that were immaterial for the large banks. Enforceable undertakings might require a “community benefit payment”, but the amount was far less than the penalty that ASIC could have properly asked a court to impose.

Commissioner Hayne says in the report that it may be pointless to introduce new laws designed to achieve what the existing laws did not:

The law already requires entities to “do all things necessary to ensure” that the services they are licensed to provide re provided “efficiently, honestly and fairly”. Much more often than not, the conduct now condemned was contrary to law… Passing some new law to say, again, “Do not do that” would add an extra layer of legal complexity to an already complex regulatory regime. What would that gain?

What is needed is better enforcement in order to ensure that banks and other financial institutions apply basic standards of fairness and honesty “by obeying the law, not misleading or deceiving, acting fairly, providing services that are fit for purpose, delivering services with reasonable care and skill, and, when acting for another, acting in the best interests of that other?”




Read more:
Vital Signs: for all its worth, the banking royal commission could hurt a generation of battlers


Commissioner Hayne says the basic ideas are very simple.

That means there is a case for the laws being made even simpler rather than more complex to reflect the ideas better.

Receiving the report, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said if the regulators
enforced the laws but they had at their disposal and imposed the
penalties they had available, banks were more likely to comply with the law.

But he said whatever the criticisms of the regulator, it was important to remember who perpetrated the misconduct.

“That was the financial institutions themselves,” he said. “They are
ultimately, and the individuals involved, ultimately the ones who must
be held accountable and responsible for their actions.”




Read more:
There is nothing sacrosanct about corporate culture; we can and must regulate it


The chief executive of the Australian Bankers Association, Anna Bligh, described the report’s findings as “shocking”.

“Our banks have failed in many ways – failed customers, failed to obey
the law and failed to meet community standards. And all of these
failures are totally unacceptable,” she said.

“Too many customers have been hurt and it has to stop.”

“Australians have every right to expect the world’s best
banks. It is clear today that as an industry we have failed to deliver
that.




Read more:
Embedding regulators in banks can help change cultures of wrongdoing, despite the risks


“Make no mistake, today is a day of shame for Australia’s banks.”

“Having lost the trust of the Australian people, we must now do whatever it takes
to earn that trust back. To move from a selling culture
to a service culture, there is much more work to be done in every
bank. But every bank is determined to find the problems, to fix them
and to pay back every penny.”

The interim report released on Friday examined only the behaviour of the banking, financial advice and wealth management industries. An entire volume details case studies of misconduct.

The Commission’s final report, which will also cover the superannuation and insurance industries, is due on February 1.The Conversation

Peter Martin, Editor, Business and Economy, The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Battle won. Our budget woes are behind us


Warren Hogan, University of Technology Sydney

The government’s final budget outcome for 2017-18 is a deficit of A$10.1 billion. That’s an extraordinary A$8.1 lower than the May estimate just months ago, and more than A$19 billion lower than when the 2017-18 budget was originally put together the previous May.

The deficit, a mere 0.6% of gross domestic product, is the smallest in the run of ten that began in the global financial crisis of 2008-09.

The result tells us something important about the Australian economy ten years on from the crisis.




Read more:
Budget deficit comes in at $10.1 billion, in boost for early
return to surplus



First, it’s performing better than expected.

Not only is it growing faster than most forecasters expected, it has been producing more jobs and less inflation than such growth would have produced in the past.

This has allowed much low interest rates than would have once been the case and supported investment across the economy.

Back to normal

So good is the government’s financial position that the heavy lifting has been all but been done.

A return to budget balance is entirely possible this financial year.

Indeed, for most purposes the budget is already balanced.

Federal government revenues and expenses are each about 25% of GDP. Given the complexity and natural variability of the budget and the economy, an outcome within 0.5% of GDP from balance is basically in balance.

The fact that two-thirds of the originally projected 2017-18 budget deficit has vanished due to “forecast error” makes the point.

Fiscal policy is effectively back to normal, with plenty of spending power in reserve should the economy deteriorate.

Better confidence, for now

Solid government finances will support confidence, not least among households that are used to worrying about large deficits boosting future tax burdens or eating away at government services.

That isn’t to say that everything is baked in.

The economy and government finances can go the other way. But the task of budget repair, which started years ago under Treasurer Wayne Swan, is virtually complete. Any further substantive budget tightening will produce growing surpluses rather than shrinking deficits.

More profits, less welfare

Over the past 15 months the big improvement in the government’s financial position has come in two phases.

The first surprise was a revenue windfall received last summer. This was mostly because of higher commodity prices and the boost this gave to corporate profits.

Corporate income tax receipts are 8.7% higher than originally projected, resulting in an almost A$7 billion windfall for the budget. This represents about a third of the A$19 billion budget improvement.




Read more:
Morrison’s return to surplus built on the back of higher tax – Parliamentary Budget Office


This was well known by the time of the May budget and was responsible for most of the improvement in the budget bottom line between May 2017 and May 2018.

