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A history of failed reform: why Australia needs a banking royal commission

By Thomas Clarke - posted Monday, 12 September 2016

The move for an inquiry into how banks treat small business customers should not overshadow the ongoing call for a broader royal commission on banks.

Several financial inquries (outlined below) have failed to tackle the growing concentration in the Australian finance sector, or the need to separate general banking from investment banking as the reform process in the United States, UK and Europe is contemplating.

Calls for a royal commission are also underpinned by ongoing reports of misconduct within the banks, summarised in a timeline of bad behaviour below.


Every other major industrial country is at an advanced stage in bank reform, and Australia would be isolated if it did not engage in a similar substantial and structural reform process.

Former Commonwealth Bank chief and Financial Services Inquiry Chair David Murray released the final report of the inquiry in December 2014. Britta Campion/AAP

Financial reform in Australia

1997 Wallis Inquiry

This inquiry has been associated with the “four pillars” policy towards bank mergers (though the inquiry itself did not propose this), and the opposition to any merger between ANZ, CBA, NAB and Westpac. The unwritten policy originated in Paul Keating’s reservations on concentration in the industry. It also led to the CLERP financial reforms announced on fund raising, disclosure, financial reporting and takeovers.

2009 Future of Financial Advice Inquiry


This inquiry stemmed from industry failures, such as Storm Financial and Opes Prime, and explored the role of financial advisers and the general regulatory environment for these products and services. It resulted in the Corporations Amendment (Future of Financial Advice) Act 2012 by the Labor government to tackle conflicts of interest within the financial planning industry. This was subsequently amended by the Liberal government in the Corporations Amendment (Financial Advice Measures) Act March 2016 which softened some of the reforms.

2012 Cooper Inquiry

This was a review into the governance, efficiency, structure and operation of Australia’s superannuation system. It examined measures to remove unnecessary costs and better safeguard retirement savings, claimed fees in superannuation were too high, and that choice of fund in superannuation had failed to deliver a competitive market that reduced costs.

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About the Author

Thomas Clarke is Professor of Management and Director of the Key University Research Centre for Corporate Governance at the University of Technology, Sydney.

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