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MP George Christensen backflipping like a Seinfeld character

MP George Christensen backflipping like a Seinfeld character
When Coalition backbencher George Christensen tweeted on November 25: "My opinion just changed. We do need a royal commission," it would have struck fear into the hearts of the captains of banking.

For the past few months, the topic of a royal commission into banking has gone quiet, as the focus turned to asylum seekers, the backpackers tax, super taxes, an Australian Building and Construction Commission and life under Donald Trump.

But like a character in a Seinfeld show, Christensen took it back – again. (He also backed a royal commission before the federal election then withdrew support). Then after saying he would cross the floor in a media interview, he voted against Labor's motion in the House of Representatives on December 1.

It prompted Labor to put out a press release: "When Mr Christensen returns to Mackay this weekend, he should explain to his constituents why he did the exact opposite of what he promised."

The banks may have dodged a bullet – for now – but scrutiny comes in different forms and so it will in 2017.

Put simply, Parliament closed for the year with three big parliamentary inquiries on the agenda for next year. They include an inquiry into whistleblowers, an inquiry into the scandal-ridden life insurance industry and an inquiry into financial misconduct.

The latter was slipped in by opposition financial services spokeswoman Katy Gallagher just before Parliament shut down for the year.

It will examine everything from executive and non-executive remuneration, culture and the chain of responsibility in relation to misconduct.

The inquiry will examine the various compensation schemes on offer, including CBA's and NAB's, as well as the social impacts of consumer protection failures.

It means victims will be called to give evidence, which is never easy listening as it exposes the real life impact of bad behaviour.

It will also look at ASIC's recent report into banks which found that almost 200,000 customers had been systematically rorted of at least $178 million for financial advice services they never received. According to the report, the big four banks and AMP had paid back $23.7million to 27,000 in fee refunds, leaving another $154 million still to be repaid, with most of it to come from CBA.

"The industry was put on notice after the joint Fairfax/Four Corners program on CommInsure put the spotlight on the industry".
    John Williams

Questions will be asked why some institutions are slower than others at repaying fees, and why some had a bigger problem of ripping off customers than others.

It will no doubt seize on an impending report to be released by ASIC in the new year into how the big players have handled dodgy advisers in terms of breaching them, sacking them or allowing them to leave. It will also look at how they "remediated" customers of dodgy advisers. The banks have a variety of remediation schemes in place, all with varying degrees of flaws and lack of transparency.

The plight of whistleblowers will also be on full display after crossbenchers Senators Nick Xenophon and Derryn Hinch managed to do some horse trading with the Coalition to get an inquiry up and running.

Whistleblowers, including Dr Ben Koh, who exposed misconduct inside Commonwealth Bank's life insurance arm, will no doubt be called as a witness. Dr Koh was terminated by the bank in August 2015. Some of his allegations include doctors being leant on by claims managers to change reports, the use of medical definitions in policies that were years out of date that were being used to deny claims and deliberate delays in processing claims.

Most of the scandals I have reported on would not have come to light without the help of whistleblowers. They include the CBA financial planning scandal, the NAB financial planning scandal, IOOF, Macquarie, CommInsure and 7-Eleven.

Nationals Senator John Williams said the parliamentary joint committee would be very busy with the whistleblower inquiry and the life insurance inquiry.

He said the country had seen the adverse impact on whistleblowers after what the CBA financial planning whistleblower had gone through. "He is a decent, honest man who did his best to get action when he went to ASIC but had to wait 16 months before they did anything," Senator Williams said.

A parliamentary inquiry into life insurance would be wide ranging. "The industry was put on notice after the joint Fairfax/Four Corners program on CommInsure put the spotlight on the industry," he said.

These inquiries and ASIC's report into financial advisers will keep the spotlight on the sector. It will also keep alive one of the ALP's key policy planks: a royal commission into financial services.

As Senator Gallagher said in a statement: "We know that only a royal commission can deliver the systemic, structural and cultural change that the banking and financial services sector needs."

She is right. The sector has breached our trust. It is trying to fix the mess. The life insurance sector has developed a code of conduct, a financial advice panel is being set up to oversee conduct and improve education, the regulator is being given more powers and more money and at board level discussions about culture are taking place.

They are all steps in the right direction. But there is still a lot more to be done and depending on the intrinsic value sets of these organisations will depend on whether they are watered down by the time they are introduced.

A recent global banking survey by Ernst and Young made some shocking revelations about the trust gap between banks and their customers. It surveyed 55,000 people and in Australia it found that four out of five Australian customers don't trust their bank to give them unbiased advice and put their best interests first.

With the polls showing that the majority of Australian's are in favour of a royal commission, it is becoming obvious that wrongdoing doesn't discriminate between the rich and poor, the sick and employees of these firms. In other words, it doesn't matter what political persuasion, scandals don't discriminate. It's a shame people like Mr Christensen have turned it into political football.

 This story was found at: http://www.smh.com.au
Author: Adele Ferguson
Last modified onSaturday, 03 December 2016 21:03

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