The next phase was a substantial drop in government payments near the end of the financial year just concluded.

This was not factored into the May 2018 budget. Most of it is made up of lower welfare and social security payments, partly in response to the stronger economy, and partly due to much lower than anticipated spending on disability assistance.

Disability-related payments, both in terms of payments to states and National
Disability Insurance Scheme spending, are about A$3 billion lower than expected in May last year.

And improvement all around

The rest of the good news is spread across the board. Income tax receipts are higher due to stronger employment growth. The government has collected more duties and excise than it expected. Pension payments have been a little lower than expected, as have infrastructure-related payments to the states.

Because the presentation of the final budget outcomes does not come with any formal update of budget forecasts, the treasurer and his finance minister had very little to say about the government’s fiscal strategy other than to reinforce that its jobs, growth and budget repair strategy is on track.

They’ll say more in the midyear economic and fiscal update (also called MYEFO) in December.

Question time

Ministers Frydenberg and Cormann were asked a number of questions at their Tuesday press conference that they chose not to answer properly.

I thought I would take the liberty of doing it for them.

REPORTER: So does this outcome increase the likelihood that you will return to surplus sooner than predicted?

MY ANSWER: It most certainly it does. The better result is mainly due to a stronger-than-expected economy. At the time of the budget in May 2017 the government had forecast economic growth of 2.75% for the 2017-18 financial year. As it turned out, growth came in at 2.9% and we are taking strong momentum into 2018-19.

It won’t take much to nudge the budget into surplus this year, that is, a year earlier than forecast. Simply factoring in the better baseline performance of the budget from last year should produce a deficit for 2018-19 of around A$5-8 billion. If the recent trends of higher commodity prices, a lower Australian dollar and stronger domestic economic activity persist, as they appear to be doing, then we will easily get a surplus this year.

Complicating the picture is the political cycle. With a government well behind in the polls and an election due in the next six months or so, it will be hard to resist the temptation to spend some of this recent budget improvement.

It will become a political judgment for the new prime minister and his cabinet. Is the political benefit of presenting a budget surplus greater than the electoral impact of new spending measures?

REPORTER: And do you continue to adhere to the budget discipline that all new spending must be accompanied by savings in equal amount?

MY ANSWER: The government should be commended for keeping real spending growth to just 1.9%, the lowest in a generation. It is projecting it to fall even further, to around 1.6% over the next few years. With a tough election contest ahead, my guess is that we may see some slippage on government spending.

REPORTER: You are out by 40% to 45% on the deficit you published in May this year. That’s a wild variation in just 6 weeks. Should Treasury be doing better than that, basically?

MY ANSWER: Revenues total just under A$450 billion and expenses total just over $450 billion. The deficit figure is the result of the calculation of the small difference between those two big numbers.

Rather than thinking about an A$8 billion miss on a A$18 billion deficit we should be thinking about A$8 billion on the $450 billion revenue and expense base.

Instead of a 40% variation, the real variation is less than 2%.

Given that the Treasury only had the March quarter national accounts at its disposal when pulling together the May Budget forecasts and considering the propensity of the Bureau of Statistics to revise the national accounts, the fact that the misses are less than 2% is actually pretty amazing.

The economy is complex and ever changing.

Economic forecasting is hard. Understanding the relationship between government revenues and an economy experiencing significant industrial structural change is far from a perfect science.The Conversation

Warren Hogan, Industry Professor, University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Budget deficit comes in at $10.1 billion, in boost for early return to surplus


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Estimates out, but happy. Mathias Cormann and Josh Frydenberg announce the smallest deficit in a decade.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The budget outcome for 2017-18 shows a deficit of A$10.1 billion –
dramatically less than expected in May, and just 0.6% of GDP.

In this year’s May budget, a mere four months ago, the outcome for the last financial year was forecast to be just over A$18 billion, already revised well down on the more than A$29 billion estimate in the 2017 budget.

The drivers of the better-than-anticipated result were stronger
revenue and lower spending than earlier expected.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Finance Minister Mathias Corman said in
a statement: “At A$10.1 billion, just 0.6 per cent of gross domestic
product (GDP), the underlying cash deficit is the smallest in ten
years.

“Stronger economic growth and much stronger employment growth than
anticipated at the time of the 2017-18 budget have driven increases in
personal income tax and company tax receipts, with total receipts
$13.4 billion higher than expected at the time of the budget.

“Total payments were A$6.9 billion lower than forecast at budget time,
including as a result of lower welfare payments with more Australians
in paid work. Welfare dependency for working age Australians is now at
its lowest level in 25 years and in 2017-18, there were 90,000 fewer
working age Australians on welfare,” they said.

“Real GDP in 2017-18 was stronger than anticipated in the 2017-18 budget.”

Last week Standard & Poor’s ratings agency reaffirmed Australia’s
triple A credit
rating. Frydenberg said Australia was one of only 10 countries with a AAA
credit rating from the three major agencies.

