Big banks cop quick blast

The banking royal commission got under way yesterday and the man at the helm, Justice Kenneth Hayne, wasted no time in getting to the point.

Variously described as a “desert-dry wit” with a brilliant mind who will drive a difficult job according to a tight 12-month deadline, Justice Hayne got off to a flyer.

Addressing the assembled on the opening day of the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry in Melbourne, he served notice on the banks that indicated they would be unable to meet today’s deadline to produce a 50-page record of their indiscretions over the past 10 years, even though they had been given two months to prepare it.

“It has been said that the deadline cannot be met because of the amount of material that has to be reviewed and then assembled,” Justice Hayne said.

“What is to be drawn from the fact that requests for more time to give more specific information about events of misconduct identified over the last five years might have to be considered.

“That a request for details of events of misconduct as defined in the terms of reference identified during the last five years cannot be met within the time sought even though the initial request for that information was made approximately two months ago is itself a matter to which further attention may have to be given.”

The royal commission was begrudgingly announced by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on 30 November last year after he had ignored calls for an inquiry for 18 months. Justice Hayne, a High Court judge until forced to step down in 2015 after reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70, was appointed as commissioner.

In the lead-up to day one, he had warned financial institutions against taking legal action against witnesses and whistle-blowers.

“First, the commission would be very likely indeed to exercise its compulsory powers to secure the information in question,” he said on Monday.

“Second, the very fact that an institution sought to inhibit or prevent the disclosure of the information would excite the closest attention not only to the lawfulness of that conduct but also what were the institutions’ motives for seeking to prevent the commission from having that information.”

It was reported last Thursday that the Big Four banks had advised employees that despite confidentiality agreements, they were free to make submissions or appear before the commission.

The commission has received 385 public submissions with nearly one-third relating to how banks dealt with personal finance. Another 17 per cent of submissions related to superannuation.

An interim report is expected by 30 September this year and a final report by 1 February, 2019.

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Written by Janelle Ward

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