He told a news conference that the budget outcome confirmed the budget
was on the path back to balance in 2019-20.

The mid-year budget update will come in December, with the revisions
at that time setting the scene for the run into the election a few
months later, with the government making economic and fiscal
management a key plank in its campaign.

Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen said the final budget outcome “shows the
deficit came in almost four times worse than forecast in the Liberal
Party’s first budget. This is after the Liberal Party’s massive cuts
to schools, hospitals and the pension.”The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Australia has the wealth to ensure a sustainable future, but too many people are being left behind



File 20180912 181260 1pm4fjd.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Many Australians are feeling less secure about the future, despite rising income levels since 2000.
Dan Peled/AAP

Sue Richardson, University of Adelaide

The purpose of our social, economic and political systems is to enable all Australians to lead good lives. Australia is doing well on some fronts. It ranks third out of 188 countries on the UN Human Development Index, which takes into account life expectancy, education and national income per capita. We also rank 19th on national income per capita.

This suggests Australia is rather good at converting national income into social well-being. But a key question is whether we are using our income in a way that will continue to enable all Australians to lead materially, socially and environmentally enriching lives. That is, are we acting in a way that is both fair and sustainable?

A report released by the National Sustainable Development Council, in collaboration with the Monash Sustainable Development Institute, provides robust data on many of the specific indicators related to environmental, social and economic well-being. These indicators give us a clear idea how well we are doing in the important goal of “leaving no one behind” and providing the same opportunities for future generations.

Inequality remains high despite economic growth

A remarkable feature of Australia’s economy is that, with some fluctuations, real income per capita rose by over 40% from 2000 to 2012, but has not increased at all since. This has left many people feeling stressed and disgruntled about living costs.

There is a sense that a high income is not enough to lead a good life – a continuously rising income is needed. Coupled with the high inequality in society and a worsening environmental footprint, it all points to threats to the sustainability of our current standard of living.




Read more:
Growth without direction: How Australia measures up against UN targets


The large rise in income in recent years was accompanied by a decrease in the rates of poverty and material disadvantage, especially before 2013. The increase in the value of the age pension made a material contribution to this. In contrast, the falling relative value of Newstart has had the opposite effect.

Overall, inequality remains high by Australian and international standards. The government continues to play a very important role in offsetting at least some of this inequality. However, this is sustainable only if people remain willing to pay the necessary taxes and support transfer payments to help those with lower incomes.

Australia is also doing well in the health of the population. Life expectancy is among the highest in the world, reflecting comparatively low rates of illness and injury. Good health is supported by a well-resourced, universal healthcare system, substantial gains in reducing deaths from road accidents, and world-leading tobacco control policies.




Read more:
Australia’s UN report card: making progress, could do better on inequality and climate


However, our good health and well-being is challenged by high rates of obesity and alcohol consumption. Further, the proportion of the population experiencing high to very high levels of psychological distress has not fallen. Between 15% and 20% of young and middle-aged women now report having high to very high levels of distress.

And we do leave people behind. Indigenous people have much poorer health and lower life expectancy than the general population – a stain on our society.

Early childhood education is lagging behind, too

Australia is performing well in some areas of education: we have high rates of post-secondary school education, our students consistently perform well in collaborative problem solving, and Australian adults rate well above the OECD average in technological problem solving.

But, again, we’re performing poorly on sustainability. Student performance in literacy, maths and science on the international PISA tests has fallen and the percentage of children aged five who are developing normally in overall learning, health and psycho-social well-being has remained stagnant.

Australia is also a laggard among OECD countries in its public support of early childhood learning and development. The only improvement has been in language skills for children aged five.




Read more:
Australia falls further in rankings on progress towards UN Sustainable Development Goals


In other societal issues, the Monash report showed that Australians are increasingly fearful of violent crime, despite low crime rates. Tougher laws have been introduced in response to this fear of crime, and imprisonment rates have risen significantly in recent years. This fear undermines social trust, which is very hard to recover and is a threat to the sustainability of our social cohesion.

Australia is also lagging on gender equality. Women continue to face far greater economic insecurity than men. This is particularly evident at retirement, when women’s superannuation balances are 42% below that of men’s, reflecting their substantially lower lifetime earnings.

Most disturbingly, the proportion of women and girls subjected to physical, sexual and psychological violence remains unacceptably high. Domestic and family violence remains the leading preventable contributor to death and illness for women aged 18–44.

Australia has done remarkably well on some of its UN Sustainability Development Goals. But there is definitely room for improvement, particularly in the way we are degrading our natural world and key areas of health, education and social inequality. We need to address these threats to sustainability if we’re going to ensure our people enjoy good lives now – and in the future.


This article is part of a series looking at Australia’s progress toward meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals, based on a report published by the Monash University Sustainable Development Institute.The Conversation

Sue Richardson, Adjunct professor, University of Adelaide

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.